Infamous David CoombEs (aka Shifty Geezer)
gives us his perspective:
kindly allowed us to "interview"
him on the 4th September 2003. This is the
full transcript from the conversation:
B: David Coombs, tell
us a little about yourself:
D: I'm 28; got a degree in Computer Science
and Biochemistry; work as a classroom assistant
in a local Primary school, now covering
ICT; have a yen for the arts. And my name's
got an 'e' in it . Coombes!
(B: oops !)
B: Shifty Geezer, tell
us a little about yourself:
D: Samuel Dickinson (aka Shifty Geezer)
currently resides on a Scottish island breeding
B: What is with the alter
ego ? Can you tell us how that conspired
D: Schizophrenia. Actually I registered
my normal address with the mailing list
shortly after getting internet access. I
then figured I'd keep my normal address
for friends only, so created a second address
for mailing lists, subscriptions etc. I
used firstname.lastname@example.org for the
RealSoft mailing list generally, but didn't
unsubscribe d.g.coombes, so sometimes responded
with that when I was lazy. The phony name's
used for subscriptions, especially when
you only want access to one little snippet
of info and don't want to become a marketting
statistic as a result.
Once I had mailed the list from d.g.coombes
signed under the wrong name I thought I'd
try and pull off the virtual-buddy, 'coz
I like making things up, but eventually
he had to go... Strangely enough it's my
personal address that gets all the spam
and shifty remains virtually spam free.
B: You have set yourself
in immortality through the magnificent articles
you wrote about Raytracing under the glossary
section of the Daemon site, can you tell
us how much blood you shed to deliver such
D: 18 litres (about 36 pints). Thankfully
mostly not my own - I borrowed from small
furry animals. It's hard writing technical
articles on complicated subjects because
of the trouble with following how other
people read it. Though it makes sense for
the author, it can be lost on the audience.
I was still unsure the articles were clear
enough when posted but people seem to have
found them useful. They really need a follow-up
look at VSL proper. (B: nudge nudge)
B: You have been using
Realsoft 3D for a few years now, and have
got a good grasp of all the concepts, indeed
you are now renoun for being a VSL guru
amongst your peers. When you first started
using RS, did you pick it up quickly ?
D: Yes, but I'm lucky that way! ;) I've
never had trouble picking up new concepts
or ideas in any field, save for the extreme
abstractions of maths, or realms of the
mega jargonised, that fuzzle the brain.
B: So what made you get
Realsoft 3D in the first place ?
D: I used to raytrace with Real3D v1.4
on a 2Mb A500 and A1200 in the 90s, free
on a magazine coverdisk (Amiga Format).
I also saw a demo of v2 and loved it. After
a few years break and now owning a PC, a
friend had me borrowing a version of 3D
StudioMax to make some 3D models for a game.
I didn't like the environment much and remembered
Real3D, so went looking for of v2 for Windows.
I was delighted to see RealSoft still in
business and with a new version which I
tried. It still had the superb material
mapping objects system of v2 plus loads
of groovey new features and I was hooked.
B: How would you rate
Realsoft 3D to other 3D applications ? Have
you used other VSL style languages in other
3D applications ?
D: I'm not well versed on graphics apps.
I've tried a few of the middle-class applications
and 3D StudioMAX but none clicked with me.
AFAIK they all run on the same principles;
tesselating NURBS, materials are always
UV mapped, etc., that there's little to
differentiate save user interface and modelling
tools (and price!). RealSoft3D is so open-ended
by comparison there's loads more room for
playing! I haven't got into animation yet
so I can't compare those animating tools
which seem a major deciding component of
modern 3D software.
B: You obviously enjoy
coming up with new effects and styles, with
an emphasis lately of natural media looks.
Do you have an end goal in mind?
D: Not particularly. Mostly I create when
I get the idea for a new look. I do want
to create realistic pencil sketch rendering
especially for animation. Actually a long
term goal of mine has long been totally
unrelated to materials and post effects;
I'd love to render dance choreographs but
this needs audio support.
B: You would have to be
one of the most active people on the RS
userlist, so you must find it a great source
of info and conversation ?
D: Info - yes. There's lots of great advice.
I'm strongest at VSL but know little about
animation, but I can always tap into the
global RealSoft knowledge base on the mailing
list. If you need an answer, you'll usually
get several options to choose from.
Source of conversation? - Well they're not
all that bright on the list and half the
time I have to answer my own questions ;)
B: Do you have any future
plans for other materials / post fx ?
D: I tend to create post fx (mainly) and
materials after seeing some conventional
artwork. The graphic paint look came from
the cover of a poetry book. The Sketcher
look came from wanting to recreate the pencil
sketches that I have as desktop backgrounds,
and make these animatable. Ultimately I'm
wanting the chance to create natural-media
animations with artistic looks, without
the costly, slow development of using conventional
I'm keenly awaiting v5 and hope it will
add functions for creating non-uniform outlines
so I can get my sketcher looking just right.
B: Your projects (such
as snow) have inspired many in the past
and have proven quite useful, what are you
currently working on ?
D: Nothing in particular, though I just
finished a TV/monitor screen look...
I'm trying (a little bit at least) to
stop toying with VSL materials and effects
and actually create some real images with
B: The last materials
you posted to the list made use of RealMan.
How has this expanded the possibilities
D: RealMan has added a huge amount of
functional possibility. VSL alone can't
accommodate complicated actions, like the
numeral generator that comes with RealMan.
Though writing materials in pure RealMan
is less favourable to RealSoft's VSL interface,
the ability to make RealMan procedure calls
Having said that, I haven't made a great
deal of use of RealMan myself. I've thought
of some ideas that'd be tidier in RealMan
but I prefer the visual interface of VSL,
especially in creating and using curves
which I do by the bucket load. There are
other complicated ideas that need RealMan,
like a different colour-space model for
natural media, but my programming and maths
skills are too manky to make good at present!
B: What are the strengths
of VSL ?
D: Virtually limitless flexibilty! Along
with RealSoft3D's material system you can
create complicated looks very simply. For
example, you can apply a VSL cartoon shader
to a scene using a finite parallel mapping.
Every object that enters the mapping becomes
cartoon rendered, and as it leaves becomes
conventionally rendered. You could fade
the degree of blending between cartoon and
normal based on the mapping coordinates.
How about a comic book where the characters
fly out of the pages into the real world?
Apply the cartoon material to the book and
space inside and use normal animated 3D
objects travelling out of the material mapping.
Or I could apply my pencil sketch look to
a single object and render it in a photo-realistic
world, complete with reflections.
There's loads of animations I'd love to
toy with but just don't have the hardware
B: Are there any features
you would like to see implemented in RS
? Would a different GUI (Such as darktree)
improve the ease of use for less skilled
D: Overall I think the interafce works
fine, though there's little scope for variety
between 3D apps as they all do the same
thing. There's a lot of complaint about
VSL's learning curve and this must surely
be a big turn-off for those used to the
conventional UV mapped systems of all the
other 3D applications. I don't know if the
VSL interface could be improved or not.
I like the current interface but them I'm
okay with visualising the changes to data
in my head. I had a brief encounter with
a DirectX shader creation program with a
Darktree like interface but I cringed away!
All those nodes was far too messy! Maybe
some more materials to bridge the gap?
My chief joy is post effects and I'd like
to see more options here. One such thing
(that has been slated for v5) is better
edge filtering control. Another feature
that should also be appearing is the ability
to evaluate areas of a scene and get values,
such as the average colour of an object
or the highest brightness in the scene.
It'd be nice (perhaps essential to keep
up with the competition) to have more built
in varied VSL objects, such as placing 2D
texture "sprites" over a surface
with derived orientation. A couple of tweaks
Schmelling's scratch plugin would add
loads of functionality. Indeed, just a few
extra objects could cover pretty much every
I'm no modeller which I put down to still
needing point and edge editing. I'd love
really advanced modelling, like Zbrush style
painting of deformations using a pressure
sensitive stylus. Just imagine starting
with a sphere and rubbing over the centre
to draw a nose, rubbing in the eye holes,
spreading out a brow... That's 21st century
There's the usual need for better import/export.
I also think a good few bugs need to be
ironed out also. I think the mainstream
works fine, but I tend to work "on
the edge" in experimental realms and
often (normally every experiment) find features
that don't work quite as they should or
as you'd expect.
I'll please Pat here and say that total
open-ended scripted control of everything
would be wonderful, but it'll never happen.
I'd also like a "draw a rough sketch
and it'll create all the necessary objects
and base materials" mode, but that's
Finally, though not a feature, I'd like
a larger user base. RealSoft needs to push
v5 to be a mega-competitive product, which
is getting harder with new blood entering
the industry, and get loads of sales. Then
the rest of the world will take notice and
help develop the product with groovey plugins
and maybe brain-scanning hardware devices
that do all the work for you. There's only
so much a handful of Fins can accomplish
(even though more than the average boat-load
of foreigners it seems :).
B: What kind of background
does one need in order to understand VSL
D: Being dropped frequently as a baby;
makes abstract thought easier, though coherency
Okay, I guess a mathematical background
is good, but such a background implies an
interest and aptitude for maths which is
enough in itself. Personally I see the VSL
channels more like graphs and grey-scale
images and 3D maps in my head, and I figure
what I want the end result to be and how
to get it with the VSL objects provided.
Maybe just some better tutes on the subject,
which RealSoft hasn't got the best record
with, is all it would take to make VSL accessible
B: Where is your user
profile ? The world wants to know what you
look like ;)
D: Photos of me are few and far between.
I'm an endangered species (last one in the
world) so there's loads of legislation governing
how much my daily lifestyle can be interrupted
with unneccesary invasive contact, like
people taking my picture.
You might get a mug-shot at some point.
Maybe a promo shot from the zoo's portfolio?
B: And finally, is there
anything you wish to say to the RS community
D: Why, heck sure! There's a darn truckload
of attitudes that need changing and peronal...oh,
you mean about encouragement and support
and RealSoft-ing? Ahh. right. Erm...you're
a great bunch and keep up the good work.
And stop ragging my tortoise!
Many thanks David :)