This morning I had this extraordinary experience that I would like to share with my artist buddies in this forum. Please bare with me as I think you will find my story very relevant to this forum. I was in my kitchen with only the light over the stove turned on while starting to cook a breakfast of hash-brown potatoes, fried ham and scrambled eggs. Before scrambling the eggs I first poured some vegetable oil into a pan so that the eggs wouldn't stick. I put the pan on low in order to heat it up while working on the hash browns for which I have a griddle that fits over two of my stove's gas burners. As I came back to the skillet to be used to cook the eggs, I could see this reptilian scale pattern emerging in the heated oil. Sorry, I don't have any photographs. I pilfered the batteries out of my main camera to replace the ones in my dying wireless mouse. Otherwise I would have been temped to repeat the experiment to obtain photographic evidence of this strange phenomenon.
But I have to digress so that I can explain to you the reason I am so interested in this thing. I am a serious dinosaur enthusiast and it is ultimately the reason for me even to be a Terragenic artist myself in the first place. Over the years I have been creating a number of 3D dinosaur models but they don't have fine skin details, only the gross anatomical features. Instead of doing the grueling work of actually putting scalage geometry into my models, it would be greatly preferred to have a "shader" that could do it for me. I envision creating a weight map that could direct the size of the individual scales, but the algorithm would actually create them for me. I haven't heard of any such shader to exist but I could really make use of one. In fact, I think this kind of shader would even be very useful in Terragen itself as I recall seeing even some natural rocks having patterns that are reminiscent of living reptile skin.
In trying to understand the phenomenon I observed while making breakfast, the idea came to me that the oil in the pan is like a miniature weather system. While the oil at the bottom of the pan was heated, it expanded to become less dense and needed to rise to the top of the liquid and be replaced by the colder and denser oil above. Since the hot oil can't go through the oil above it, small "weather cells" are created so that the oil rises in the middle of a cell and the cooler oil sinks in the region around the cell. By mass action, the cells spontaneously form a reptilian skin-like pattern. While the distribution of the heat changes, the "scales" keep changing so that there is a 2D gradient of small to large scales that look exquisite. Really folks, I don't think words can describe how impressive the vision was. It is really a remarkable sight. Perhaps this phenomenon can be used one day to inspired a gifted individual to write the displacement shader that I need to cover my dinosaur models in the places where it is needed. This shader needs to be tied in with the color shaders so that the coloration is coordinated with the scale geometry. For example, where the scales come together might be low in pigmentation while the high places in the centers of the scales are darkest.
I have come very close to buying the low cost version of Z-Brush just for making scale patterns. But that seems so labor-intensive. I'd much rather use a shader. Perhaps it is a job for a GPU. My instinct tells me that a high-end multi-core system could do the computations. If you had a way of doing a preliminary pattern generation and then storing the result then it would greatly speed up
process of rendering the models later on. Very cool things to think about. I'd very much like to read what others have to say on this subject.