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Social media is a fantastic way to promote yourself or your business – it can increase awareness of your brand, bolster your design portfolio, improve your site's SEO, and help you to genuinely connect with your customers. It's easy to set up a social media page, but gaining traction and turning handfuls of followers into thousands and thousands of engaged users is tough.

  • How to create a killer social media campaign

There's no magic formula to success in social media, and it can feel like it's taking a very long time to attract the right followers. There are some social media tricks and some basic rules you can follow to help things along. However, these vary between social media platforms, so we've zoned in on five power tips for each of the three main players: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

If you follow this advice, and remain patient during the lulls in follower activity, you will be well on the path to audience engagement. On this page we look at Facebook, and on the following pages you'll find power tips for Twitter and Instagram. Let's dive straight in…

Facebook power tips

Image credit: Tim Bennett

01. Get local

If you are only going to do one thing with social media from now on then it should be this. Join as many local community groups as possible and post regularly in them. Get known, provide advice, answer questions. Just participate. People buy from people they know. So make sure everyone knows you.

02. Know your audience

Every single Facebook tip boils down to one thing. Get to know the people around you, and make sure they know you. Talk to people, answer their questions for free, be the guy everyone likes, the first person they think of. Then when they need something, you’ll have already sold it.

03. Share memes

People love to share funny pictures. The picture itself isn’t going to get you any business, but becoming known as a person who is funny isn’t going to do you any harm at all. Social media is about interaction. Be the person that everyone likes. Try to make what you share relevant…

04. Integrate email marketing

Do you have a regular newsletter? If not then shame on you, go start one now. Then integrate the sign up with your Facebook page. There’s no point in going to all of the effort of making people like you if you don’t leverage it to get an opportunity to pitch your business.

05. Retarget

We know it kinda goes against the ethos of this list to suggest you simply pay for adverts, but Facebook’s retargeting system rocks. And even better it doesn’t have to cost much. The more people see you the more likely they are to buy, so retarget to make sure they see you again!

Recommended app: Tabsite

tabsite

Tabsite adds features to your Facebook page

This tool enables you to create tabs in Facebook, so you can run competitions, sweepstakes, and special offers.

Next page: Tips for making the most of Twitter

Twitter power tips

01. Tweet a lot

The average lifespan of a single tweet is measured in minutes. Even assuming you have a good audience then tweeting once a day is only ever going to reach a tiny fraction of them. You should be aiming to post multiple times a day. Retweet yourself if you have to.

02. Become the expert

If you aren’t tweeting links to interesting articles about your industry then you are missing a trick. Portray yourself as being knowledgeable and at the cutting edge without having to write your own content. That a real win-win situation.

03. Start a conversation

It seems a little odd to think of Twitter as a place for conversations when you remember the character limit, but it really is. Answer people, compliment them, thank them for retweeting you. Show them the person behind the tweets, and you will reap the rewards.

04. Use moving pictures

Everyone likes a good GIF right? Get yourself over to Giphy and start using them as answers. You’d be amazed at how many conversations are taking place on Twitter right now with nothing but GIFs. Come and join in.

05. Ride the coat-tails of fame

Tag people. The more followers the better. Make sure they are relevant to your business, and your tweet is relevant to them. All it takes is one retweet, or reply from a big name in your industry for people to notice you.

Recommended app: Tweetdeck

Tweetdeck

Control multiple accounts and see various feeds at once in Tweetdeck

Do you want to manage multiple Twitter streams at the same time? Then TweetDeck is the app for you.

Next page: Last, but by no means least, Instagram…

Instagram power tips

Image credit: Hans Vivek

01. Get on brand

Creating a content strategy helps keep you on track when deciding what to post. Make a recognisable look for everything you do and soon people will start to know it is you before they even see your name. Help your potential customers see the world your way to make them feel connected.

02. #UseHashtags

Hashtags are massive on Instagram. Unlike on other social media sites where they have been shown to have a negative effect, hashtags genuinely help people find your content. Use trending hashtags to get visibility, and create your own brand hashtags for others to use. Just make sure that you monitor them!

03. Connect with video

Because Instagram is so focused on photo sharing, people often forget about video. Lots of people don’t bother because of the length restrictions, but if you’re happy to record live then you can have video of up to an hour in length.

04. Remember the community

Whatever your feelings about Instagram, it’s still social media. Which means it’s about interaction. Like your customers’ pics, especially if they have your products in them. Reply to comments on your images, and make sure to comment on other people’s. Don’t forget to tag people too!

05. Run competitions

As a general rule of thumb the sort of person who is active on Instagram is creative and likes taking pictures. Running a competition with a specific hashtag is a lovely way to drive awareness of your brand while letting people do what they already like to do anyway.

Recommended app: Hootsuite

Hootsuite

Hootsuite helps take control of Instagram scheduling along with all your other social media accounts

Many professional marketers would be lost without Hootsuite. It’s a one-stop-shop for everything social.

This article was originally published in creative web design magazine Web Designer. Buy issue 270 or subscribe.

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  • How to start a blog: 11 pro tips
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If you've taken the time to master the best 3D modelling software around, the last thing you want to do is ruin your artwork with a bad render. Here, Polish 3D artist Łukasz Hoffmann shares his top tips for creating realistic 3D renders, specifically cars. 

His expertise in this field is evident from the fantastic image above, which won the silver award in one of Hum3D's Car Render Challenges. Check out Hum3D's latest competition on creating  the best car in a post-apocalyptic style, judged by a team that includes 3D Artist's editor Carrie Mok. 

01. Start simple

In the modelling stage, try to maintain a simple shape and focus on leading proper curve lines. Cut out details after the main shape is established.

02. Make use of fresnel shaders

Use more complex shaders to create great effects

While creating a car material, keep in mind that real car paint is a combination of a few layers of dielectric and metallic materials. Use complex shaders, comprised of multiple basic shaders, and make use of fresnel (an incidence angle) to blend between them at a specific angle. You can also add a procedural voronoi (which is a specific type of noise algorithm) or similar texture into the normal channel of the shader to create a metallic flakes effect.

03. Choose HDRI wisely

Use high-dynamic-range imaging, which will accentuate the shape of the car. The best choice would be a high contrast HDRI, which will help to enhance the reflections along the curvature of the car. Use a high-resolution 32-bit HDRI to get appropriate light information for your scene. You will find that the simple studio HDRIs are the best for most car scenes.

04. Use additional lighting

Add in additional light sources for a more believable scene

If your environment or HDRI is not enough, make use of additional light sources in your scene. Make sure the highlights are emphasising the shape of the car and try setting up a rim lights to pop out the silhouette of the car.

5. Consider composition

You can easily tilt your camera to add a sense of movement in dynamic shots, place a car in an interesting environment with a pleasant colour palette or sell your render with a good focal point and additional close-up shots. When creating an entire scene try to separate first, second and third plane, and lead the viewer’s eye with guide lines and focal points.

6. Bevel every edge

Bevel your edges for a realistic look

Don’t forget about beveling edges in the modelling stage. Even the sharpest edge in the real world is not perfectly sharp. Adding a subtle bevel, especially on refractive elements such as light diffuser, will catch a nice, realistic light reflection.

Related articles:

  • 4 easy steps to improve your render
  • Sculpt realistic anatomy in ZBrush
  • 5 pieces of killer hardware every 3D artist will crave

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Most of us have drawn and painted posed models in the confines of a studio. Or we’ve sketched animals in a taxidermy collection. It may be easier to draw such a subject that holds still in controlled light conditions, but the results can often look lifeless and unnatural, more mannequin than man.

The remedy is to head outside and hunt for lifelike poses and authentic lighting – real humans and real animals alive in their natural habitat. However, sketching moving subjects from observation is a formidable challenge that can frustrate even the most capable artist. In this feature, I will share my top 10 strategies of how to draw moving subjects.

01. Start with simple tools

Even basic tools can create a strong impression

The simplest set-up for sketching people and animals is a graphite pencil or a ballpoint pen and paper. If you want to add some colour you can use a small set of water-soluble coloured pencils, perhaps yellow ochre, red-brown, dark brown, and black (for some options, look at our guide to the best pencils for artists).

These can be dissolved with a water brush (a hollow-handled refillable tool with a nylon tip). I like to have a second water brush filled with a convenient background colour, such as dark blue or black. There is a variety of brush pens available that will let you sketch quickly with all the advantages of a brush, but without the need to dip into a reservoir of ink or paint.

02. Sketch key poses

Moving subjects rely on stock positions

If an animal or person is awake and moving, they’re not going to stay in the same position for very long. So observe them for a while before you start drawing. Look for characteristic poses that your subject keeps returning to. Try to get a feel for how long they’ll stay in each position. Even if it is standing, a horse will shift its weight from one leg to another, but it will eventually return to its first position. 

Start in the upper-left corner of your paper and draw quick little thumbnails sketches of each of the most characteristic poses. Don’t bother erasing, just start light and leave the first statement of action. Each sketch is like a snapshot from the continuous action going on in front of you. The set of small studies will be a summary of key poses and the range of motion. 

03. Learn the structure

Once you master human anatomy, drawing movement gets easier

If you want to draw from memory, practise copying simplified skeletons and structural breakdowns of humans and animals it becomes are second nature. It’s essential to know the basic forms of the skeleton. You can study diagrams in books, but I prefer to go to a museum with good skeletons and work from those, because that’s the only way you’ll get a sense of the three dimensions. As you’re sketching someone, switch your eyes to ‘x-ray vision’ and imagine what the skeleton is doing underneath. 

04. Let sleeping dogs lie

Tire out a dog and you’ve got a perfect sleeping subject

If you’re lucky, you might catch an animal or a person sleeping. A dog will typically hold a sleeping pose for 10 or 15 minutes, but you never know when they’ll shift position. Since I don’t own a dog, I often draw and paint canines that belong to friends and acquaintances. It often helps to take the dog for a walk before sketching it. The walk tires out the dog so that it will settle down. Also, if the dog is just getting to know you, a walk makes the dog more comfortable with you.

05. Remain inconspicuous

Keep a steady view to get an accurate image

When I’m sitting on a bench, in a restaurant or in a concert audience, I can’t hold the sketchbook anywhere near the line of sight, because setting up an easel isn’t an option. Also, I like to remain relatively inconspicuous.

With the sketchbook down in my lap, there are two issues to overcome – head bobbing and accuracy. To avoid head bobbing, I tip my head forward to a middle angle, and I adjust my reading glasses to the best angle, so I can see the sketch and flick my eyes up to see the subject without moving my head. To improve accuracy, because I can’t reach out my arm to do sight-size measurements, I make mental notes of slopes and alignments during the lay-in stage.

06. Sketch musicians

Musicians create unusual poses as they play

Musicians make great subjects because, although they move a lot, they come back to certain poses. The amount that they shift varies a lot, depending on the performer and the kind of instrument. A few are reliably rock-steady – Irish flautists, for example, especially if they are playing into a microphone. 

Be aware of the etiquette: If the venues are free, or outdoors, or in a pub, the vibe is more relaxed. If in doubt about whether it’s OK to sketch during a performance, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you can, ask permission to come to rehearsals.

07. Try the flash-glance technique

Close your eyes occasionally to take a mental snap shot

If you’re dealing with fast action, here’s a tip for making your eyes work like a high-speed camera. As you watch your subject, snap your eyes closed from time to time. The last pose that you glimpsed will hover in your short-term memory for a few fractions of a second. I call this after-image the ‘flash-glance’, and it’s usually enough to recall the basic silhouette or limb positions for a quick notation. 

This can work especially well at dance performances and sporting events, where you’re likely to see actions repeated, and you already have an idea of what the extreme poses might look like. At first, when you try this technique, just try to sketch what you really remember observing. Over time, you’ll be able to recall more details of the pose.

08. Train your memory

Memory and imagination go hand in hand

Knowledge, memory, and imagination are closely related. You can make the most progress when you alternate between observation, book study, and memory. You can draw an animal from life, and then draw that pose later in your sketchbook just from memory. 

Even if that memory sketch doesn’t look very good, it helps you come face to face with what you know and what you don’t know. Then, back in the studio, you can supplement gaps in your knowledge by sketching from action photos. The more you can internalise the animal’s structure, the better you can refine a sketch when the person or animal has changed position.

09. Practice on friends

Pubs are the perfect place to practice

Art friends usually don’t mind being sketched, because they understand what you’re trying to do. You can sketch them at a pub, a studio, or a restaurant. At a restaurant, you’ve got about 15-20 minutes after you order your meal while you wait for your food. Of course, everyone will be not holding still, plus you want to add something to the conversation. 

It helps to sit in a seat with good lighting on your work and on your subject. Look at and ‘around’ the person you’re sketching. As they talk and gesture, think about what pose and posture is most typical of that person.

10. Visit zoos and farms to sketch animals

Zoos offer unique sketching opportunities

Zoos offer a great opportunity to sketch animals that would be difficult to observe in the wild. The animals often return to the same poses or movements so you can spend more time on your sketch. If you talk to one of the keepers, they can tell you about the animal’s schedule and feeding routine, and which parts of the zoo are likely to be least crowded. 

If the zoo has large habitat-style enclosures, you can set up a spotting scope on a tripod to bring you closer to the details. Farms and agricultural shows also offer the chance to observe fine specimens of domesticated animals up close, as long as you don’t mind the crowds.

Related articles:

  • Best practice advice for capturing human anatomy
  • Art techniques: top tutorials for painting and drawing
  • Drawing techniques: 7 fundamentals of pencil drawing

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If you've been hard at work in your spare time creating stunning paper art or impressive poster designs, selling your merchandise online can be a quick way to make extra pennies for your efforts.

However it's not as simple as sticking it on the internet and hoping people hand over their money. In fact there's a fine art to tempting people into buying your wares – especially now the lower barriers to entry mean anyone and everyone can sell their creations online. Luckily this crash course list of advice will get you ready for the fast-paced world of online design retail. 

Here we're focusing on Etsy, but there are other places geared up towards selling designer-maker goods – take a look at our list of great places to sell your design work online for more info. And if you're looking to start from scratch, it's worth reading our in-depth guide to how to succeed as a designer-maker for success stories and advice.

01. Get product photography right

It can be helpful to include something to indicate scale

Images are really important when selling on Etsy – or anywhere else online. It's the only way your customers are able to see what you're selling, so make sure your photos are clear, well-lit and appealing. In particular, make sure your backgrounds are plain and neutral – keep the focus on your products. However, it can help to include something for scale in one of your photos. For example, RockCakes shows her jewellery on a person (above), so prospective customers can see how big it is.

02. Use search terms in product titles

Use the Title field to add extra info for your customers

On Etsy, you need to provide each listing with a title. This is a great place to add keywords and search terms that your buyers will use to find your item.

Some sellers mistake this as a place to title a work with a collection 
or item name – for example, calling a handbag 'the Julia' and leaving out important words that help search engines recognise the item, such as style, colour, material and manufacturing method. When writing your title, be sure to include descriptive words that your customers will use.

03. Experiment to see what sells

These pins from Finest Imaginary are a summertime purchase

Something successful sellers do is focus on their businesses. They are constantly experimenting and figuring out what works for them. This includes trying out new products, as well as new photos and new ways to describe their items.

They also keep an eye on the results. What worked this year may not work next year, and seasonality and larger trends can play a big part in how well a shop does, so never stop experimenting.

04. Set targets for improvement

Abi Overland offers a small but popular range of products on her Etsy site

It's good to set small goals over the course of a week. For example, you could start by opening your shop with one item and then add another item each week. It's also worth signing up for the Etsy Success newsletter, which provides tips from top sellers on the site. Good luck!

This article was originally published in Computer Arts magazine.

Read more:

  • Business tips for selling design goods
  • How to make money on Instagram as a creative
  • 8 golden rules of handmade

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When trying to convey a design idea to win pitches and get an early sign-off, moods, feelings and visions can be difficult to communicate verbally. So designers will often use mood boards: a collection of textures, images and text related to a design theme as a reference point.

Mood boards help others to 'get inside our heads' as they show what you're thinking and feeling about a creative idea and your intended vision for a piece of work.

  • Get Adobe Creative Cloud now

That said, mood boards can be a pain to create, with many hours spent trawling image galleries, websites, books and magazines looking for that perfect image to sum up your intended feel for the work at hand. The right tools for creating mood boards can help, as can the following tips on making your mood board process more effective – increasing your chances of winning that pitch.

01. Look beyond the digital world

Mood boards: ITV News site

Made by Many used copies of Picture Post to inspire its redesign of the ITV News site

When putting together mood boards, it's easy (and therefore tempting) to just use Google Images. But just because you're working on a digital product doesn't mean you have to stick to digital inspiration.

For example, while working on the ITV news website, digital product design company Made by Many looked at copies of the veteran Picture Post magazine in order to express how powerful and effective an image plus a caption can be for telling a news story.

Real world inspiration such as this can be a very powerful 'convincer' when putting together a board for a client.

02. Take pictures when you’re out

Use your smartphone to snap anything that catches your eye

Real-world inspiration is all around us. So use the camera on your phone to take pictures of everything you see that inspires you, whether that be a bird in flight, great use of typography on a sign, or the brickwork on a building.

They don't have to be great photos in the traditional sense – it's all about capturing thoughts, impressions, themes and feelings.

03. Curate what you include

Have you ever had the misfortune of going to a gallery exhibition and it just not doing anything for you? You weren't 'touched' by the exhibition or 'moved' by what was on show – and other similar emotive profusions. It's very easy to shove a load of stuff together and call it an exhibition; it's an absolute talent to curate threads and synergies between works and call it an exhibition.

When putting together mood boards, think of yourself as a curator rather than a collector, and try to introduce meaning and threads from one image to the next. It makes for easier interpretation.

04. Choose the right format

If you’re presenting your mood board in person, you need to take a different approach

From the outset, establish whether your mood board is going to be presented in person or emailed to the client, as this will determine whether you produce an offline or online mood board. The distinction is not trivial; the two formats demand very different approaches.

An offline mood board will generally be looser in style and require the extra kick and emotive spark that comes from it being presented to a client. An online mood board should be tighter and will generally need to work harder to convey a theme or style.

05. Build things up around a large image

Whether your mood board is electronic or physical, the layout needs to give prominence to key theme images. You can then surround these with smaller supporting images that enhance the theme.

It's a subliminal trick. When someone sees a large image on your board in their heads they'll have questions about it – which they'll quickly scan the rest of the board to find answers for. If you place smaller supporting images around the larger image they should answer these questions by clarifying the messaging given in the larger one.

06. Get tactile

Don’t be afraid to get a little crafty

When making a physical mood board, don't be afraid to get, well, physical. Traditionally, mood boards are made from foam board. Although cutting this stuff up with a scalpel and spray mounting cut-out images onto it can be a pain (especially if you're not dexterous with a blade), it's extremely effective as a presentation tool. The tactile nature of cut-out images glued onto boards enhances the emotiveness of what's being explained.

It may seem like a ridiculously old-fashioned thing to do, but perception-wise it's a real ace up your sleeve as a designer. Just be careful with your fingers on that blade…

07. Incorporate your board into your pitch

Generally mood boards are considered to be separate to pitch or presentation work: they stand alone to show mood and tone. This is standard practice, but consider instead making them part of your pitch or presentation. Remember, you're trying to use subliminal visual tricks to make a client 'get it'.

Mixing mood board elements in with the presentation – rather than bolting them on at the end – can be an effective way of communicating your concept to the client.

08. Don't reveal it too early

It's important to make sure that a well-meaning project manager doesn't email an offline mood board ahead of the presentation 'so the client knows what we're presenting'.

For an offline mood board, it's far better to let it all sink in to the client's mind as you showcase it, rather than come armed with lots of questions before you even start.

09. Present your own mood board 

In a similar vein, if your mood board is being presented to the client, try to be involved yourself. It makes no sense to have something that originated in your head being communicated by someone else, because that way meaning can become muddled in a Chinese whispers-type mess.

10. Keep things loose

Locking an idea or a style down in a mood board can be detrimental, as the client will feel shoehorned into going with a particular aesthetic. Keep everything a little loose and don't make everything look too final.

If you're using preview images from image libraries, don't worry about the watermarking on them – it all adds up to a 'hey look, we can change this, these are ideas' feel to the board.

11. Watch the audience

Pay attention to your audience’s reactions

When you're presenting an offline mood board, watch the faces of those you're showing it to. Ignore any verbal client 'oohs and ahhs' but instead watch their facial and emotive reactions as they look around the board. This will give you a much more honest take on whether the board is doing its job and if they're reacting well or badly to what you're showing them.

You have to put these people 'in your mood', so ignore their mutterings and watch their emotive reactions.

12. Hone your mood board skills

Mood boards: Landor

Employees at Landor use mood boards to express themselves to other members of the team

Employees at branding agency Landor Associates use a form of mood board to showcase themselves to other members of the team. Individuals put together nine images in a 3 x 3 grid to give their work colleagues an insight into what they're like; their interests, passions, cares and worries.

If you ever want to test out your mood boarding skills, try this out and showcase it to your colleagues.

13. Text it up

Don't ignore the power of a few isolated words on a board. Well-chosen words can be fantastic show-stoppers and give your viewer pause for thought as they have to mentally read what's in front of them. Big, bold words juxtaposed together work very well at creating drama, tone and meaning for any project.

14. Make the theme obvious

Mood boards: Dark Punk images

This mood board for UNICEF next to the finished thing shows a clear theme

Obscure references can be fun, but try to have a number of relatable items or 'touchpoints' in your mood board. You want to let others in, so being deliberately obtuse will earn you no points at all. It's easy to fill out a board with a pile of incomprehensible references; it's much harder to be clear and use imagery to sell your vision. But it's worth the effort.

15. Aim to spark an emotional response

Think a little bit left of centre if you're presenting a mood board to a client. What would give them a genuine emotive response? Real world objects are good for this. If you were inspired by the beach, bring in a shell. If your eureka moment happened on the train, bring in the ticket. This type of thing intrigues people's brains and gains that all-important emotive reaction.

16. Don’t make presumptions

Expecting too much of the audience can be the difference between a successful mood board and one that's dismissed as being too cerebral. There's a danger of assuming they'll 'know what you mean' – chances are they won't. So if it takes a few more references, images or textures to get what's inside your head into a client's then add them in.

17. Test your mood board

Don't forget to test out your boards before you send them off. It's not a game of Pictionary, so if your testing audience have to ask too many times what an image means or why it's there, then it probably shouldn't be there.

18. Have fun

The whole process of creating mood boards should be fun – a refreshing break from the often tedious tasks of the jobbing designer. If you're not having fun then it's a sure sign you're going about things the wrong way…

19. Use mood boards to brief designers

Mood boards: images for Tom Baker

A mood board for Tom Baker’s work on The Avengers cartoon series

Following on from the previous point, mood boards are a good way to brief a creative. Don't be afraid to go into detail. The mood board above was compiled for animator Tom Baker as a mood and style guide for creating cartoon versions of The Avengers TV series characters. Instead of relying on one example of a character, several types were found in many different poses, which gave Baker a clear take on the style and direction of the piece.

Mood boards Tom Baker's final Avengers designs

The finished characters for the Avengers animated series

20. Speed up client sign-off

Mood boards shouldn't just be for pitches. Consider preparing mood boards to show other similarly themed projects, websites or functions before creating polished visuals.

'I'll know it when I see it' is a phrase that most of us are familiar with. But to hear this when finished artwork comes back from a client is gutting, signifying that it's back to square one. Using mood boards at different stages of the process can help you avoid this happening.

Related articles: 

  • The secrets of great client relationships
  • The ultimate guide to logo design
  • 32 brilliant design portfolios to inspire you

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Poser software is greatly underrated. With version 11, its PBR Superfly engine enables it to create tremendous realism across a wide range of areas of 3D art, rendering directly in-program without the need to rely on exporting, third-party plugins, or integrating into high-end programs for materials and lighting that obey physically correct laws. 

As with any tool, with great power often comes a bewildering range of options, parameters and tweaks that can quickly overwhelm even experienced users. That's why we've compiled this list of 19 tips for using Poser that will help take your renders to the next level.

01. Tweak settings for better reflections

This bathroom artwork, complete with reflections, is by Jura11

Noise in the light or shadows or on reflective surfaces may simply be the result of insufficiently high pixel samples in your Superfly render settings, but it may also mean that certain render settings need to be selectively increased. 

Sometimes tweaking these can save overall render time whilst producing the improvements you seek. In the image above, you can increase the Glossy bounces setting to account for the reflective floor and mirror without cranking up the overall pixel samples beyond 50. If you felt it necessary to add realism to the bath water, you could increment the Volume parameter, and even activate Caustics, although these three can greatly increase render times.

02. Check indirect lighting

This beautifully lit scene was created by erogenesis

If you are still using a version of Poser older than 11, be sure to check the Indirect illumination option for richer shadow detail when creating Firefly renders. Be aware however, that trans-mapped hair or other transparent/reflective surfaces can reduce your renders to a snail’s pace that takes many hours, even days for a single HD scene.

In general, using less shadow blur works well with bright sunlight and objects close to the surface they are casting on, whereas grey days, interior lighting or objects further from the shadows they are casting all produce softer shadows.

03. Use optimal render settings

Choose the Superfly rendering engine and select GPU rendering. Rendering with Branched Path Tracing turned off (for additional render stability), and a setting of just 5 Pixel Samples is enough to assess colour, lighting and general form of even 4K images in just a few minutes. Then you can ramp up the settings as needed. 

I find that a setting of 40 overall gives great results, and sometimes you can get away with as little as 30 or even 20.

04. Speed up transparency renders

Rendering transparency can bring Poser’s Firefly or Superfly rendering engines to a grinding halt, increasing rendering times from minutes to hours. Nowhere is this more apparent than when using multi-layered transparency effects such as DAZ’s more recent hair creations (yes Genesis 3 can be converted to fit your earlier figures).

For Superfly test renders, you’ll want to either hide these hair figures or set the max transparency in the render settings down to just 1 or 2. When you come to final render, you’ll want to bump the minimum up to 8 or even 16 in order to ensure that transparency looks good.

05. Increase bucket size

You can significantly improve rendering speed by increasing the bucket size on the Superfly render tab if you are using your GPU to render. The bucket speed determines the number of pixels that the program will render simultaneously, and the number of cores on your graphics card will determine the bucket size your card can manage. Try 128 and increase in increments until performance starts to degrade.

06. Send to the queue

In addition to its network rendering, you can instead send multiple renders to the render queue (Render>Send to). This is a great way to set up renders before you go to bed, however, it is somewhat twitchy about being paused if you require your processor for other tasks. 

I find that the best workflow is to only send jobs to the queue when you do not require your computer for anything else that night. Then it’s simply a matter of loading jobs to Poser, choosing camera angles, clicking the Send to Queue button, and going to bed.

07. Consider scene interaction

This example of how to draw figures is by Ladonna

The tiny details make all the difference. By all means start with off-the shelf poses, but then take the time to adjust them precisely to your scene. Off-the-shelf poses tend to work well when the figures are not interacting with anything other than the ground. 

However, you’ll want to carefully adjust the bends and angles of hands, fingers, feet, toes and any other body parts that interact with objects. Nothing spoils the illusion of reality quicker than stock hands that don’t interact properly, or feet floating off the ground. Ten minutes of extra work makes a world of difference.

08. Remove or add clutter

Keeping the near distance uncluttered can focus the viewer’s attention and avoid confusing figure profiles and distracting shadows, especially when background scenery is naturally busy (flora, textured walls or complex landscape topography). 

When it comes to scenes without distant backgrounds, adding clutter can create intimacy, and provide subtle additional threads to the narrative of your image, encouraging the viewer to explore beyond the central tableau. Carefully arranged clutter can lead your viewer’s eye around your image, creating a living narrative that has the central figures as the focal point.   

09. Focus on the eyes

 These stunning eyes were created by Ghostship

Aim to create a connection with the character’s eyes. The focal point for eyes can tell a story in its own right. Sometimes eyes that don’t meet another person’s, or that don’t look straight at the camera, can speak volumes. At other times, a direct gaze bespeaks honesty, openness or confidence. 

Convert your characters to Superfly-ready materials with Snarly Gribbly’s superb EZSkin script. Once you’ve run this, you can then replace the eye material nodes with Ghostship’s eyes, which creates much better realism. You can always swap your previous irises back into the material nodes if you need specific colours.

10. Vary skin tones

Create skin types for different ethnicities (or levels of tan) by altering the base colour or the subsurface colour. In an ideal world, you’d digitise real people and use those photos to create skin of the precise colour you need, but that takes a huge amount of work and time to accomplish. 

I created a pale skin base, and can create a range of different tones, from red-head white, rosy pink to darker skin, by changing the base colour. You’ll sometimes need to give an extra tweak to mouth, lips and nipple bases to create a consistent appearance.

Next page: More tips on Poser, including how to use lighting and materials

11. Consider body weight

Most off-the-shelf models come with morphs for shape and muscularity, but none have settings for interaction with other objects (the ground, couches and chairs, etc). Sinking a character’s feet slightly into the ground or their buttocks into a chair will avoid that floaty look caused by simply dropping to the ground or resting on a surface. Use the Morph tool or magnets to deform the skin or couch surface to give the illusion of weight.

12. Make use of area lights

When it comes to lighting, sometimes less is more. A single overhead or frontal area light will often provide sufficient soft lighting with no other lights needed. The more lights in a scene, the more the rendering engine has to calculate and the greater the likelihood of unwanted noise artefacts. The softness of an area light’s shadows are proportional to its scale.

In the past, you’d mess about with infinite lights, having to make building parts invisible to simulate internal overhead light arrays. Now you can simply insert a single area into the room at a scale of say 1,000%, and a brightness of 300% is a great size for lighting a large room or hall.

13. Check out EZDome

When it comes to lighting outdoor scenes, Snarly Gribbly’s free EZDome program is a versatile replacement for the old Firefly IBL system. It uses smart image-based lighting (sIBL) images which include the sun’s location. You can convert standard HDRI images to sIBL using sIBL Edit – which is also free. 

EZDome will add an sIBL or HDRI to a full or half sky dome, and can then be set to automatically add a shadow-casting light that will be applied at the correct point in the scene. This is a great and easy way to add realistic 360-degree lighting to a scene.

14. Don't be constrained by realism

Even though you may be using Poser’s powerful Cycles-based renderer, if your scene is better served by highlighting and accenting with lights that could not exist in the real world (such as spot whose origin is inside the visible scene yet has no visible source to the viewer), then don’t be such a slave to realism that you sacrifice the effect you are seeking.

One subtle effect for creating drama is a low-level, upwards-facing spot attached to the figure’s head (think of the old campfire horror-story trick with a flashlight). Turned bright, the effect is stark, but turned very low, it’s a great way to add some subtle fill-in colour to a dark scene.

15. Utilise gobos for shadows

Use gobos or billboards to cast shadows rather than depending upon expensive geometry. The old Firefly way of simply plugging an image directly into the light’s colour channel no longer works. In Superfly, the easiest way is simply to create a semi-transparent plane and attach it in front of the spot that you want to affect (much as a photographer would use a gel).

However, using this slightly more sophisticated setup (thanks to piersyf for the original), you can extend the effect to create stained glass and projector effects. You can use a mix of greyscale or coloured imagery to add interest and realism.

16. Apply displacement

Superfly uses a different displacement engine to Firefly (vertex displacement rather than micro polygon). With Superfly, the more polygons, the greater the displacement resolution. Before you can even apply displacement, you’ll have to open the object’s properties tab and increase subdivision to 3 or even 5. 

There is an option with a multipart model, such as a human figure, to subdivide only the parts that you need extra resolution on (the face for instance). This avoids creating unwieldy numbers of polygons that will needlessly degrade your system performance. Subdivision is also a great way to smooth jagged bends on older figures.

17. Set up Cycles

Don’t feel the need to create Cycles node rigs just because they are part of the Superfly PBR engine. These can be complicated to set up, and there are still imperfections and unpredictabilities  

in Poser’s implementation of certain features, such as transparency and displacement. The Poser surface root node does an excellent job of approximating many Cycles features for a fraction of the effort, complexity and rendering time. That said, notwithstanding the occasional feature that was not ported over, you can copy  Cycles materials from Blender across to Poser if you find any that you like.

18. Create hair gloss

If you are repurposing hair materials intended for the default renderer for use in Superfly (almost all off-the-shelf products), you’ll usually need to reduce the glossiness, reflection or specularity. These will usually be plugged into the ALTERNATE specularity channel. 

Lips and fingernails will also commonly need reworking. Expand Anisotropic nodes and look for values labelled ‘Glossiness’ or ‘K’s’. These can usually be reduced to 0.1 or less. The easiest solution is simply to delete anything plugged into the alternate diffuse or specularity channels. You’ll probably want to reduce any primary specularity or reflection values too.

19. Create grass

Importing polygon grass is expensive on your memory budget, and using the hair room to grow it is even more costly on your processing, especially during render.

If you are using the Firefly renderer, there’s thankfully an easy technique you can use to effectively create ‘fur’ grass or carpet. Simply attach a noise node to the displacement input. If you use a Clouds node in the Diffuse input, or a carpet pattern, this is a great way to transform bland polygons. For carpet combine the noise with a greyscale bump map using the Blender node if you want to give it deep pile sculpting.

This article originally published in 3D World, the world's best-selling magazine for CG artists. Buy issue 233 now or subscribe.

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You may not think your site has anything worth being hacked for, but websites are compromised all the time. The majority of website security breaches are not to steal your data or mess with your website layout, but instead attempts to use your server as an email relay for spam, or to set up a temporary web server, normally to serve files of an illegal nature. Other very common ways to abuse compromised machines include using your servers as part of a botnet, or to mine for Bitcoins. You could even be hit by ransomware. 

Hacking is regularly performed by automated scripts written to scour the internet in an attempt to exploit known website security issues in software. Here are our top nine tips to help keep you and your site safe online.

01. Keep software up to date

It may seem obvious, but ensuring you keep all software up to date is vital in keeping your site secure. This applies to both the server operating system and any software you may be running on your website such as a CMS or forum. When website security holes are found in software, hackers are quick to attempt to abuse them.

If you are using a managed hosting solution then you don't need to worry so much about applying security updates for the operating system as the hosting company should take care of this.

If you are using third-party software on your website such as a CMS or forum, you should ensure you are quick to apply any security patches. Most vendors have a mailing list or RSS feed detailing any website security issues. WordPress, Umbraco and many other CMSes notify you of available system updates when you log in.

Many developers use tools like Composer, npm, or RubyGems to manage their software dependencies, and security vulnerabilities appearing in a package you depend on but aren't paying any attention to is one of the easiest ways to get caught out. Ensure you keep your dependencies up to date, and use tools like Gemnasium to get automatic notifications when a vulnerability is announced in one of your components.

02. Watch out for SQL injection

SQL injection attacks are when an attacker uses a web form field or URL parameter to gain access to or manipulate your database. When you use standard Transact SQL it is easy to unknowingly insert rogue code into your query that could be used to change tables, get information and delete data. You can easily prevent this by always using parameterised queries, most web languages have this feature and it is easy to implement.

Consider this query:

If an attacker changed the URL parameter to pass in ‘ or ‘1’=’1 this will cause the query to look like this:

Since '1' is equal to '1' this will allow the attacker to add an additional query to the end of the SQL statement which will also be executed.

You could fix this query by explicitly parameterising it. For example, if you're using MySQLi in PHP this should become:

03. Protect against XSS attacks

Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks inject malicious JavaScript into your pages, which then runs in the browsers of your users, and can change page content, or steal information to send back to the attacker. For example, if you show comments on a page without validation, then an attacker might submit comments containing script tags and JavaScript, which could run in every other user's browser and steal their login cookie, allowing the attack to take control of the account of every user who viewed the comment. You need to ensure that users cannot inject active JavaScript content into your pages.

This is a particular concern in modern web applications, where pages are now built primarily from user content, and which in many cases generate HTML that's then also interpreted by front-end frameworks like Angular and Ember. These frameworks provide many XSS protections, but mixing server and client rendering creates new and more complicated attack avenues too: not only is injecting JavaScript into the HTML effective, but you can also inject content that will run code by inserting Angular directives, or using Ember helpers.

The key here is to focus on how your user-generated content could escape the bounds you expect and be interpreted by the browser as something other that what you intended. This is similar to defending against SQL injection. When dynamically generating HTML, use functions that explicitly make the changes you're looking for (e.g. use element.setAttribute and element.textContent, which will be automatically escaped by the browser, rather than setting element.innerHTML by hand), or use functions in your templating tool that automatically do appropriate escaping, rather than concatenating strings or setting raw HTML content.

Another powerful tool in the XSS defender's toolbox is Content Security Policy (CSP). CSP is a header your server can return which tells the browser to limit how and what JavaScript is executed in the page, for example to disallow running of any scripts not hosted on your domain, disallow inline JavaScript, or disable eval(). Mozilla has an excellent guide with some example configurations. This makes it harder for an attacker's scripts to work, even if they can get them into your page.

04. Beware of error messages

Be careful with how much information you give away in your error messages. Provide only minimal errors to your users, to ensure they don't leak secrets present on your server (e.g. API keys or database passwords). Don't provide full exception details either, as these can make complex attacks like SQL injection far easier. Keep detailed errors in your server logs, and show users only the information they need.

05. Validate on both sides

Validation should always be done both on the browser and server side. The browser can catch simple failures like mandatory fields that are empty and when you enter text into a numbers only field. These can however be bypassed, and you should make sure you check for these validation and deeper validation server side as failing to do so could lead to malicious code or scripting code being inserted into the database or could cause undesirable results in your website.

06. Check your passwords

Everyone knows they should use complex passwords, but that doesn’t mean they always do. It is crucial to use strong passwords to your server and website admin area, but equally also important to insist on good password practices for your users to protect the security of their accounts.

As much as users may not like it, enforcing password requirements such as a minimum of around eight characters, including an uppercase letter and number will help to protect their information in the long run.

Passwords should always be stored as encrypted values, preferably using a one way hashing algorithm such as SHA. Using this method means when you are authenticating users you are only ever comparing encrypted values. For extra website security it is a good idea to salt the passwords, using a new salt per password.

In the event of someone hacking in and stealing your passwords, using hashed passwords could help damage limitation, as decrypting them is not possible. The best someone can do is a dictionary attack or brute force attack, essentially guessing every combination until it finds a match. When using salted passwords, the process of cracking a large number of passwords is even slower as every guess has to be hashed separately for every salt + password which is computationally very expensive.

Thankfully, many CMSes provide user management out of the box with a lot of these website security features built in, although some configuration or extra modules might be required to use salted passwords (pre Drupal 7) or to set the minimum password strength. If you are using .NET then it's worth using membership providers as they are very configurable, provide inbuilt website security and include readymade controls for login and password reset.

07. Avoid file uploads

Allowing users to upload files to your website can be a big website security risk, even if it’s simply to change their avatar. The risk is that any file uploaded, however innocent it may look, could contain a script that when executed on your server, completely opens up your website.

If you have a file upload form then you need to treat all files with great suspicion. If you are allowing users to upload images, you cannot rely on the file extension or the mime type to verify that the file is an image as these can easily be faked. Even opening the file and reading the header, or using functions to check the image size are not foolproof. Most images formats allow storing a comment section that could contain PHP code that could be executed by the server.

So what can you do to prevent this? Ultimately you want to stop users from being able to execute any file they upload. By default web servers won't attempt to execute files with image extensions, but don't rely solely on checking the file extension as a file with the name image.jpg.php has been known to get through.

Some options are to rename the file on upload to ensure the correct file extension, or to change the file permissions, for example, chmod 0666 so it can't be executed. If using *nix, you could create a .htaccess file (see below) that will only allow access to set files preventing the double extension attack mentioned earlier.

Ultimately, the recommended solution is to prevent direct access to uploaded files altogether. This way, any files uploaded to your website are stored in a folder outside of the webroot or in the database as a blob. If your files are not directly accessible you will need to create a script to fetch the files from the private folder (or an HTTP handler in .NET) and deliver them to the browser. Image tags support an src attribute that is not a direct URL to an image, so your src attribute can point to your file delivery script providing you set the correct content type in the HTTP header. For example:

Most hosting providers deal with the server configuration for you, but if you are hosting your website on your own server then there are few things you will want to check.

Ensure you have a firewall setup, and are blocking all non essential ports. If possible setting up a DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) only allowing access to port 80 and 443 from the outside world. Although this might not be possible if you don’t have access to your server from an internal network as you would need to open up ports to allow uploading files and to remotely log in to your server over SSH or RDP.

If you are allowing files to be uploaded from the Internet only use secure transport methods to your server such as SFTP or SSH.

If possible have your database running on a different server to that of your web server. Doing this means the database server cannot be accessed directly from the outside world, only your web server can access it, minimising the risk of your data being exposed.

Finally, don’t forget about restricting physical access to your server.

08. Use HTTPS

HTTPS is a protocol used to provide security over the Internet. HTTPS guarantees  that users are talking to the server they expect, and that nobody else can intercept or change the content they're seeing in transit.

If you have anything that your users might want private, it's highly advisable to use only HTTPS to deliver it. That of course means credit card and login pages (and the URLs they submit to) but typically far more of your site too. A login form will often set a cookie for example, which is sent with every other request to your site that a logged-in user makes, and is used to authenticate those requests. An attacker stealing this would be able to perfectly imitate a user and take over their login session. To defeat these kind of attacks, you almost always want to use HTTPS for your entire site.

That's no longer as tricky or expensive as it once was. Let's Encrypt provides totally free and automated certificates, which you'll need to enable HTTPS, and there are existing community tools available for a wide range of common platforms and frameworks to automatically set this up for you.

Notably Google have announced that they will boost you up in the search rankings if you use HTTPS, giving this an SEO benefit too. Insecure HTTP is on its way out, and now's the time to upgrade.

Already using HTTPS everywhere? Go further and look at setting up HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), an easy header you can add to your server responses to disallow insecure HTTP for your entire domain.

09. Get website security tools

Once you think you have done all you can then it's time to test your website security. The most effective way of doing this is via the use of some website security tools, often referred to as penetration testing or pen testing for short.

There are many commercial and free products to assist you with this. They work on a similar basis to scripts hackers in that they test all know exploits and attempt to compromise your site using some of the previous mentioned methods such as SQL Injection.

Some free tools that are worth looking at:

  • Netsparker (Free community edition and trial version available). Good for testing SQL injection and XSS
  • OpenVAS Claims to be the most advanced open source security scanner. Good for testing known vulnerabilities, currently scans over 25,000. But it can be difficult to setup and requires a OpenVAS server to be installed which only runs on *nix. OpenVAS is fork of a Nessus before it became a closed-source commercial product.
  • SecurityHeaders.io (free online check). A tool to quickly report which security headers mentioned above (such as CSP and HSTS) a domain has enabled and correctly configured.
  • Xenotix XSS Exploit Framework A tool from OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) that includes a huge selection of XSS attack examples, which you can run to quickly confirm whether your site's inputs are vulnerable in Chrome, Firefox and IE.

The results from automated tests can be daunting, as they present a wealth of potential issues. The important thing is to focus on the critical issues first. Each issue reported normally comes with a good explanation of the potential vulnerability. You will probably find that some of the medium/low issues aren't a concern for your site.

There are some further steps you can take to manually try to compromise your site by altering POST/GET values. A debugging proxy can assist you here as it allows you to intercept the values of an HTTP request between your browser and the server. A popular freeware application called Fiddler is a good starting point.

So what should you be trying to alter on the request? If you have pages which should only be visible to a logged in user then try changing URL parameters such as user id, or cookie values in an attempt to view details of another user. Another area worth testing are forms, changing the POST values to attempt to submit code to perform XSS or uploading a server side script.

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Last year saw several technology breakthroughs becoming more mainstream, with artificial intelligence becoming more human-sounding, voice-first gadgets numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and virtual reality becoming accessible to nearly everyone. This change continues into 2018 and is shaping user experience trends for designers. Find out how to design user-friendly experiences on mobile devices.

Continued Development of Voice Technologies

At the end of 2017, devices that used voice as the primary means of interaction were in an estimated 30 million homes. As technology develops, the way we use it will continue to change.

A voice-user interface makes sense for mobile. When people are on the go, they are less able to use their hands and eyes, but speech is still accessible.

When designing voice interaction for mobile users, the objective isn’t to replace conversation with humans, but to make life easier. Start by setting aside the technology and analyzing the conversation itself. Create a visual that shows the dialogue flow.

What do successful interactions look like between your clients and a customer service agent or company representative? What types of communication problems typically occur? What are all the ways a customer might express their most common needs? Sketch out how conversations might branch off and identify when people need to talk to a human representative.

Test some voice-controlled options with employees first. They know the conversations that frequently take place and can point out flaws and areas that need improvement. Provide users with clear information about what their options are at each stage and keep things as simple as possible.

Simplify User Journeys

When users interact with their mobile devices, they’re viewing information on a small screen, often while they’re in motion or focused on another task. Business owners and website designers can make it easier for users to achieve their goals in the following ways:

• Embrace linear design. Each user journey should have a distinct beginning, middle, and end with each portion only requiring them to do one thing to progress to the next level. Uber does an excellent job of helping users order a ride one step at a time. Each screen asks the user to make only one choice or input one bit of data. Users know how long each step will take and progress smoothly to their destinations.
• Reveal progressions gradually. If users need to take several steps to reach their goal, don’t overwhelm them by showing all the required actions at once. Use progressive disclosure to walk them through things one step at a time.

Visual Elements That Make an Impact

Overlapping effects are big in 2018. Designers layer fonts, colors, and graphics on top of each other to make page elements more visually appealing and provide more space. Designers use this overlap to repeat design elements or layer them with shadow to create depth.

Color is a powerful tool, and a color gradient can make logos and backgrounds richer and more engaging. A product’s visual appearance is one of the key factors buyers weigh when making a purchasing decision, and color gradients enhance that appearance on small mobile screens.

Designers are also using opacity to create contrast, making some elements stand out while others appear to fade into the background. When designing for mobile, experiment with the transparency levels of key components for added visual appeal.

Use stark color contrast for fonts and backgrounds. This makes key information stand out and text easy to read. Choose simple curves and geometric shapes over busy patterns for buttons, animations, and menus. Designers are also adding animation to icons, photos, and buttons to emphasize the next step, drive users to conversion points, and provide additional user delight.

Some Things Never Change

There are some mobile design best practices that will always be useful. Most people have experienced the frustration of trying to push a button on mobile that’s too small or not being able to see what an image contains and being unable to resize. When it comes to mobile, make sure screen size doesn’t take away from the user’s experience.

Set the font for mobile sites to at least 14px. That way viewers don’t have to resize pages to read them. Make buttons 44px by 44px or larger so users don’t mistakenly make the wrong choice or experience friction when they have trouble indicating their selection.

It’s harder to input text on mobile than it is with a keyboard. Make sure the mobile version of your website doesn’t ask for any more typing than is necessary. If possible, use checklists and drop-down menus instead.

Simplify your website design so users don’t struggle with navigation. Chunk pages in manageable portions and remove content that isn’t top priority.

Thee Design offers award-winning design for every type of device. Contact us learn how we can help you start reaching more mobile users today.

The post Tips for User-Friendly Mobile Design in 2018 appeared first on TheeDesign.

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