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by David Coombes 2002

article - d. coombes

The Infamous David CoombEs (aka Shifty Geezer) gives us his perspective:

David Coombes kindly allowed us to "interview" him on the 4th September 2003. This is the full transcript from the conversation:

B: David Coombs, tell us a little about yourself:

D: I'm 28; got a degree in Computer Science and Biochemistry; work as a classroom assistant in a local Primary school, now covering ICT; have a yen for the arts. And my name's got an 'e' in it . Coombes! (B: oops !)

B: Shifty Geezer, tell us a little about yourself:

D: Samuel Dickinson (aka Shifty Geezer) currently resides on a Scottish island breeding sheep.

B: What is with the alter ego ? Can you tell us how that conspired ?

D: Schizophrenia. Actually I registered my normal address with the mailing list shortly after getting internet access. I then figured I'd keep my normal address for friends only, so created a second address for mailing lists, subscriptions etc. I used for the RealSoft mailing list generally, but didn't unsubscribe d.g.coombes, so sometimes responded with that when I was lazy. The phony name's used for subscriptions, especially when you only want access to one little snippet of info and don't want to become a marketting statistic as a result.

Once I had mailed the list from d.g.coombes signed under the wrong name I thought I'd try and pull off the virtual-buddy, 'coz I like making things up, but eventually he had to go... Strangely enough it's my personal address that gets all the spam and shifty remains virtually spam free.

B: You have set yourself in immortality through the magnificent articles you wrote about Raytracing under the glossary section of the Daemon site, can you tell us how much blood you shed to deliver such great work?

D: 18 litres (about 36 pints). Thankfully mostly not my own - I borrowed from small furry animals. It's hard writing technical articles on complicated subjects because of the trouble with following how other people read it. Though it makes sense for the author, it can be lost on the audience. I was still unsure the articles were clear enough when posted but people seem to have found them useful. They really need a follow-up look at VSL proper. (B: nudge nudge)

B: You have been using Realsoft 3D for a few years now, and have got a good grasp of all the concepts, indeed you are now renoun for being a VSL guru amongst your peers. When you first started using RS, did you pick it up quickly ?

D: Yes, but I'm lucky that way! ;) I've never had trouble picking up new concepts or ideas in any field, save for the extreme abstractions of maths, or realms of the mega jargonised, that fuzzle the brain.

B: So what made you get Realsoft 3D in the first place ?

D: I used to raytrace with Real3D v1.4 on a 2Mb A500 and A1200 in the 90s, free on a magazine coverdisk (Amiga Format). I also saw a demo of v2 and loved it. After a few years break and now owning a PC, a friend had me borrowing a version of 3D StudioMax to make some 3D models for a game. I didn't like the environment much and remembered Real3D, so went looking for of v2 for Windows. I was delighted to see RealSoft still in business and with a new version which I tried. It still had the superb material mapping objects system of v2 plus loads of groovey new features and I was hooked.

B: How would you rate Realsoft 3D to other 3D applications ? Have you used other VSL style languages in other 3D applications ?

D: I'm not well versed on graphics apps. I've tried a few of the middle-class applications and 3D StudioMAX but none clicked with me. AFAIK they all run on the same principles; tesselating NURBS, materials are always UV mapped, etc., that there's little to differentiate save user interface and modelling tools (and price!). RealSoft3D is so open-ended by comparison there's loads more room for playing! I haven't got into animation yet so I can't compare those animating tools which seem a major deciding component of modern 3D software.

B: You obviously enjoy coming up with new effects and styles, with an emphasis lately of natural media looks. Do you have an end goal in mind?

D: Not particularly. Mostly I create when I get the idea for a new look. I do want to create realistic pencil sketch rendering especially for animation. Actually a long term goal of mine has long been totally unrelated to materials and post effects; I'd love to render dance choreographs but this needs audio support.

B: You would have to be one of the most active people on the RS userlist, so you must find it a great source of info and conversation ?

D: Info - yes. There's lots of great advice. I'm strongest at VSL but know little about animation, but I can always tap into the global RealSoft knowledge base on the mailing list. If you need an answer, you'll usually get several options to choose from.

Source of conversation? - Well they're not all that bright on the list and half the time I have to answer my own questions ;)

B: Do you have any future plans for other materials / post fx ?

D: I tend to create post fx (mainly) and materials after seeing some conventional artwork. The graphic paint look came from the cover of a poetry book. The Sketcher look came from wanting to recreate the pencil sketches that I have as desktop backgrounds, and make these animatable. Ultimately I'm wanting the chance to create natural-media animations with artistic looks, without the costly, slow development of using conventional Stop-frame animation.

I'm keenly awaiting v5 and hope it will add functions for creating non-uniform outlines so I can get my sketcher looking just right.

B: Your projects (such as snow) have inspired many in the past and have proven quite useful, what are you currently working on ?

D: Nothing in particular, though I just finished a TV/monitor screen look...

I'm trying (a little bit at least) to stop toying with VSL materials and effects and actually create some real images with real models!

B: The last materials you posted to the list made use of RealMan. How has this expanded the possibilities ?

D: RealMan has added a huge amount of functional possibility. VSL alone can't accommodate complicated actions, like the numeral generator that comes with RealMan. Though writing materials in pure RealMan is less favourable to RealSoft's VSL interface, the ability to make RealMan procedure calls is superb.

Having said that, I haven't made a great deal of use of RealMan myself. I've thought of some ideas that'd be tidier in RealMan but I prefer the visual interface of VSL, especially in creating and using curves which I do by the bucket load. There are other complicated ideas that need RealMan, like a different colour-space model for natural media, but my programming and maths skills are too manky to make good at present!

B: What are the strengths of VSL ?

D: Virtually limitless flexibilty! Along with RealSoft3D's material system you can create complicated looks very simply. For example, you can apply a VSL cartoon shader to a scene using a finite parallel mapping. Every object that enters the mapping becomes cartoon rendered, and as it leaves becomes conventionally rendered. You could fade the degree of blending between cartoon and normal based on the mapping coordinates. How about a comic book where the characters fly out of the pages into the real world? Apply the cartoon material to the book and space inside and use normal animated 3D objects travelling out of the material mapping. Or I could apply my pencil sketch look to a single object and render it in a photo-realistic world, complete with reflections.

There's loads of animations I'd love to toy with but just don't have the hardware capabilities :(

B: Are there any features you would like to see implemented in RS ? Would a different GUI (Such as darktree) improve the ease of use for less skilled users ?

D: Overall I think the interafce works fine, though there's little scope for variety between 3D apps as they all do the same thing. There's a lot of complaint about VSL's learning curve and this must surely be a big turn-off for those used to the conventional UV mapped systems of all the other 3D applications. I don't know if the VSL interface could be improved or not. I like the current interface but them I'm okay with visualising the changes to data in my head. I had a brief encounter with a DirectX shader creation program with a Darktree like interface but I cringed away! All those nodes was far too messy! Maybe some more materials to bridge the gap?

My chief joy is post effects and I'd like to see more options here. One such thing (that has been slated for v5) is better edge filtering control. Another feature that should also be appearing is the ability to evaluate areas of a scene and get values, such as the average colour of an object or the highest brightness in the scene. It'd be nice (perhaps essential to keep up with the competition) to have more built in varied VSL objects, such as placing 2D texture "sprites" over a surface with derived orientation. A couple of tweaks to Michael Schmelling's scratch plugin would add loads of functionality. Indeed, just a few extra objects could cover pretty much every possible effect!

I'm no modeller which I put down to still needing point and edge editing. I'd love really advanced modelling, like Zbrush style painting of deformations using a pressure sensitive stylus. Just imagine starting with a sphere and rubbing over the centre to draw a nose, rubbing in the eye holes, spreading out a brow... That's 21st century modelling.

There's the usual need for better import/export. I also think a good few bugs need to be ironed out also. I think the mainstream conventional modelling/texturing/rendering works fine, but I tend to work "on the edge" in experimental realms and often (normally every experiment) find features that don't work quite as they should or as you'd expect.

I'll please Pat here and say that total open-ended scripted control of everything would be wonderful, but it'll never happen. I'd also like a "draw a rough sketch and it'll create all the necessary objects and base materials" mode, but that's unlikely too.

Finally, though not a feature, I'd like a larger user base. RealSoft needs to push v5 to be a mega-competitive product, which is getting harder with new blood entering the industry, and get loads of sales. Then the rest of the world will take notice and help develop the product with groovey plugins and maybe brain-scanning hardware devices that do all the work for you. There's only so much a handful of Fins can accomplish (even though more than the average boat-load of foreigners it seems :).

B: What kind of background does one need in order to understand VSL ?

D: Being dropped frequently as a baby; makes abstract thought easier, though coherency suffers.

Okay, I guess a mathematical background is good, but such a background implies an interest and aptitude for maths which is enough in itself. Personally I see the VSL channels more like graphs and grey-scale images and 3D maps in my head, and I figure what I want the end result to be and how to get it with the VSL objects provided. Maybe just some better tutes on the subject, which RealSoft hasn't got the best record with, is all it would take to make VSL accessible to all?

B: Where is your user profile ? The world wants to know what you look like ;)

D: Photos of me are few and far between. I'm an endangered species (last one in the world) so there's loads of legislation governing how much my daily lifestyle can be interrupted with unneccesary invasive contact, like people taking my picture.

You might get a mug-shot at some point. Maybe a promo shot from the zoo's portfolio?

B: And finally, is there anything you wish to say to the RS community ?

D: Why, heck sure! There's a darn truckload of attitudes that need changing and peronal...oh, you mean about encouragement and support and RealSoft-ing? Ahh. right.'re a great bunch and keep up the good work.

And stop ragging my tortoise!

Many thanks David :) - other related articles - click HERE to goto Articles page.

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