Landscapes of skin and coal: procedural skin displacement map

In this semester, I’ve been working with mapping coal mining data. As much of my work deals with materials, I’m playing with the combination of coal and mineral materials with human skin. I’m also referencing pictorial landscapes and trying to pair the aspirational feel of some of that style of photography with the visceral and emotional impact of familiar human skin.

This work has taken quite a bit of development time, as the technical aspects of subsurface scattering, map creation, render optimization, and rendering at print sizes has been a challenge.

One of the first problems to solve for print was optimizing map size and texture space. Even using 8k maps, printing at gallery sizes (30″, ~200dpi) means pixelation for the compositions I was choosing. So I developed a procedural skin bump/displacement map. Here’s a render, Maya lambert, one spotlight, depth map shadows.



As a flat render, it’s not going to wow – but when you put it on a modeled form – or use it as one part of a good skin shader, it works pretty well. It actually performs better with a bit of UV distortion, which for my current project was perfect.


MFA: a few first semester thoughts

This semester, I’ve seen some very talented artists produce great work despite, rather than because, of the environment they were working in. They solved hard technical problems, worked around fluke software errors, stayed up for several days straight, and held themselves to a remarkable standard in the face of exhaustion.

And they made excellent work, that, I think, will help a lot of actual people feel closer to some important history. Now the unfortunate part – these artists, almost certainly, won’t be able to use this work for their MFA. It’s not as if they won’t benefit from their work: They’ll get class credit. They’ll have nice portfolio piece(s). They may well be able to get paid contracts to do similar work – it’s conceivable that this could be a significant part of their artistic work (and a remunerative part) in the near term. But in terms of getting the degree they’re aiming for, it seems that it will likely be as if the work never happened.

When I’m feeling pessimistic, I wonder if the fact that the work has utility creates some indelible stain that prevents it from being taken as part of an MFA degree. As if the mindset of academic art is something along the lines of “it’s useful, so it can’t be Art.” What kind of educational philosophy disqualifies educationally-focused work from consideration for a higher degree? Especially – and this is a keen irony, if you ask me – when the artists doing the work have explicitly indicated that they plan on teaching as a significant component of their careers?

Nevertheless, these artists have made me proud to be part of the same program. I hope I see their work all over the place. They deserve it.


Here are some concept materials I’m working on. I’m really not sure about which idea to pursue with what changes.
In order:

1. Elevation/’building plan’ for the architecture/typography project. The blue shape is the camera angle seen in the first color plate.
2. Color plate/texture study for the architecture/typograph project.
3. Color plate for the larva loop project.
4. GIF loop animatic for the larva loop project.

short concepts critique and feedback

Class critique feedback

  • the city could echo gross neural structures in its architecture –
  • the information flows could react to stimulus that the audience is able to hear in the sound design. This stimulus could be universal, which would further help to contextualize the visualization. I really like this idea. It seems Brechtian, and reminds me of the feedback of Jess in crit last week: Something I seem to like to do in my work is expose the artifice of the object – make the illusion consciously imperfect.
  • the buildings/city architecture could react to the information flows. I like this idea quite a lot as well – it’s accurate to the metaphor and adds visual interest.



Concept: In both cases, I’m hinting at a process without literally showing it. In the first, I’m trying to show the action of a hay baler while abstracting the machine itself. In the second, I’d like to make a parallel between the architecture of a city and the architecture of the brain. Information will look like traffic flows.

Premise: What if…these are non-narrative, so concept and premise are similar here.

Color plate:

Project 2, progress update 5

Continued working on glass, debris, and UV. Tweaked sun-and-sky a bit. The glass is being a giant pain; in order to get shards that follow the curvature of the girders, I have to split them by hand, sculpt them, re-topo them, and then vert-jockey them into place. I have a few ideas for a better workflow, but for now I know that works…it just takes forever.

Here’s my progress shot:

Project 2, progress update 4

From the list:

  • UV mapped and painted the large  HVAC pipe
  • Fought with Mudbox and crashing problems :/
  • UV mapped the floor
  • Refined the glass breaking
  • Picked a camera position
  • Organized my scene file into groups and layers
  • Imported the toy
  • Switched to Sun-and-Sky, which is what I’m hoping to use for the final. Started refining light settings.
The floor texture is strictly temporary, but I wanted something for some contrast/perspective in my test render. The only object that’s actually textured so far is the curved HVAC pipe in the right middleground.
I suspect I’m going to have to re-do the UV mapping on my toy, since I did the UVs originally thinking I was going to have a normal standing-running kind of character. So the UV seams are on the bottom, and unfortunately, I think that’s the part I want to have facing the camera.
Here’s the progress render: