Why text?

A friend of mine looked at some of my POV work some time ago and remarked off-hand, “that’s the kind of stuff I’d do in Photoshop”. And it is. He’s a pretty damn good illustrator when he wants to be. He thinks in negative space and shading and perspective. I’m not, and I can’t for the life of me get any of those right. I’ve tried “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, I’ve tried to “Draw Binky!” and I just can’t handle it. I don’t think that way and I don’t know how.

But I can tell the computer to put a box here, a basketball there, and cut the words “Sports Memories” in x-foam to hang over the top.

While I’m one of those who wishes for a better graphical interface for POV (perhaps an API that allows other programs to ‘call’ POV and ask for dimensions of objects and images of objects), I also like the text interface. Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer. Even with a graphical interface, I’m not going to be drawing pictures and placing them into 3D worlds. I don’t have the skill for that. But in POV, it is very easy for me to draw circles, balls, boxes, cones, and pipes with perfect accuracy in or out of perspective.

I envision it more like a technical director, or taking photographs. Once I create an object, I can place it wherever I want—in feet, meters, whatever. I can put these styrofoam letters four feet in the air, above this wood floor, next to this plastic beachball. I can tell the beachball to bounce once every 3 seconds. I can place the letters on a mobile and have them twirl from a string. And I don’t have to worry about my hand-eye coordination (or lack thereof), because I tell POV exactly where I want those letters to be.

And once I tell POV where those objects are, POV is the one that handles shading, shadows, reflections, refractions, perspective, horizon, and figuring out what parts of each object obscure what parts of other objects. All I have to do is place them in the scene and let ‘nature’, in the form of POV, do the rest.

Sure, it probably takes me as long to give POV these instructions as it would for a skilled illustrator to draw the object. But I’m not a skilled illustrator—and even if I drew the object once, I will take almost as long again if I need to use that object in another scene. Whereas in POV, I can take that object and not only reuse it, but reuse it from different perspectives, in different colors, and even with different textures.

This is why I also am a proponent of better skewing and deformation ‘commands’. I want to be able to tell POV to bend this object here, twist it that way, and press in like it was stepped on. And I want to be able to tell it this in text. If I have to draw it, I might as well go to art school. There’s a tendency now in POV to relegate any deformations and organic objects to triangles or meshes, constructed with a drawing tool. If we want to shear an object, we need to understand the ‘matrix’ function. I’d like to see POV continue in the direction of textual control even for organic and deformed objects.

  • The ability to get the bounding dimensions of an object! This is most apparently useful with text: it would allow you to center the text at an arbitrary point. There is a ‘patch’ that adds this very feature, but of course that would require my recompiling the software in order to get this feature.
  • The ability to draw a three dimensional wireframe, and have POV skin it: much like we draw prisms and lathes currently.
  • The ability to deform one object towards or away from another object. Preferably with volume maintenance on or off.
  • The ability to use normals as deformations.
  • Curved and linear bends and twists.
  • Melts, rains, hair, and growth.
  • Sierpinsky-like fractals as an object type. (They could go a long way towards providing realistic clouds and plants, as well as just plain cool weirdness.)

But that’s just my wish list. The fact remains that I use POV because of, not in spite of, the textual interface. If that appeals to you, I recommend downloading the software and going through these tutorials. You may find it not only useful, but fun!