About the Cover When Work Becomes Bliss Gary Singh


© 2010 Ryan Bliss

riginally an aspiring creative writer, Ryan Bliss completed an English degree from the University of Iowa before pursuing desktop wallpaper creation in the mid-1990s. After completing a computer science degree, he realized almost immediately that he wanted to work with computers. His website, www.digitalblasphemy. com, went live in 1997. “There weren’t many resources for high-res wallpaper imagery at that time,” Bliss recalls. “Word spread, and in a year I was getting tens of thousands of visitors per day and racking up large bandwidth bills. I tried banner advertising to support myself, but it just didn’t pay very well for the demographically diffused kind of traffic I had.” Bliss carried on nevertheless, making a living as a programmer while moonlighting full-time on his website, which proved to be too much for one person to handle. He decided one of them had to go. The wallpaper business won, and Bliss realized he was getting in on the ground level of a new idea.

Figure 1. Pulsar. Ryan Bliss created this image using Apophysis fractals on 2D plates in LightWave. 4

July/August 2011

“At the time, it was pretty much unheard of to charge people for access to Web content,” he says. “But I went ahead and tried it. The response was such that I was able to quit the programming job and focus 100 percent of my time on artwork.” Digital Blasphemy has grown to more than 17,000 paid subscribers. “The whole thing started out as a hobby, but it’s been my full-time job for the past 12 years,” Bliss explains. “I don’t really consider it to be work, though.”

Without Reference The cover image, Song of the Sky, originated with visuals Bliss created in 2000. The title refers to the sound that aurora borealis viewers occasionally report hearing. “I’ve always been fascinated by nature, and the aurora is her most beautiful phenomenon,” Bliss says. “For that project I used NewTek LightWave to create the aurora effects and then used them as a backdrop to a scene I rendered in WorldBuilder.” Because much of 3D software continually evolves, Bliss feels it’s fun to constantly rediscover his older pieces and bring them up to date with more advanced methods. Four years ago, he created a new version of Song of the Sky using e-on’s Vue d’Esprit (now Vue 9 Esprit) for the landscape rendering. “Vue d’Esprit has planets you can add to the sky,” Bliss explains. “So, they appear behind your clouds and atmosphere, but it also lets you use your own custom planets. Since they are just image files, they don’t necessarily have to be planets, however. I’ve used this feature for a number of cool sky effects—supernovae, galaxies, and so on.” Speaking of space, Bliss created Pulsar (see Figure 1) using Apophysis fractals on 2D plates in LightWave. “By varying the luminosity and transparency of the different places and moving some in front of others, it is possible to create the illusion of darker dust obscuring brighter plasma,” he explains on

Published by the IEEE Computer Society

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Unleashed Creativity Regarding his creative process, Bliss says the situation is different with almost every image. Sometimes he gets a sudden flash of insight and hurries to his computer to try it out. Other times he finds himself trying to learn a specific component of some particular software, and then he builds a project around a specific effect. “There’s always a lot of ad lib or trial and error because I don’t use references or usually try to emulate anything real,” he admits. This love of creating new worlds is what drove him to call his enterprise Digital Blasphemy. It was a direct attack on the very idea of representation. “It’s fun to hear people ask, ‘Where is that?’ as if they were looking at a real place,” he confesses. “The answer is, it exists only in my mind and the mind of the viewer.” Fans often ask Bliss to post videos of himself, in his creative element, working on a piece. Bliss won’t do it.

© 2010 Ryan Bliss

Figure 2. Blossom. Rendered in LightWave, this image was an oldfashioned experiment using an ancient stand-alone version of the Xfrog modeler.

“I do not progress linearly through the process like a digital Bob Ross,” he says. “There are fits and starts, mistakes and backtracking. It’s usually a messy process, and people would be sure to second-guess my decisions, as I do myself from time to time.”


liss is talking with different companies about licensing his work for removable wall murals, black-light posters, and other products. He also wants to work on a motion picture someday. “I think my kids would get a kick out of seeing their daddy’s work on the big screen,” he says. Gary Singh lives and writes in San Jose, California. Contact him at [email protected] Selected CS articles and columns are also available for free at http://ComputingNow.computer.org.

© 2008 Ryan Bliss

his website. “Because the plates are 2D they are relatively fast to render.” Another experiment found its way into Blossom (see Figure 2). Bliss says the image, rendered in LightWave, was actually an old-fashioned experiment using an ancient stand-alone version of Xfrog, a node-based procedural modeler used primarily to design flowers. “When I was first learning how to use it, I found it to be wonderful at creating strange organic abstract shapes that are fascinating to explore,” Bliss says. “Xfrog doesn’t have a renderer, so I exported the objects to LightWave and applied all sorts of cool texture effects.” Years ago, the Xfrog company stopped updating its standalone application and instead focused on Maya plug-ins, so Bliss says he hasn’t really done any other abstract work with it. He still uses it to model plants, though. “It was fun to create something completely fanciful,” he recalls. Color Wheel (see Figure 3) is an entirely different beast. Like many of Bliss’ images, it’s available in dual-screen and tri-screen versions for use as wallpaper. To give viewers a taste of his creative process, Bliss posts multiple versions of certain pieces on his website. He keeps one version in his main gallery and other versions in what he calls the “Pickle Jar.” “[It] allows folks to enjoy some of those roads not taken while allowing me to keep my personal vision front-and-center,” he explains.

Figure 3. Color Wheel. This image is available in dual-screen and triscreen versions for wallpaper. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications


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