The Making of Innocent Shadow

        I created Innocent Shadow using POV-Ray, a free ray-tracing program available for most platforms that can generate a wide range of images from text description files.

This "making of" is broad overview of how I created the image. If you'd like to see how I modeled the objects in Innocent Shadow you can download the POV-Ray source text and images as a zip file. A sepia version is available at Zazzle.

Award for 1st
        In elementary school I learned shadows were burned into stone and wood by the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The haunting images of people's shadows, recording the instant of their deaths, had a great impact on me. When I read the new IRTC stills topic, the idea of a nuclear shadow as a "Frozen Moment" came to me instantly.

This was an early sketch showing my original concept, in which the shadows (of a father and son on a pier) are imprinted on the wall. Now you know why I use a computer to draw...

Early concept drawing
        This simple image was a position and perspective test, the father and son represented by cylinders. I knew I wanted to do a pipe wheel that was also shadowed by the blast, to give a hint to what the missing people's shadows meant. I wanted the full shadows to be visible, so I thought they needed to be above the base of the wall, and this was my solution.

Another early concept I considered was a merry-go-round in a schoolyard playground.

Early concept render
        At this point I decided I didn't want to spend time away from the Venice image I'd been working on, so I dropped the project for several days.

I later brought up the idea of a nuclear shadow as a frozen moment to a friend. She was so touched by the concept I decided to spend the time to create the image. I showed her my sketches and mentioned the idea of a girl frozen while jumping rope (a double frozen moment), and she liked that idea best.

The first thing I did was pull up a picture I had taken of my niece jumping rope at Disneyworld. It didn't look very promising, so I assumed I would have to shoot another picture, but once I got rolling in Photoshop it started to look good.

Slone at Disneyworld
        I carefully colored out the surrounding image to create a transparent map. I then painted in a dress and made a few modifications to make her appear to be a Japanese schoolgirl.

I'd recently purchased an inexpensive pressure-sensitive tablet and it was very valuable for this and the other image maps. It also came with Photoshop 5.0 LE, the program I used to edit the images.

The shadow mask
        This was my first pass at a brick wall with stucco/mortar. I hadn't yet used the trace() feature to place the bricks based on the height of the mortar, so the bricks were flat. An early brick wall
        After spending a week writing the brick wall macro I generated this image. The basic elements were there, the girl's shadow and her rope, the hydrant, door and window. At this point the doors (here represented by a simple texture) were going to be closed. Looking at this image I decided it was too straightforward, too static... First image with shadow on brick
        So I angled the viewpoint. I was nervous about this change since I've always disliked diagonal viewpoints, but it felt right for this. I also raised the viewpoint to look down on the girl. The change gave the image an ominous feeling, as if I was zooming down on her, just as the nuclear flash did.

I made things easy on myself at this point, fixing the perspective and image size. I continued to experiment with the darkness of the shadows and the size of the girl's shadow.

First image with diagonal perspective
        I decided the scene was too flat, so I removed the doors and added a hallway to add some depth. I also felt the brick wall had too much color, and the stucco color variation was too strong. It was pretty, but I wanted a more washed-out look.

Here I'd added the sidewalk and baseboard, and I was checking to see how a "rising sun" transom would look. I also decided to move the window down, and added the ironwork. Shadows of roof tiles (simple cylinders) on the sidewalk were added, which helped hide the transition to the "nuclear flash" shadow light source on the brick wall.

One of the hardest tasks was to make a realistic looking weathered wood. The board over the doorway was my first decent attempt, but I would struggle with it (and the door) for some time.

With sidewalk and hallway
        Here are my niece Slone Clement's original drawings. I modified them a little, and then experimented with several different positions and orientations.

At this time I hit on the idea of motion blurring the rope; glad I thought of that. I added the stairs, thinking they might symbolize an escape, or a rising up above all of this. I'm not usually big on symbolism, but one thing seemed to lead to another with this image.

Slone's drawings of a bird and sun
        I began to worry there wasn't enough in the picture to clue people into it's meaning. I showed it to several people and no one knew about the nuclear shadows. I came up with the idea of the mortar forming a subtle mushroom cloud. I drew the mushroom in Photoshop, patterned after a photo of the actual mushroom cloud over Nagasaki.

One of the titles I considered for the image was "Shadow of Hiroshima." It would have made the image much easier to understand, but I didn't like its impersonal feel and directness. The less descriptive "Innocent Shadow" made the text file more important and I spent some time getting it right.

The mushroom cloud
        Here I've added several details and experimented with a white painted doorframe. I was very happy with the look of the hallway wall and floor; I added a little reflection to the floor so it would appear to be smooth cement. I also began working on the leaf and stem macro. Here there's a very long stem lying on the sidewalk.

Around this time the rendering became very slow. I'd added lights to fill some dark shadow areas and the leaves were giving me several problems. I started to worry about finishing the image in time, so I began to do only partial renders (notice the discontinuity in the girl's shadow and the window).

In hindsight I should have used fewer lights for my tests, and dealt with the lighting and radiosity adjustments at the end, but I kept wanting to see how everything would look in the final image.

The flowers and white door
        Here's the text for the memorial tablet. I enjoyed drawing the Japanese text and gained some appreciation for its beauty. The (somewhat controversial) text on the tablet is from a memorial at Hiroshima. In English it reads:

Let all souls here rest in peace,
for we shall not repeat the evil.

I tried several stone textures for the tablet, with the text etched in, but ended up using a simple reflective granite. Many of the objects I created were very small in the image, so I often zoomed in, but I didn't render any high-resolution looks; it was already slow as it was.

The Japanese text on the tablet
        Here I've added the tablet and an origami crane, and have (finally) drawn the hydrant; I left the hydrant for last because I knew it would go quickly. The text over the complex layered paint/rust texture required some more transparency, making the hydrant incredibly slow to render. I didn't bother to complete its render until later.

I muted the yellow flowers and green leaves and increased the lighting in the hallway. Bombed out buildings and my signature were added to the baseboard.

The fire hydrant has been added
        "Tachik" kindly responded to my request for a translation of the text on the hydrant. I was happy to hear the text was fairly generic, and not something that would locate the hydrant in another place or time.
The text written to the hydrant is a character sequence of Japan, and is a meaning called a "hydrant".

The upper character expresses "Extinguish".
The 2nd character expresses "fire".
The 3rd character expresses the "service cock".

A Japanese fire hydrant
        Here I've added more cranes, the chain on the hydrant, and two spots of light on the hallway floor (I'm not sure these were worth the trouble) and one at the base of the mushroom cloud. I modified the window's threshold, adding a curve.

I began to worry that the main focus was too far off center, so I moved the girl's shadow and accompanying items to the right. I was concerned about how I was going to position the leaves, as they rendered very slowly. I'd thought about having a few leaves floating in the air (another frozen moment), but I worried it would be a distraction so I (happily) dropped that idea.

I also played around with the sidewalk's surface, another slow rendering item. An attempt to round the sidewalk's edges failed; the rounded box isosurface didn't take the crack patterns well.

A lighting test image
        I'd taken photos of Sugar Maple leaves a month earlier with thoughts of modeling a tree. Sugar Maples are incredibly beautiful in the Fall, with red, yellow and green leaves fading together at the same time. Placing the images on transparent spheres added some curvature to the leaves in my scene, but they still look a bit flat. Experiments in adding a crinkly wave to the surface didn't go far; they rendered incredibly slow. Sugar Maple leaves
        I finally got enough leaves placed, but it was a struggle. I wasn't happy with the leaves in the center, and the colors were a little bright, but I had to wrap things up soon to have time for the final render.

I noticed the fore and aft hydrant fittings stuck out too much (in this image), so I shortened them for the final render. I didn't catch it earlier because I hadn't yet rendered the hydrant's shadow, where they showed more. I decreased the intensity of the spotlight on the leaves and mushroom cloud.

Almost done
        I added the tree's shadow at the last minute. It was needed, with all those leaves on ground, and it added some atmosphere. However the tree meant I would have to use a much more accurate area light for the sun, slowing things down further and complicating the shadows.

The tree was created using the Maketree macro. It looks odd here, but I was only interested in how the outside branch shadows looked.

A tree for the limb shadows
        The final image used radiosity, so I adjusted the sky color (not visible) to get the right tint. I noticed a few things I wanted to change after seeing this four-day render: some bricks that were stacked on top of each other just above the hydrant, the mushroom cloud wasn't exactly what I wanted, and the scene looked a little dark. I had time for one more render so I made the adjustments, but that render didn't work out, as the mushroom cloud was no longer visible.

And then it was time to submit the image. I was happy with the result, but also happy to be finished!

Innocent Shadow
        I hope you found this page interesting. If you like, email me your comments.