Category Archives: Vokhtah

Not birds…bats!

Just found this amazing illustration of bat musculature:

https://www.anatomynote.com/animal-anatomy/mammals/bat/bat-muscle-anatomy/

Unlike bats though, Vokh and iVokh have an extra pair of arms whose sole function is to extend the surface area of the wing and, coincidentally, allow the legs to be longer. Of course that second pair of arms [hidden inside the wings], will require a shoulder joint that simply does not exist in our world. -sigh-

cheers
Meeks


Research, research, research…

https://youtu.be/UzrZ_s3_jRQ

That incredible musculature belongs to a gymnast by the name of Yuri van Gelder. His nickname is ‘Lord of the Rings’ because of this:

Not the best picture, but it shows van Gelder doing the ‘Iron Cross’ on the rings. If you watch the video these still images came from, you’ll see that the rings just hang there so the resistance they provide is minimal. And that means that holding that pose, or any of the poses in that family, is down to pure will, training and strength.

To me, the most interesting thing was that the pectoral muscles are not that big. Not like this guy:

I admit the guy in that pic has a better body than most extreme body builders, but what I needed to see were muscles that actually work hard. That’s why I gave up on the body builder pics and went looking for gymnasts.

Oh, you want to know why I’m perving on, I mean researching, muscles? For the Vokh, of course. They’re flyers so the muscles across their chests have to be insanely strong, but I didn’t want them to look like birds:

So now, I have to create flight muscles that are kind of in-between the muscles of a gymnast and those of a bird. I love research. πŸ˜€

cheers
Meeks


When one thing leads to another…

I bought a super dooper video editor from a trusted brand, and it’s turned into my bΓͺte noire. But I paid for it, right? So I set about learning it and finding workarounds for its…idiosyncracies.

To learn the features I most needed to use, I began a project in which I had to weave bits of video with still photos that I could pan and zoom. How in heck can a simple zoom be so hard? But I digress. One of the still photos I wanted to use was a pic of an iVokh except…you guessed it. The more I looked at that pic in unfamiliar surroundings, the less ‘right’ it looked.

The perspective was the problem. 😦 For reasons known only to my subconscious, I began work on the iVokh body from a three-quarter perspective. At that kind of angle, the bits furthest from your line of sight appear smaller. Or at least, they’re meant to.

Now, I don’t know about you, my friends, but I tend to create images by feel. I keep tweaking them until they feel right. The one thing I don’t do is set up a vanishing point with lines to show where the tricky bits are meant to go.

Sadly, there’s a first time for everything:

So I managed to get the perspective more or less right, but then I faced another huge problem – how to represent light and shade. In the previous iteration of the iVokh, I’d cobbled together scraps of images to get both the texture and lighting effects I needed to create something approaching 3D. Now I had to do most of that again.

Digital collage is complicated by the fact that every piece has to blend in to the pieces around it. Trust me, that’s hard because even in what amounts to black and white, there are almost infinite shades of grey:

There’s no real explanation for what happened next though. Once I had all the shades of grey playing nicely, I thought, “Hmm…maybe it’s time to finally create the cilia!” So I did:

I did hunt for images I could use for ‘cilia’…

…but none of them worked, so I ended up creating a vector ‘cilia’ that I could resize, deform, and orient however I pleased. One by one….

I must admit I’m rather proud of the cilia I created. When your alien doesn’t have eyebrows to frown with, or nostrils to flare, or a mouth that smiles, smirks [hate that word], pouts, and droops etc., you really need some way of describing emotive facial expressions, so the cilia do a heck of a lot of work. Kahti peers through the ‘fringe of its cilia’, and sometimes its cilia ‘go rigid with dread’ or shrink, or droop, or wave around… You get the idea. πŸ™‚

Oh, and while I was at it, I realised that the image needed to tell a story, so I changed the figure’s posture and gave it a starrock bead to stare at. Oddly enough, the bead and its leather thong were the easiest objects to create:

An acolyte’s starrock bead with a slight pinkish tinge

In the story, only metal objects made in the south of Vokhtah have a pinkish colour. This becomes a rather important plot point so I added the bead to the image as well.

The one thing I have not done is finish that video. Maybe tomorrow. πŸ˜€

cheers
Meeks


Yes! Natural ‘soap’ from the Yucca plant

Huge thanks to Carol from Carol Cooks 2 for her wonderful post on all things ‘soap’. One of the fascinating titbits in her post was this video about soap in the desert:

Why am I so chuffed to discover the Yucca root soap?

Because in Vokhtah [book 2], I mention something called ‘soapweed’. It’s a root that’s used for washing when water and sand are not enough. Discovering that there really is such a root is fantastic. -dance-

And as an added extra, the yucca grows in a dry, arid environment, which is almost exactly like Vokhtah. Simply could not get better. πŸ™‚

cheers,
Meeks


My first video with voice over!

I’ve been wanting to make a ‘real’ video for some time, but it wasn’t until Inkarnate and a brand new microphone came together that I finally gave it a go. This is a 5 minute youtube video I made. I tried hard not to sound like a chipmunk. πŸ˜‰

To be honest, this first video is pretty awful, but I’m posting it to show what I did wrong. First up, I should have zoomed in right from the start and…I should have been ‘showing’ rather than telling right from the start too. Oh and one more thing, you need to have a very clear idea of what you want to say before you say it.

You can’t work the mouse and read from a script at the same time, but the script helps to focus the mind, especially when you’re nervous. I was nervous!

Cringes aside, I’m pleased with the quality of the microphone, and I’ll be honing my technique in the weeks to come. In time, I may even get to be good at this! lol

cheers
Meeks


The Grand Hall of the Settlement

I’ve been playing with digital ‘collage’ for days now, and the image below comes close to what I see in my head:

It’s not perfect but I did manage to create the ‘ramp’ which features in book 2. This ramp has been in my head for years :

‘A moment later, all thought of Vokh politics fled Kahti’s mind as the tunnel opened out into a cavern of mammoth proportions. Glowworms placed at regular intervals revealed a number of passages leading out of the cavern, but the young Trader could not take its eyes from the huge ramp that snaked around half of the cavern before disappearing through an arched opening near the roof.’

From the second book of Vokhtah, title still up in the air.

All of the scraps of texture and shape [65] that went into the final, composite image were manipulated in Corel Draw 8. No idea what I’ll do with the image, but it will be handy as a reference if nothing else. Just relieved it’s done.

cheers
Meeks


Worldbuilding with Inkarnate

All speculative fiction writers know about building worlds with words, but what if you need more than words to visualise the space in which your story takes place?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist yet even so, I recently discovered that a guestimate right at the start of Vokhtah was not only wrong, it was very wrong. That, plus needing a distraction from my first jab of AstraZeneca, lead me to Inkarnate, a brilliant, fantasy map making app.

Within the first week of playing around with Inkarnate, I had a map of Vokhtah that was a million times better than the dinky map I’d made using only Corel Draw 8. The trouble was, the more I worked on the map, the more I noticed the gaps in my worldbuilding. You see, the eyries of the Vokh don’t just appear as haphazard dots on a map. They are chosen for very specific requirements, such as:

  • the security provided by the cave system,
  • the proximity to water [and hence to food animals]
  • and the distance from other Vokh [the greater the better].

But if eyries have pre-requisites, so do the Trader caravans that service them. All iVokh can fly, including the Traders, but few can fly well. As for the Plodders who carry the bulk of the Traders’ goods, they can barely fly at all. And this is where biology and terrain combine to create problems, because if eyries need to be near water, but Plodders can’t fly over obstructions like rivers, how do the caravans travel from gather to gather? [A gather is like a human market place.]

In book 1 of Vokhtah, the only river the Traders had to cross was the Little Blue, and it had almost stopped running by the end of the dry season [Tohoh]. The ford across the river was dangerous but doable. But then what about the other seasons?

In my current WIP, I sidestepped that problem by saying that no caravans could travel during the wet season [Kohoh]. Neat. Unfortunately, when I came to filling in the Inkarnate map, I could no longer avoid the issue of terrain because the story of Vokhtah continues on past Kohoh into Tuhoh [the season of new growth] and beyond.

How in heck was I going to solve the problem of river crossings?

The solution to the problem of rivers required a complete rethink of the map, starting with geology and basic physics. Water always flows downhill, and depending on the slope and density of the material it flows through, it either slows down and spreads out:

… or it runs swiftly and carves out gorges. And sometimes it creates land bridges that span the gorge from side to side:

Or sometimes the bridge is actually the rim of a pool that sits high above the river. When the level of water goes back to its normal level, the rim provides a way from one side of the river to the other:

When there is too much water in the pool, it cascades over the rim and becomes a waterfall that feeds the river below:

And yes, I spent a couple of days just researching rivers and terrain here in Australia. πŸ™‚ Much of the info. I discovered came from these videos:

The middle video was shot by an amateur so the helicopter noise is quite loud, but it feels real, as if you’re sitting in the helicopter, experiencing the trip along with the pilot and sightseers. Videos 1 and 3 are professionally produced and provide better visuals.

One of the things I learned was that Katherine Gorge, which is where most of the images were shot, is actually a deep cut through a plateau. All the images I’d seen before this were from the river level and made it seem as if the gorge had cut its way through a flat plain. Not so.

The realisation that the gorge was part of a plateau changed my whole perspective about the Inkarnate map, and how the eyries and caravans [of Vokhtah] would interact with the geology. The end result is this:

Click the image to zoom in closer. The legend on the left identifies the icons used in the map, including the eyries belonging to the Vokh, from the most powerful [large purple] to least powerful [tiny white].

The fuzzy purple areas represent the native vegetation of Vokhtah. As the planet is quite different to Earth, I had to re-imagine the evolution of plants without chlorophyll [the thing that makes Earth plants green and which they use to synthesize food from sunlight, water and minerals in the soil]. I pinched the idea from Earth plants that don’t have chlorophyll of their own. They’re basically parasites, but hey… πŸ™‚

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly why I chose purple/lavender but you’ll notice that most of the water sources on the planet are shades of purple as well. A trick of the visible light off water in a binary star system maybe? The notable exceptions are The Eye [the lake at the top of the map], and the two rivers flowing out of the Eye [Little Blue and Big Blue]. The Eye is a maar lake and it was formed from a volcanic eruption.

This is a photo of Blue Lake in Mt Gambier [Victoria, Australia]:

Click the link above to discover more about volcanic activity in Victoria.

All of the photos and videos in this post are of Australia, and this ancient land was my inspiration for Vokhtah. Thanks for coming on this little journey with me. πŸ™‚

In my next post, I’ll start posting tips and tricks I’ve learned about Inkarnate, and how to use it with Corel Draw 8 to achieve special effects.

cheers,
Meeks


So close…

…but I’m going cross-eyed so I have to stop for the day! This is the map of Vokhtah at about 95% complete, if you don’t count the rest of the globe. πŸ˜€

The map is HUGE, but you don’t know how huge until you start zooming in, like so:

And then, because I’ve worked my butt off on this, we’ll zoom in a little bit more…

See that waterfall? Pinky looking thing almost dead centre of the pic? That small, not-so-important image is made up of a photo of a lake that I vectored in Corel, layered with transparent textures, reworked a number of times to make the textures blend into the background in Inkarnate…and all that’s before I made the actual fall of water. Just a tad pleased with myself. lol

Okay, enough crowing. Inkarnate is a fabulous graphics tool that’s worth every cent of the measly $5/month subscription. Like all tools though, the more you try to get out of the software, the more you have to learn. For example, to turn that picture of a lake into a usable ‘stamp’ [that’s what the graphic objects are called], I had to work out how to avoid having a nasty white edge all around the vectored image.

Without going into a full-blown how-to, these are the basic steps:

  1. I found an image of a meteorite that had a great texture:

2. I cut out small sections of the texture and made them almost transparent:

3. Next, I made a background colour that would make the texture blend in to the background colour of the Inkarnate map:

4. Then, I placed the vectored image of the lake onto the top layer of images, grouped all three and exported them as a .jpeg image.

5. Finally, I uploaded the new ‘stamp’ to Inkarnate and spent a few more hours finessing the placement so there would be no straight edges to betray where my custom stamp had gone. Oh…and then I had to get the waterfall right, but luckily there were some nice ready made stamps for that.

The map still needs the trade routes pathed in, and labels, and a legend to explain what all the brightly coloured bits are, but that’s a job for tomorrow. Have a great weekend everyone, and remember to stay safe!

love,
Meeks


When a fudge comes back to haunt you, or how to rappelle using the Dulfersitz

Not so long ago, I complained about the timeline in Vokhtah being out by three days. After a LOT of time and effort, which included combing through book 1 to see exactly what I happened when, I discovered that the timeline was actually out by 17 days. -pulls hair and screams-

The problem with the timeline goes all the way back to the very start of the book in which I guestimated that the journey to and from Deepwater gather would take about 50 days. As guestimates go, that fudge would not have been catastrophic had I gone back at the end of the book and worked out exact times spent. But I didn’t. 😦

I solved my timeline problem, but it’s left me very wary of any and all fudges, so when I went back to book 2 and came across a scene that involved a bad iVokh rappelling down into a ravine to chase a good iVokh, my fudge-alarm went off straight away.

Why? Because everything I know about mountaineering comes from a couple of old Hollywood movies. I think one of them starred Sylvestre Stallone:

Clearly, I could not allow the fudge to stand, so I’ve spent most of today doing research on mountaineering. To my utter surprise, the scene I wrote is actually possible using a method invented way back at the start of the 20th century by a climber called Hans Dulfer.

To use the Dulfersitz, [I think that translates as Dulfer-sit] you secure one end of the rope at the top of the cliff or wherever you happen to be, wrap it around your body a certain way, and then ‘walk down’ the near vertical face of the cliff suspended only by the friction of the rope against your body:

You can see exactly how to do the wrapping in the short video from which the still shot was taken: https://youtu.be/CLQ0IltdYd0 While revolutionary for its time, the Dulfersitz was not exactly painfree:

‘For quite a long time the DΓΌlfersitz was the most common way of abseiling and it’s still remembered today, mainly with nostalgic memories of those gorgeous burns on the right side of your neck and shoulder along with some far less pleasant ones right next to your genitalia.’

http://stara.emontana.cz/dulfersitz-emergency-rappel/

As I don’t particularly care if the bad iVokh gets highly painful rope burn, I’m more than happy to use the Dulfersitz method. One fudge down, yay! πŸ™‚

cheers
Meeks


When pantsters become plotters

I’ve been struggling a bit of late. Part of that is due to our sixth lockdown, and part is due to the difficulties of writing one long story over a number of volumes.

The first volume is a joy because the world and its people are yours to create. The second volume is a pain in the proverbial because…some things are now set in stone. In other words, I’ve written things in the first volume that I cannot, must not stuff up in the second.

-sigh- And that, my friends, means doing some serious plotting.

At the moment, I’m back in book 1 of Vokhtah, trying to reconcile the timeline I created there. I wrote that there were only 51 days to go before the torrential rains of Kohoh stopped all travel. Therefore the ‘hero’s journey could only take 51 days.

Then I wrote about the character spending XX number of days at this spot and that spot and t’other. Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered that I’m three days short – i.e. if the journey follows a certain pattern, it will have taken 54 days rather than the allotted 51:

I can fix this shortfall, but I’ll have to adjust the map I originally created to show the route of the journey. This is what it looks like at the moment:

The dotted line marks the route…and now some bits have to be closer together to make everything fit…

Don’t judge me! I know exactly how anal this all sounds. 😦

Anyway, I’ll update the map etc in the next couple of days and explain why this level of detail is needed to get things right in book 2.

Stay well!
Meeks


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