Category Archives: Vokhtah

With humungous thanks – Kaati version 2

I asked for your help, and you gave it, making Kaati so much better than I could have hoped. Thank you, one and all!

And here’s the proof….ta dah!

If you click on the picture, it should open in a new window where you can see it at full size…I think. -fingers crossed-

Thank you again. You guys really are the best.

-enormous hugs-

















May I introduce…Kaati

I’m almost afraid to say this but…the concept graphic is finished. I know I’ll tinker at the fine details, but the ideas floating around in my head since 2004 have finally coalesced into something ‘real’. For the first time in 15 years, I can say ‘this is what the iVokh look like’.

Sorry to make the image so big, but I wanted you to be able to see the details. More importantly, I want you to be able to tell me where I’ve missed something, or got the perspective wrong or the lighting or the biology or any one of a million things that I literally can’t see any more.

In short, I’m asking you all to be my beta testers. Not my kind, caring fan club but my critics, because I need fresh eyes, and you’re it. πŸ™‚



Did you know that…?

Okay, I’m sure you’re all sick of my love affair with odd bits of information so…I promise, this will be the last [for now]. πŸ˜€

Allow me to introduce you to the Harpy Eagle of Central America:

See that Harpy Eagle chick? See its talons? If you watch that amazing video you will learn that the feet of a fully grown Harpy Eagle are more powerful than the jaws of a Rottweiler. You will also learn that the back talon is used to stab the eagle’s prey:

Guess who’s going to have killing talons like the Harpy Eagle? Mwahahaha!



Eagles…and their feet

Although I was happy with the iVokh having ostrich ‘legs’, I wanted them to have more powerful looking feet. Today, I found those feet attached to the body of giant eagles capable of carrying fully grown mountain goats. If you don’t believe me, have a look at these pics:

I took those screenshots from the Youtube video below:

The narrative of the video was that a snow leopard was hunting the goat. The leopard missed, and the eagle flew in to capture the goat instead.

My interest centred around the ability of the eagle to capture, hold and fly away with a creature much bigger than itself [not counting wingspan]. Something similar played out in Vokhtah when the Six [the Vokh ruler of the eyrie], lifts and kills a huge to’pakh.

At the time I wrote that scene, I was working from imagination only. But to make the iVokh and Vokh truly come alive, I had to prove to myself that such a feat was actually possible. Today I did just that. It is possible, and my respect for eagles has soared [excuse the pun].

Now I’m off to add some eagle feet to my concept drawing.



Lots of hands but no feet

I’ve lost track of how many of these progress posts I’ve published, but here’s the next milestone in the creation of the iVokh:

That’s a screenshot of my desktop. It’s where I place the latest iteration of the image so I can see it without the distraction of the Corel Draw 8 work screen. Plus, I have to admit that seeing the image in a different context makes mistakes more ‘visible’ somehow. The same thing applies to writing; even a small visual change can force the brain to see what’s there instead of what should be there.

This next pic shows the Corel Draw work screen. If you look at the bottom left of the screen, you can see that the composite image is made up of 102 individual ‘objects’:

The tiny, shiny dots scattered across the image are ‘nodes’ on the objects. Nodes allow you to manipulate vectored images with great precision. For example, many images that appear to be one image are in fact many images, layered over each other to match up colours and lighting effects [as much as possible].

To keep all those objects in the right place and the correct order, I’ve used the Corel Draw ‘Group’ function to keep myself sane. This is the same image split into its component groups:

If I were a plotter instead of a pantster, I would have created a discrete ‘layer’ for each group. Layers are like transparent sheets of glass, stacked one on top of the other. Thus, you can work on an individual group without disturbing the groups in front of or behind it. Using layers would have made this simple little project [hah!] a hell of a lot easier to manage…


Unfortunately, I’m not a plotter and have to do everything the hard way…

Still, I am getting happier with the overall image every day. Not only am I having fun, I’m also setting the iVokh biology in stone, so to speak. Like the dictionary and mini-encyclopedia of ‘world facts’, I need to know exactly what the iVokh [and Vokh] look like so I don’t make stupid mistakes in books 2 and 3 of Vokhtah. Series are a pain like that. πŸ™‚





And then there were…ostriches?

Yes, I’ve been researching ostriches today, but only for their legs. In particular, I wanted to find out why their knees bend backwards.

Well, it turns out that ostrich knees don’t bend backward at all; the thing that looks like a knee is actually an ankle. But who am I to criticize a bird that’s capable of running between 60 and 70 km per hour!

If you’re interested in this amazing bird, you can find a really good article about it right here. For me, though, the point about ostrich legs is that they make the bird look as if it’s standing upright, more or less. This makes the leg structure perfect for the Vokh as I want them to walk upright as well.

I’ve only just started to work on the Vokh legs so you’ll have to use your imagination rather a lot. First I traced around a pair of ostrich legs:

[Note: I found the Corel Draw B-Spline drawing tool really handy for tracing the outline.]

Next, I found a picture of some black opera gloves, you know, the kind that go half way up to the shoulder. To my great joy, the elbows were shown as slightly bent. I traced around them too, but this time, I used the tracing to cut out the glove I wanted:

Yes, it’s the same glove flipped horizontally. πŸ™‚

Fitting the glove texture into the ostrich legs is going to take some tricky re-engineering, especially as I need to add ‘proper’ raptor feet complete with killing claws, but that’s for another day. I’m thrilled to have solved the problem of the legs so easily.

As always, thanks for joining me on these odd detours into research and graphics. πŸ™‚




Still plodding along…

Apologies for being a bit slack with posts this last week. I’ve been very focused on the iVokh model, plus work, plus sorting out my new email client, plus hardware issues, plus life….

Ahem, enough excuses! On the creative side, this is the most recent concept of the iVokh’s second, mostly hidden arm. First the skeleton:

As you can see, it’s very much like the arm of a bat:

One major difference, though, is that the iVokh hand has a ‘real’ thumb. This is what the hand looks like once it has some skin:

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a lot better than my first attempt:

According to the Offspring, this one looked more like a duck’s foot than a wing…

When I looked at that first attempt without my rose coloured specs, I realised the Offspring was right. Don’t you hate that? lol I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of how hard it was to create the illusion of ‘folds’. Moving on.

I mentioned some time ago that I was having email issues. Well, they all stem from the fact that I refused to give up my personal email address. That email dates back to the time when I hand coded my own website, using a graphical interface that looked great, imho, but wasn’t all that user friendly:

Okay, maybe it didn’t look that great, but it was back in 2002 and clicking on one of those images took you to a new page with info specific to that image – i.e. clicking on the guitar took you to ‘music’ while the newspaper took you to ‘news’. -sigh- The website was a failure, but I’m still proud of what I did.

Anyway, in order to have a website back then, you had to have a ‘domain’. Think of a domain as a digital anchor. Once you have one, you can attach it to a web hosting service. The hosting service provides the actual ‘real estate’ on which you build your website. Once you have a website, you can use it to create email addresses. Remember, this was long before Gmail etc.

Now we get to email clients. An email client is a program [app] that sits on your computer and ‘talks’ to the server where your email lives. Outlook is an email client, and so was Opera Mail. I used Opera Mail for years until it stopped being supported. Then I paid, in advance, for one, long year using Microsoft 365 via Outlook….

-cue happy music-

That year is over, and I am now using Fastmail. πŸ˜€ Fastmail is web-based, but when I have the energy, I’ll set it up with Thunderbird [the Firefox email client]. The beauty of using Thunderbird is that it will check Fastmail for me and download any new emails…without me having to log in and out all the time!Β I know that sounds lazy, but I used to check my emails multiple times a day. With 365 I’d only check once a day because of the hassle. I’m really looking forward to using my email properly again.

And finally, my hardware problems have been sorted too, thanks to the Offspring. I’ll be taking one of the Offspring’s old computers into work to use as my demonstration machine which will free up my laptop for one of the students to use [during class]. -dance-

All’s well that ends well, and I hope your week was as productive as mine. πŸ™‚






How to build an alien

There’s been a lot going on in my life the last few weeks so I needed a creative outlet that I could pick up and put down as needed. For me, the natural fit was to work on the iVokh using Corel Draw 8. In this post, I’ll do a quick reveal of how I built an iVokh hand.

First I had to find some reference pictures. I was lucky enough to find a nice one showing the skeletal structure of a raptor ‘hand’ as compared to a human hand:

Next, I vectored each bone of each finger…and tried to get the lighting more or less right using Corel’s gradient colour function:

The hand’s not perfect, but it is in a pose closer to what I wanted, plus the finished bones do give me a second layer of references. More importantly, each bone gives me an outline that can be used like a cookie cutter [the gradient fill is inside the outline]:

Now, I can use the vector outline to cut out textures for the ‘skin’. The following images are a kind of timeline of the process of skinning the bones:

Working from left to right we have:

  1. the vectored finger,
  2. the outline of each individual bone,
  3. the bones broken apart,
  4. the outline of the bones,
  5. the texture cut out by each outline,
  6. the finished finger

The finished ‘finger’ on the far right shows a simplistic view of the skin ‘tunnel’ in which the claws hide until they are protracted – i.e. pushed out. I took the reference from a picture I found showing a close-up of the skin around a cat’s claws.

Now, I suppose some of you are wondering why I didn’t just draw a whole finger, or better yet, a whole hand?

The reason is that I’m not that good at freehand drawing. I’m more draftsperson than artist. So while I might be able to fudge a hand once, I would not be able to redraw that hand in different poses. By creating the basic building blocks of the hand, however, I can use Corel to create different poses using more or less the same building blocks. [To get the perspective right, I’ll have to adjust the nodes on at least some of the ‘bones’, but that’s the easy part].

Is this the best way to build an alien?

Sadly, the answer is no. The vectoring isn’t that hard but finding the correct snippet of texture with just the right colour and light effect is very hard.

The best way to build an alien from scratch would be to create a 3D model using a super dooper graphics package like Maya. Unfortunately, Maya is also super dooper expensive and takes about 2 years of study to learn properly. So I’m making do with what I have, and what I know. I think I’ve done pretty well so far, for an amateur. πŸ˜‰

Okay, no comments again, but as always, my thanks to all of you for being my sounding board[s].




I’ve been obsessing over this image for days now. Still a way to go, but for the first time this evening, it feels as if it’s finally coming together. πŸ™‚

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Bats, cats and Archeopteryx

A bit more biology about the Vokh and iVokh. They really are a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster!

Okay, so I’ve said that both Vokh and iVokh are flying hermaphrodytes, and in book 1, I mentioned that their ‘lungs’ are in their wings which are like ‘leather sacks’. These sacks can also be inflated with lift [a component of their atmosphere which acts a bit like helium] to help them fly. But where did some of these ideas come from?

The leather wings idea came from the common bat:

But I needed the iVokh to be capable of some technology, and while bats do have a ‘thumb’ to help them climb, they can’t make or use tools. That was when I realised that the iVokh needed proper hands. Trouble was, if they had more human-like hands, they couldn’t have long, bat-like ‘fingers’ supporting their wings.

It was at this point that the idea of inflatable wings occurred to me. I can’t take any credit for it as parafoils use the same principle, although in a very different design.

But if the Vokh and iVokh can inflate their wings, how do they de-flate them?

Enter brilliant idea number 548: let them have jets!

The modern jet engine basically sucks air in and expels it under incredible pressure to ‘push’ the plane along. The young man explaining the process in this video is a fabulous teacher!

The Vokh and iVokh don’t have combustion chambers, but they do physically compress the lift before squeezing it out of tiny sphincters on the trailing [bottom] edge of their wings. If any of you read book 1, Vokhtah, you may remember that the Rogue had incredibly powerful jets, allowing it to perform almost miraculous feats of acrobatics in the air.

For less virtuoso flyers like the iVokh, jetting requires something to push against – i.e. the ground, a wall etc. The stronger the flyer, the further that solid surface can be from its jets.

One problem with jetting is that once the lift is pushed out through the jets, the wings effectively deflate, leaving them ‘limp’. The best flyers can glide on limp wings, but for most iVokh, no lift means no flight. This is why they never use up all the lift in their wings.

Another issue I had with the flight mechanics of the Vokh and iVokh had to do with the surface area of their wings. Clearly the wider the wings the better their ability to fly. But I didn’t want them to actually look like bats.

I ignored this problem for quite a while until it suddenly struck me that almost all of the animals of Vokhtah had six limbs, not four!

Why would the Vokh and iVokh be any different? Um, because they’d look stupid? But what if that second set of arms weren’t actually visible?

I’m still working on a concept drawing, but basically the main arms would be situated in much the same position as human arms. The second set, however, would be located lower down on the torso and would simplyΒ  ‘move’ the folds of leather into various positions when not inflated. For example, when I write that such-and-such folded its wings to its sides, the folding is done by the second set of arms.

I mentioned cats in the title because of something I wrote in my last post. How could iVokh have both fangs and grinding teeth?

This photo of a cat’s skull explains:

As you can see, the jaws of a cat have those oversized canines as well as a total of four molars – one on each side of the bottom jaw and one on each side of the top jaw – plus eight pre-molars. Unlike the cat, iVokh have just two fangs and four molars. Oh, and my aliens also share a vertical pupil with both cats and foxes!

And finally, Archeopteryx. What body part did I steal from this ancient ancestor of birds?

Answer: the legs:

The bones of the leg are essentially the same as that in humans – thigh bone, knee, shin – until you get to the ankle. This is the point at which the leg of the Archeopteryx looks as if it has a second, back-to-front knee. It doesn’t. That joint is basically the equivalent of our ankle, but the foot is different. The reason is that humans are one of the few animals that walk with a ‘plantigrade’ foot posture – i.e. heel down first. Most other animals, including the Archeopteryx, run on their toes.

I’ve turned comments off as this kind of research is my obsession not yours, but thanks for keeping me company!






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