I’ve been thinking about doing a tutorial series on both fantasy art and book cover art, as I know that these times are tough for everyone. Authors without a lot of design knowledge and skills would be ill-advised to do their own covers, of course, but art to accompany freebies, shorts, promo material, etc., is something that anyone with an eye for balance can do.
As you probably know, book cover artists are relying increasingly on Daz Studio renders to supplement and enhance models for book covers. Quite often you’ll replace the head with a photo model head (which is a VERY useful skill to have), but the 3D model should give you a seamless body in any position, any clothing style, that you need.
Right now and for another few days Daz is offering basically a “free” membership to their Platinum Plus membership, so it’s a great time to pick up some models for a few dollars each. Here’s a list of some models that I personally use a lot, get them now for 66-78% off. The software itself, and the base models, are free.
You’ll need poses as well, unless you’re good at posing…or very patient. :D Here are a couple that give you poses and weapons:
And one without weapons: https://www.daz3d.com/z-strike-a-pose-poses-for-genesis-8-female-and-victoria-8
Again, check to make these are still heavily discounted, if they aren’t you’ve missed it.
Look in the PC+ section for hair and clothing – just make sure that they’re all for Genesis 8, currently the newest model as they aren’t all mix and match.
A final thing that you’ll need is lighting, and this is the package that I use a lot simply because they give you images of what each lighting setup looks like. It isn’t on sale at the moment, but I’m adding it because it’s my personal favourite. https://www.daz3d.com/ptf-neon-splash-lighting-suite
Have fun! :)
I started a Patreon under a different name because I was interested in doing something completely new in order to keep my art from becoming stale. As anyone who has ever made the change from just having fun with something to it being their only source of professional income knows, it’s wonderful to be able to freelance for yourself…and it also becomes a job, and automatically something that you have to do.
I’d always loved 80s pinup art from Luis Royo, Olivia de Berardinis, etc., so I thought that I’d do my own version that centered more on game fan art. I had a blast with it, and even experimented a bit with some totally nsfw stuff which was a lot of fun, but in the end was a bit more problematic for me (trying to come up with a women’s view on porn that wasn’t “male gazey” but in the end wasn’t greatly different in tone. I think women are beautiful, men think women are beautiful, so…yeah.
I also had a tough time, given my current workload, with keeping up with two totally different social media accounts, putting work into everything, and not posting anything with rude bits to my main account. :D Everything takes work if you do it right.
In the end I decided to keep my Patreon, change the name to Ravven, keep some of the pinup stuff but not the real nsfw stuff. Oh, I’ll still do some of it, notably my Dark Alice graphic novel, but I’ll keep the Alice stuff on Gumroad when it’s done and post the miscellaneous saucy stuff on the second deviantART account.
I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but I’ve ideas for what I’d really like to do with it.
- Tarot deck. I’ve always wanted to work on a very lush, dark tarot set and this is one of the projects that I want to set time aside for.
- I’m thinking about a course, split into two sections, for creating art – basically, trying to teach the way that I work. This would be split into 1) Create Your Own Book Covers for writers (because I’ve seen some horrifically bad cover art out there and not everyone can afford to cough up hundreds of dollars each time they release a short story. 2) Creating Fantasy or Pinup Art Using 3D and Postwork – basically, a course on how I do artwork. Posing and rendering a model in Daz, compositing in Photoshop and overpainting.
But more on these projects later. Must think about it. :D
I’m starting an experiment with predesigned book cover art that is somewhat customisable. I’ve tried this before, and ended up with people who wanted a full custom cover for the predesigned price, but I think it’s worth trying again.
The problem with custom covers is that increasingly they are done with a design-by-committee approach, as people post them on their Facebook groups, etc. The design window stretches out, far past the assigned slot, and the many, many micromanaged changes mean that you usually end up with a bad cover. I’ll be honest, I’ve considered giving all of this up due to this…and you know how little I want to go back to grey cubicles and software design! :D
What I’d like to do are covers where the art is intact, yet the author or publisher can change the face and hair to match their idea of the character. Covers are rarely helped by having an exact depiction of a certain scene on a cover, as the art is meant to be a marketing tool to intrigue people enough to pick up the book. Although I’m calling these predesigned covers, they’ll have as many hours of work in them as a custom, only at half the price.
Fingers crossed that this is a win/win for both artist and author!
I’ve come to a decision that I’m going to request that authors that I’m currently working with don’t post rough mockups and work in progress to various groups, Facebook or otherwise.
Previously I’ve allowed it as long as the author stated that it was a rough mockup. I’ve always said that I prefer showing more options for a cover with less finished work, rather than two or three choices that are more like finished images. I think of them a bit like storyboards, where you can get a good idea of what the finished cover might look like, but you have to use your imagination a bit.
And then came Facebook groups. I’m a member of several, and many authors have their own private groups. Cover designers cringe and wince when talking about them (yeah, we have our own groups as well), not because we’re not up for honest criticism, but because the advice given in these groups is mostly terrible.
I used to treat it as one of the downsides of an otherwise rewarding trade – I mean, we always had to deal with the “My mother thinks…” kind of uninformed feedback, and this is similar but taken to the nth degree.
You know the saying about opinions being like a certain body part, and of course everyone has one. The trouble is that what you get from them is usually hot air or crap. Design by committee is never easy or productive, and when the people contributing have no actual knowledge of design or genre it gets worse.
Currently I’m at version, what, thirteen or fourteen of a cover that has steadily gotten worse. We’ve gone through several incarnations that I loved, but the current one is going to be one of those covers that I don’t want to put my name to. And this kills me.
So, please for the love of fluffy kittens and all that is right and good in the world, please please please don’t post mockups in these groups. I’m going to start weeding out authors who do this and not working with them again.
I’m begging you. :)
Now we’re ready to start actually putting our cover together. Below is a very basic video on how I work; I’ve tried to keep all of the techniques as basic as possible. There are so many complicated techniques that designers use in Photoshop, but for the purpose trying to put together your own book cover they’re overkill and needlessly confusing. This won’t make you a professional designer, but it will hopefully allow you to put together a better cover image for your book.
Short disclaimer here: I think I was too close to my gaming headset and the sound is very sibilant. Sorry about that! If I do more of these I’ll try to get it to sound less irritating. I also um and ah a great deal when I’m concentrating. :D
In this last section we’re going to talk a bit about how to do some basic customisation on both figures and clothing. This just touches the surface of this software, of course – if you were creating a main character model for a series, for example, you could completely create body/face morphs and bespoke skin textures including custom tattoos, scars and so on. This is too complex to handle in a basic post like this one, however.
Reese Gets A Makeover
We’re going to take our model Reese from the previous two installments and change her into someone new. Select your model as usual, and then from the Content Library find a different model. Use the dropdown to find her Iray materials and double-click to apply them to the existing model. You’ll have less trouble if you use skin, eye and makeup textures from the same model, rather than trying to mix and match here.
Now in the Shaping menus on the right hand of the screen you can (hopefully) see that I’ve gone to Head and dialed down the Reese head, then dialed up Pepper for a mix between the two. You can do that with bodies as well. On individual body parts Shaping allows you to change various features, adding elf ears or tilted eyes, a more lush mouth, older faces or younger ones, just as the Posing menus allow you to move parts of the body and clothing. Here she is a mix of two models and I’ve changed the body to be a bit more curvy, and added some bodybuilder muscle definition.
In this section I’ve added some new hair, as well as clothing from several different sets: a fantasy corset armor top, along with more modern studded pants and boots. We’re going to do some quick surgery to make it match a bit better (you would have to do a lot more to anything that you actually planned on using).
I’ve selected the top, and then in the Surfaces tab on the bottom right of the screen I’ve selected bits of the fantasy armor that I’m going to hide: bottom skirt and the armor cap sleeves. Go to Geometry, and turn the Cutout Opacity to zero. (Some clothing will have an actual Opacity setting, but it works the same way.) I’ve also selected the top level of the shirt in the Surfaces tab and darkened the base colour, which will darken the entire thing. If I wanted to change colour on just one section, I would do that in the sublevel.
Again, there are a lot of really cool and complex things that you can do including applying shaders to various things (turn a cloth item to glass, or metal, for instance), but for the sake of this basic tutorial I won’t go into that.
One last thing before we’re done – the tweaks that you can make in the Parameters tab. As in the screenshot below, click on the Parameters tab for the item that you want to change. In this case, since she’s wearing formfitting clothing, I’ve chosen the hair.
If you can move it around, there will be an Actors submenu with all of the parameters that you can change. Here I’ve made the hair longer, and windblown it to the side.
And we’re done. :) Here’s a quick side-by-side with our original model and a more finished render of our customised one. Have fun!
This is going to be a long post, as I’m doing it with images and text. Yes, it would be easier for me to just record a video, but I really hate using video for tutorials just because Wurdz R Hard. Sometimes written instructions are easier to follows when completing step-by-step actions, rather than trying to pause a video every few minutes. Plus, I’m really old.
Step One: Materials
Your Daz workspace may be set up differently, but you should be able to follow along. From the Content Library tab, go to People/Genesis 8 Female (or whatever) and in Characters double-click the model that you want to use. I have chosen Reese, as per the previous post.
Make sure that you have that model selected (as you can see in the Scene viewport on the far right). Now open up the Characters menu on the left, find your model, and apply the textures. Hopefully Iray, as you’ll get a more realistic end result. Skin, eye, makeup textures are applied to that model, but you may need to open up her dropdowns in Scene to apply things like eyelash materials, etc.
Once you’ve added her skin textures, eye colour, makeup and so on she should start to look a lot more finished – but you won’t be able to see the final product until you render.
Step Two: Adding Hair and Clothing
No one wants to go out in public naked and bald (presumably sans homework as well), so we’re going to clothe our girl. Make sure you have the model selected in the Scene viewport on the right, and then find the hair and clothing that you want to apply from your Content Library on the left.
As per the image above, you see that everything you add works the same way: double-click to attach it to the main figure, then on the right find that item in the dropdown and click on it to add materials, as I’ve added the black texture to the tshirt.
Step Three: Poses
Now we’re going to add some action. I’m going to use a pose from a set here, as that is the easiest way to start, and then we’ll tweak her from there. Again, select your model on the right, then go into the poses that you (hopefully!) have available. You can use a G8 character with a G3 pose, and vice versa, but it will need tweaking (I have a script that converts it for me).
Let’s make her a caster – lord knows there aren’t enough girls in black leather and jeans with magic effects coming off of their hands on book covers, amiright? :D
I’ve used a pose from a commercial set, and now we’re going to customise it. Note the menu on the bottom right: these are the pose controls that can easily bend, twist, or otherwise move body parts. We’re going to change the position of her head by moving her neck, have her look up, etc. There is a lot of tweaking to be done here for truly custom poses, but you’ll learn that as you experiment with it.
Step Four: Basic Lighting
I’m not going to go very in-depth into this (as I said in Part One, this is an extremely basic guide and lighting can be difficult because you can’t see what it really looks like until you render it. This is where some good portrait light packages come in, at least until you become more proficient. This is a good tutorial on Three-Point Lighting in Daz if you want to try doing some custom light setups.
We’re also getting to the point where I’m starting to rethink my life choices, as a video would have been so much easier. :D I’ve chosen a light package on the left and doubleclicked to apply it. This package has a utility for turning the dome off, which will be important for the transparent background that we’ll want for adding it to a background in Photoshop. I’m skipping over tons of stuff, I know – but honestly, a lot of this just requires playing around with it.
Step Five: Basic Render Settings
This is the last step. As you can see on the left of my workspace, I’ve clicked on Render Settings. For this type of work I’ll set the dimensions of the image in the General tab, then open up Progressive Render to set change the settings to the ones shown here: I whack max samples up, and max time as well (so it will allow enough time to render properly). These aren’t exact settings, I just push it up high. Rendering quality I’ll set to 2 or 3, and Rendering Converged Ratio to 98% (you’ll never get 100%). I’m not going to go into what this all means, this will just give you a high quality image to work with. Also, make sure your Engine at the top is set to NVIDIA Iray. Hit the Render button, and you’re done…in a couple of hours. :D
The result? Here is our girl in rough form, ready to be placed into your scene/background (she actually has a transparent background, no removal of background needed). Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to further customise your model, mix models together, and customise clothing.
After writing the last post I found a discussion on a book cover designers’ group about the legality of using software programmes such as Daz, and thought it might be worth repeating my understanding (which no doubt has deeper legal issues than I am listing here, as I am not an attorney*).
- Daz Studio models, meshes, textures are copyrighted and you may not pass them on or resell them. By this I mean the actual model that someone has created, or the original textures that they have created.
- The promo artwork on the product store page for that product is a work of art created by another artist, and they retain all the normal rights to it just as any creator would for their artwork. In other words, even if you’ve purchased the model, you have no rights to the artwork used to promote that model.
- Once you’ve legally purchased it, though, you can use those assets to create your own art, just as you would with any other tool that you use. You bring your unique vision to the final product, which is the render.
- The only caveat to that would be the models on Daz that are actually on iffy ground in relation to copyright – by this I am referring to the celebrity lookalikes, the vehicles (I have a motorcycle that the vendor called a “Marley Davison,” for example) and in that case you wouldn’t risk it on a commercial project. That’s just common sense, and any sensible person knows that they can’t use Angelina Jolie’s face on their cover, no matter if it is a photograph, a 3D render, or an original illustration.
So, I hope this clears up some of the misinformation and misunderstanding involved. Legal matters are tough for creatives, as plain information regarding complex legal issues is sometimes difficult to reseach and most of us aren’t legal professionals. And as the whole ridiculous “Cockygate” issue taught us, even with legal advice you can still get it wrong. :)
Creating Custom Art with Daz Studio Models
I’ve always been good with colour and shading in my art, but my actual freehand drawing skills? Good enough for my mom’s refrigerator, but nothing that would lead to a professional career. It was a revelation when I started using stock photography as a base for a finished image in Photoshop, working with layers and textures and overpainting with a Wacom tablet to finally be able to create the concept in my mind’s eye that was so let down by my stupid, untalented hand.
Working as a book cover artist brought a new set of challenges (the limitations of existing commercial stock) and a brand-new solution: 3D programmes, specifically Daz Studio. Daz offers a world of models at your fingertips, to be dressed and posed exactly as you need them. Hallelujah!
This will be a three-part series that will tie in with https://ravven.com/portfolio/designing-your-own-book-covers/ my (long-neglected!) series on designing your own book covers. This post will cover some basics, and then the next post will cover customising your models and getting the best renders possible.
I am going to make an assumption (as I will in the main series) that you have a certain level of kit. This will require a Windows PC with an Nvidia graphics card and a certain level of oomph. You can do renders without an Nvidia card, but Iray is vastly superior to 3Delight and the quality of the image will be better. Daz Studio is free and comes with base models and the ability to do your own lighting, but if you can afford a few packages you’ll get much better (and easier) results.
Choosing A Model
For book cover art you’ll quite often replace a CGI model’s head with a photo model, and you’ll usually always have to redo at least part of the hair. In the Daz shop, look at the models – you’ll be working with either Genesis 3 or Genesis 8, nothing below that. Look for not only the right look for your specific project, but also look for a realistic skin with texture and flaws. The eyes should look real as well, without the white. unshadowed look that older models have. There are many, many models with perfect skin but they look less realistic – and it is that “doll-like” look that people think of when they object to Daz models.
This is Reese, one of the models that I purchased recently. I’ll be using her as an example.
Good lighting is also essential, and can change the look of your render massively. I happen to absolutely suck at doing custom lighting setups in Daz, so I have a set of lights that I use a lot for portraits. These are some of the light packages that I use:
- Chroma Iray Lights
- Elianeck Dramatic Lights for Iray
- ElianeCK HDRI Lights for Iray
- PRO-Studio HDR Lighting System
Add a hair and clothing package, and you’re ready to go! Of course, all of this can be very expensive if you don’t shop smart. Much like the way I track books that I want on Amazon, I tend to add things to a wishlist and wait for sales. The Platinum Club membership can save you a fortune if you shop smart.
Remember: clothing, hair and poses for a Genesis 3 model may not work on a Genesis 8, so be careful when buying assets – mistakes can be expensive.
Working With Daz: Initial Steps
I’m not going to go into the basics of actually using the software here, as there are tutorials which will do a much better job. For our purposes, Shannon Maer has some wonderful video tutorials about rendering a model in Daz and then overpainting in Photoshop for some truly unique looks.
Next Post: Creating a Custom Look
For the next post I’ll cover customising models and doing a render. After all, that is why we’re doing this – the idea is to create a truly custom look for your renders that you can’t get with commercial photo stock models. Have fun until then!
I have a selection of predesigned covers available here, and will try to keep this updated.
For the moment, I still have all predesigned covers available here (although I’ll make a decision which portfolio of covers to keep: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/ravven/pre-designed-book-covers/