Tag Archives: Corel Draw X8

PowerPoint – How to ‘Remove Background’

After the amazing PowerPoint effects achieved by Diana Wallace Peach in my previous post, I just had to see if I could master some of those techniques myself. The answer is…kind of. This is my, ahem, masterpiece:

I don’t think I’ll be headed to Cannes any time soon. But…I did learn some really useful skills, and today I’ll walk you through the PowerPoint ‘Remove Background’ option. If you’ve tried this option before and given up in frustration, don’t worry, I had the same problems so we’ll do it step by step. ๐Ÿ™‚

The first step is to open PowerPoint [hereafter known as PP] and select a blank slide.

Next, click the ‘Insert’ option on the Ribbon and find an image that you want to work with:

The image below is the first one I worked with:

The picture frame looks as if it’s empty, but in reality the middle is not transparent at all. It’s white.

In order to have the mask appear as if it were inside the frame, I had to get rid of the white in the middle. Easier said than done. When I tried to remove the background in PowerPoint, PP wanted to delete the frame, not the white in the middle!

The purple area is what PP thinks should be removed

PP helpfully colours the area[s] to be removed in purple. Pity that’s precisely what I want to keep. -rolls eyes-

I guess the default setting assumes that whatever you want to keep will be in the middle…. Trust me to do everything backwards. In my own defence, however, the labels on the buttons and the explanations of those buttons only made sense after I’d finally worked out what to do and how to do it. -grumble-

Anyway, allow me to explain the buttons:

Background Removal buttons in PowerPoint
Mark Areas to Keep

If you hover your mouse over the ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ button, you’ll get a tooltip that says: ‘Draw lines to mark areas to keep in the picture’. I assumed that the word ‘lines’ had to be some kind of misnomer. It would take a lifetime to draw enough lines to take out half a picture! Ditto for the ‘Mark areas to Remove’ button. I was wrong.

When you click on the ‘Mark Areas to Keep button’, and then draw any kind of line across your picture, a whole section of the picture will be selected. In the following screenshot, I clicked ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ and then drew a line from the top left of the picture frame to a point near the bottom. The line was not straight:

reclaiming part of the picture frame in PowerPoint

Given that the picture frame is made up of straight lines, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to ‘fill in’ the frame properly. What I discovered was that the ‘line’ is not set until you release the mouse button at the end point.

In other words, you click the mouse at your start point and hold it down as you drawn the line. If the line is wonky, you can straighten it just by moving the mouse. So long as you keep the mouse button held down, you can keep moving the line wherever you want:

How to ‘Mark’ a line in PowerPoint
Mark Areas to Remove

Once I’d ‘marked’ all the purple areas and changed them to ‘keeps’, it was time to mark the middle as an ‘Area to Remove’. The principle is the same as for marking areas to keep: click the ‘Mark Areas to Remove’ button, click the mouse on an area to be removed, hold down the mouse button as you move the mouse across the image, release the mouse button to trigger the ‘remove’:

Delete Mark

If you make a mistake, you can undo the last line by clicking the ‘Delete Mark’ button and then clicking the line you wish to remove. That second part is critical as nothing will happen unless you do. You can also use the keyboard shortcut CTRL-Z to ‘undo’ the last thing you did. So much easier.

Discard All Changes

This is like a global undo. If you select this button you will delete every single change you have made. Use with caution.

Keep Changes

This is the button you hit once you’ve done all that you want to do to the image. ‘Keep Changes’ bakes all the changes so they ‘stick’. No more undoing any of the changes. It’s the last step in the whole process.

And now for those eyeballs.

PP is very good at detecting curves so long as there is a strong contrast between the object and its background. The eyeball I wanted to use is perfect…except for the bit at the top where the eyelashes are basically the same colour as that part of the eye.

free image from Pixabay

To excavate that eyeball from the eyelashes, I made the image as big as possible using the slider down in the status bar [bottom of screen]. Then I clicked on ‘Mark Areas to Remove’ and drew teensy weensy little lines. <<cue grinding of teeth>>

My stubbornness persistence paid off because I managed to get an almost circular eyeball, but when I tried it in the mask, the not-quite-perfect curve was noticeable. So I cheated. I turned the eyeball upside down. ๐Ÿ™‚

I should say here that the easiest image to clean up was the mask!

free image from freeimages.com

Although the left side of the mask is in shadow, the shadow is a different colour AND there’s still enough contrast to allow PP to detect the edges.

All in all, I’m loving the ‘Remove Background’ function in PP. It has limitations – the lack of curved lines is a big one – but for large jobs that can be a little rough, it’s miles easier than vectoring an image in Corel. As always though, you have to use the right tool for the right job.

My thanks to Diana for introducing me to a very useful tool indeed. ๐Ÿ˜€

cheers,
Meeks


The Acolyte

I was going to do a cooking post today, but everything fell into place with the graphic I’ve been working on so I couldn’t resist showing you:

The blue background is only temporary as it helps to make the image ‘pop’ much better than a plain white one.

Apart from showing off, I’d also like your feedback on what you think is the ‘feel’ of the image. I’m hoping for something to come through the body language, but as I already know the story, I lack the ability to view it objectively.

So, the red beastie is a Tukti. This is the concept image I finished a while ago:

Happy Tukti

The figure holding the Tukti is the Acolyte. I introduced the Acolyte in the first book:

‘The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.

It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.

A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.

Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamberโ€™s single glow-worm.

After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.

Diminutive by any standard, the healersโ€™ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.’

Excerpt from Vokhtah, book 1 of the Suns of Vokhtah

The Acolyte, and the Tukti, have important roles to play in the ongoing story so I’d love your feedback on both of them. Do you get some kind of a feel from the image? Does it tell a ‘story’ or is it just a static image? If you saw this image as part of the cover of a book, would it pique your interest at all?

I know that not many of you are scifi tragics like me, but I’d still love to know what you think.

Many thanks,
Meeks


Getting close…

Still some things to tweak, but the graphic is starting to feel more alive. Night all. ๐Ÿ™‚


A work in progress

Getting that hand to look as if it’s actually gripping the Tukti has been hard, and I’m not really happy with it yet. But…it’s getting there.

cheers,
Meeks


The Making of a Tukti, (or digital collage with bitmaps and Corel)

In my previous post I showed you the finished Tukti graphic (shown on the left). In this post, I want to show you a few of the techniques I used to create the graphic.

I call this style of making graphics ‘digital collage’, but real digital collage involves taking whole photos, making them very small and then building an over-arching image out of them. Think tiled mosaic. If you zoom in far enough, you can still see each image in its entirety.

My version of digital collage is rather different. I cut snippets of shape and colour and texture out of photos and then build up a multi-layered image out of all those snippets.

To give you some idea of what I mean, these are some of the 40 snippets I used to create the Tukti:

And those bits don’t include the many transparencies I used to blend the colours and textures into an apparently seamless whole. But before I confuse you too much, let me show you what I mean by some of this terminology.

First up, you need to get an idea of the difference between bitmap images [derived from photographs] and vector images [derived from geometry]. The image below is part of the original concept drawing and shows the Tukti eye blown up so you can see the pixels:

Pixels are tiny squares of colour which is how digital devices represent an analogue image – i.e. a photo, drawing or painting. There are literally millions of pixels in an average photo, and the gradations of colour help to create both smooth colour transitions as well as ‘outlines’.

By contrast, vector graphics are all about outlines. You have lines, closed shapes and solid colours like the image below:

The beauty of vector graphics is that images have transparent backgrounds. That means they can be layered, one on top of the other. Bitmaps can’t.

In the example shown below, the two images on the left look as if they have a transparent background, but that’s only because the page is the same colour as the background. When you place the bitmap on top of a darker coloured background, like the image on the right, it becomes obvious that the red circle sits inside a white background.

Luckily, Corel has a couple of ways of creating a hybrid vector image out of a bitmap. The first method uses nodes to draw the outer perimeter of the bitmap into the area of interest, node by node:

If anyone’s interested, I gave a fairly detailed explanation of this technique in a post entitled How to vector a bitmap. This is the technique I’ve used for most my graphics, but for regular shapes there is another way of ‘hiding’ the background of a bitmap:

Using the example of the eye again, you draw a vector circle on top of the eye image [white circle on top of left image above]. Next, you select the circle, hold down the Shift key, and select the eye image so you end up with two objects selected.

The sequence in which you select the objects is important because it tells Corel which object is the ‘do-er’ and which is the ‘do-ee’. In this case, the circle is the ‘do-er’ and the eye image is the ‘do-ee’.

Next we click the Object function and select Intersect from the Shaping menu:

The Intersect function uses the circle to create a duplicate of the image, but only of the bits inside the circle. The new object is still a bitmap, but all the bits outside the circle are hidden.

Hidden but not deleted.

This is important because each ‘snippet’ you create still has the entire bitmap image in it. That means Corel is working with the whole image even though it looks as if it’s only working with a small part of it. That can, and does, chew up computer resources.

Despite the issue of resources, I love this technique for the images it allows me to create. I hope you enjoyed this small insight into my techniques and how vector graphics work. ๐Ÿ™‚

cheers,
Meeks


Ta Dah… a Tukti

I don’t have time for the post I’d planned so for now I’ll just show you the Tukti, complete with legs. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ll show more in the next post.

cheers,
Meeks


Progress report

I’ve been doing a lot of graphics lately. It seems to be the only creative activity I can focus on with all the craziness in the world, so here are the latest concept images of the iVokh:

These two images will never grace the cover of a book, but they have clarified a number of simple mechanical issues for me. One of them is that when the primary arms are held up above the head, the legs have to be a little bit apart otherwise there is not enough ‘give’ in the wings.

I would very much like to create an image of the iVokh flying, but I know that will be a major project so instead I’m working on creating a digital ‘collage’ of the Tukti. They’re cute little critters and have an important role to play in the on-going story of Vokhtah.

This is the original concept drawing:

And this is how far I’ve got in translating that concept into a more photo-realistic, 3D image:

Creating something that looks ‘furry’ with vector graphics has been a lot harder than I originally thought. Read…I didn’t think. Anyway, I’m pleased with how the head and body finally turned out, and once I have the legs done, I’ll do a post showing a little bit of the process. As per usual, I create my digital collages with Corel Draw X8.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend,

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 bรชte 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. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ˜€

cheers
Meeks


Can you pick the difference?

Back in this post, I asked for your feedback on the cover for the new Innerscape Omnibus. To my huge surprise, almost all of you chose version 3:

Of the three, this one was the one I liked least, from a purely aesthetic point of view. Plus it was obvious that the less nerdy amongst you didn’t know that the big square lump in the middle was meant to be the chip on the circuit board. So…

First I came up with this:

I really liked the new parts of the new design, but now some of the older parts of the circuit board looked messy. And that lump was still too big. So…

The differences are subtle, but to me they make the whole thing more aesthetically pleasing. Yes? No? Maybe?

Would love to get your reaction, and please don’t hesitate to point out things that don’t work. You guys really, really surprised me last time, but I had to admit that you were absolutely right. So… what do you think?

-on tenterhooks-

Meeks

 


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