Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ill Advised Posting

(I thought I wasn't going to talk about this. I guess I was wrong.)

So, the police officer who shot Michael Brown six times, was just doing his job, and almost half of white Americans think race is getting too much attention in the case. People are "playing the race card"? "Lawlessness knows no color"? What?

Even if Brown was shoplifting (which is not all that clear) or jaywalking, the penalty for these crimes is not death in the US, last I checked. The penalty for acting suspicious is also not death, but apparently a woman in the first article believes it is:
“An officer doesn’t have xray vision,” wrote Jennifer Hall, of Robertsville, Missouri. “He can’t tell if you have weapon or not until searched. So you act in a suspicious manner, we know what the consequences are.”
Seriously? If your white son was caught jaywalking and mouthing off, and was shot dead for it, that would be OK? Because we know what the consequences are for acting suspicious, right? Or is it that those people are lawless. Those people are criminals. Those people deserve to be treated with suspicion and executed if they step out of line? And those people just happen to be black?

We all set this fire. We need to own up to that.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Minimum Wage

The title is a reference to the They Might Be Giants song. Really. That's what I was thinking about when I wrote it.

The other day I reblogged this thing on Tumblr about Walmart earnings and the salaries they pay their workers. For the most part my pinko bleeding-heart liberal friends seemed to agree: Walmart makes $27 billion in profit in one year, they could pay their bottom million employees $10,000 a year more and still make a $17 billion profit. This situation and others like it illustrates the crazy imbalance of our economic system, in which a few specialists in e.g. financial markets are paid hundreds or even a thousand times as much as regular workers who do essential jobs.

There was at least one person, however, who took issue with the statistics involved, saying that it didn't seem likely that a million workers, almost half of Walmart's total employees (and they are the biggest single employer in the world, apparently), were scraping by on minimum wage.

Now, the original post isn't actually criticism of Walmart specifically, so much. The second half of the post makes clear that this is about larger issues with the system itself, and Walmart is just a symptom. Whether Walmart only has to pay $10,000 more to a hundred thousand employees or a million doesn't really change the point, at least in my mind. (Wikipedia figures for Walmart also suggest that it might make more sense to use the profits after tax, which is only $16 or $17 billion, depending on what year you're talking about.)

On the other hand, checking Walmart salary information that's publicly available does paint a picture that seems consistent with the original post. I'm just looking at the first page full of results, and there are some reasonable and even well-paid positions. (Want to do well at Walmart? Become a pharmacist!) But the bottom-tier jobs pay $8 or $9 an hour on average. Being generous, that's $18 to $20 thousand a year. The "Careers to explore" links on that page include "Overnight Stocker" at $19k a year, and "Sales Associate" at $18k yearly. That's well below the poverty line for a family of four.

From the results from that page, a little less than half of the jobs on offer from Walmart (2073 of the 4205 positions summarized) are hourly jobs that pay on average about $19 thousand a year. If this is in any way representative of the mix of positions in Walmart's 2 million employee workforce, then yes, roughly a million workers are making poverty-level wages working for a company that made at least $16 billion in profit in the last year, after tax. Even if the results are strongly skewed, we're still talking about hundreds of thousands of workers.

Then there's this article, in which statements from Walmart spokespeople themselves lead one to the conclusion that a bit more than half of Walmart associates make less than $25,000 a year. Statistics are easy to misuse, but whatever way I look at this, it still seems like a lot of people are struggling to get by while a very few reap rewards out of proportion with their contribution to the company, society, or, well, anything. So, to repeat:

You know, this ridiculous idea that a worker on Wall Street who earns tens of millions of dollars a year securitizing imaginary assets or doing high-frequency trading is worth 1,000 times as much as workers who earn tens of thousands of dollars a year educating our children, growing or serving us our food, throwing themselves into harm’s away to protect our life or property, that this difference reflects the true value or intrinsic worth of these jobs is nonsense.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Like a mule

I have not given up on my little project. I did get a bit discouraged, there, but I've started experimenting again and I think I might be able to get something out of this either using render layers or possibly just simple (or simpler) meshes for each particle system. I may also need to go to more extravagant lengths, splitting things up into separate passes using scenes and then compositing them, which would be a pain. Anyway, I'm not giving up yet, but I don't have anything I want anyone to see.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Well, it looks like my system is not up to doing much with hair in the Cycles renderer. When I try to render my latest eyebrow attempts, the face disappears. A very disappointing turn of events, that. I was really looking forward to fooling around with the hair editing tools and getting some amateurish but at least interesting results.

I may be able to get something with the Blender Internal engine, but the whole lighting and material system is so much more fiddly and the results so unrealistic, it's really putting me off the whole exercise.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Eyebrows Look Painted On

And I'm not going to show them to you.

I'll post again, when I get something better.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Eyelashes and Massive Frustration

So, four days of struggle to get some kind of OK-I-guess lashes. Some lessons learned:

When using a multi-resolution modifier and adding a particle system (i.e. hair) on top, the level of the preview has to be the same as the render level. The particle directions are based on the modified geometry underneath, and if the level where you do the particle editing (the preview) doesn't match the final render level, the particles will go shooting off in unexpected directions. Until I realized this, I thought there was some bug with hair rendering that only happened in the final render (and not when the 3D view was set to render the preview). I spent a couple of days messing around trying to figure this out.

You've also got to turn on the "use modifier stack" on the emission control panel or particles (hairs) will come shooting out of weird places and directions.

In order to paint vertexes in the weight painting mode, you need to select faces (or maybe turn the face selection mask off?). Otherwise, it just won't do anything, which is not particularly useful.

The "physics" panel on the particle system settings is not about the physics of the hair, but of the particles that direct the hair growth. So you want the physics on and Newtonian. Then you can set the emission parameters to shoot the growth lines more or less straight out of the skin surface, or whatever else you want. In this case I actually had a small "normal" component and a small negative-Y "object" component, to make the lashes point out of the skin and forward. After that it was all fooling around with the particle editing tools (see next point).

Combing lashes is a pain in the ass.

Finally, and this was an even bigger pain in the ass, I was (am?) reaching the limitations of my system and/or Blender as things started getting very crash-y. Rendering would crash a lot. Switching back to the 3D view would crash. Saving might crash. Eventually, I found that if I dropped down the level of the multi-resolution modifier, things improved. So it seems like it is basically caused by having too much geometry to render. However, doing that meant (because of the first point above) that I would have to start over, since trying to change the multi-resolution modifier with a particle system attached would mess up the particle paths or (more usually) crash.

So, Blender is amazing, but not completely amazing (at least on a run-of-the-mill iMac). And now I'm worried how much I'll be able to do with eyebrows and hair. Still, onward.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Suspect This Is Unnecessary

First a couple of closeups of the eyes, showing some (but not all!) of the detail which will not appear in the final picture.

Third from the top: I've moved the lights around a bit to change the shape of the reflection in the eye.

And finally: a hastily done wool-ish scarf, which, as usual, took more work than it looks like.

Tomorrow, eyebrows... maybe.

Monday, August 19, 2013


A huge effort to get a couple of glints of light in an eye. Bump textures, noise textures, subsurface scattering, refraction... more complicated than the skin, even. At at the end of it all, I'm thinking I might move the light sources to reduce some of those reflections I worked so hard to get.

Anyway, the eyes are done for now. Next, either clothes (probably just a scarf to cover that horrible neck), or hair.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eyes, A Beginning

You would not believe the amount of time it took to just make her eyes brown. Well, making her eyes simply brown wouldn't have taken much time, but I had to lay the groundwork for the rest of the exercise in eye rendering, and that includes remodeling the eye a fair bit. So I only ended up getting a simple diffuse shader with a texture map of a basic iris.

Also today, I added a rim effect (a bit hard to explain, but based on the one in the tutorial) which I'm convinced is completely invisible.

Still, looking forward to adding a bit of life to those eyes.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tiny Tiny Changes

It's really a bit crazy how much work it takes to get from one picture to the next in that series, especially since I would challenge most people to be able to tell the difference between any of them (except for the obvious background color change). From top to bottom:

First, the image from yesterday. This is an image used as a diffuse texture map, mixed with a pure white glossy effect to represent oil on the skin. That's it.

Second, I've added in sub-surface scattering (representing light that travels into and gets scattered from inside the skin). This is a single sub-surface scattering shader mixed with the diffuse color on the previous image and that result, in turn, mixed with the gloss. I think you might be able to see the effect if you look closely at her right nostril. Seriously, I'm not kidding. I doubt I'm going to go for a full-on three scatterer model for this exercise, because it's a whole lot of work for a minuscule effect. I'm fairly satisfied with what I got out of one shader, and I'll save fooling with the more complex and realistic treatment for some other time, maybe when I'm using stronger back lighting. (Honestly, I want to get on to the eyes and hair.)

Third, tweaking parameters on the gloss and sub-surface, adding a bump map to break up the gloss and make it look a little less plastic, though I'm not sure how well that worked, and also a mask to represent how skin tends to be more oily or sweaty on the forehead, nose and under the eyes compared to the cheeks.

Finally, adding a texture map (a reddened version of the diffuse texture) to control the sub-surface scatterer and restore a bit of the color variation (notice how the mole on her cheek is a bit clearer again in the last version compared to the middle two).

So, I think I'll call it a day with the skin shader and move on to the eyes for the next stage.