Output into input.

Usually the CG rendering process begins in a modeling program and ends with some post-production work in programs like Photoshop, or After Effects, but today I would like to ask:  “Why stop there?”.

The computer loves to render smoothly graded, precision images.  Images that are actually so clean that it can even call attention to itself for that reason.   So, what if we rendered an image for the purpose of processing it, and re-using it as a texture image for another render?

Here’s the model you last saw me make two weeks ago:

And here it is, quickly rendered:

Now we could just begin the process of re-using this image right away, but I figured out a neat little post-process design method in Illustrator that I liked the look of, so let’s do that first.
In Illustrator, live tracing the image in color gives something that looks like this:After a brief pit-stop in Photoshop to make it truly grayscale  and save it out into an image format more easily read by Maya, we can now apply the image as a texture to a new material in several different ways.  Such as…

DisplacementSpecular Color

Color, via a ramp texture.

Incandescence.Transparency (object seen through plane)

Of course, a lot depends on how well you light your object in the original render, and how you are able to get your shadows to render just to the point where form is clearly outlined.  Like in photography, squinting helps to preview what you’re going to get on the other end of this tactic.

One of the projects I remember from an early design class, where the goal was to build-up texture, you had to, well, build marks up over old marks, over and over again, often using different media and creating something with some real interest and depth at the end of the run, which was well far away from the first layer.
Digitally speaking one can continue to migrate back and forth between different image editing and rendering programs and expand the versatility of your end results much in the same way that continually using and reusing different media on a canvas or board results in greater depth.  The post production process isn’t necessarily the end of the line, unless you choose it to be.

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