Saturday, 27 April 2013

NCC 2000 C Excelsior

Talking of Star Trek. This is something I did for the Excelsior Audio drama a couple of years back:

Done in Photoshop, painting over a basic 3D mesh:


Okay, so I've been making and creating but I can't talk about any of it yet, so I'm afraid this is more old stuff.

My Bat'Leth that I forged from MDF a couple of years ago.

I made a pair of these years ago, even before I was a model maker and learned the tricks. They were terrible. Cut from Plywood, there was no attempt to hide the wood grain and they were sprayed car silver which is essentially just shiny grey and they were bound in string!  Still, I was proud of them at the time and my mate, Darren whom I made the second one for treasured his.

Anyway, for years I've been meaning to make another one and do it properly, so using Dan Curry's original sketch and some TV ref I made up a 1:1 drawing and printed it out.

Once I had the printed drawing, I taped it to some standard 9mm MDF like so.
It was originally going to be 6mm MDF but once I actually picked the sheet up in B&Q it felt unbelievably flimsy, so I opted for 9mm at the last moment.

The basic shape was then jigsawed out of the MDF thus:

 Next, I created a spacer by taping two pencils and a pen together side by side and used it to draw a parallel line around the blade edge of the weapon. I then drew, by eye, a line along the centre of the actual edge.

Once the blade edge lines were drawn, I cut the edge into the blade by hand with a stanley knife.
I now have the basic shape ready for sanding and refining.

Sanded smooth and sealed (1st pass).
MDF has fluffy edges, almost like pulp cardboard so it needs to be sealed somehow and this was a bit of a headscratcher. I know at the Model Makers we used to use a yellowy solution, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what.
The only advice I could find online was to use expensive, environment-rotting chemicals that required an NBC suit and a lead-lined container. So that was no good.
It seemed reasonable to me that I just need something non-soluble that dried solidly but started as a liquid so as to soak into the fluffy edges and clog it up ready for sanding. I did a test piece using slightly watered down 'no-more-nails' and it seemed to work fine. It's still a bit fluffy and will need at least another pass - if not two or three - but eventually it should be ready for priming. Then it's a case of Sand, fill, prime. Sand, fill, prime. Sand, fill, prime. Sand, fill, prime. Until it's glassy smooth and ready to be sprayed silver.

KBO! So I gave it three or four coats of watered-down-no-more-nails and that seemed to do the trick rather nicely.
Once that was done, I gave it it's first coat of primer. Then I located all the 'dinks', marked them with a pencil, then filled them with a dot of P38 Car Body Filler. Once that was done, I sanded the whole thing virtually back to the MDF with 120 grit and then went over it again with 360 to give it an almost glassy smooth finish. I've just applied the second coat of primer and it looks spanking gorgeous. This makes me happy.

Nearly done. The second coat of primer looked pretty slick but a tiny bit coarse, so I've run over it with some 1200 wet and dry to make it shiny and smooth. I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea. I can't help feeling that the primer would be better off slightly rough to help the final coat adhere better but as it's silver paint, I think the shinier the surface it's sprayed onto the more 'metal' it'll look. I mean, it's still going to look like wood sprayed silver but short of getting it electroplated it's the best I can do. To be fair, this is probably far more finished than the actual screen props were :)

Talking of sand paper, 1200 is pretty fine but at the Model Makers we used to sometimes use 6000 grit. It felt like a sheet of rubber and was apparently used to polish the MFD screens in Tornado fighter planes!

.....aaaand, SILVER! Unfortunately I'm a little dissapointed with the finish. The silver ramps up the contrast of the lighting and exaggerates the blemishes in the surfaces. So all the little dinks that were barely perceptible in the primer layer are now much more visible. Equally the uneven blade edge that was barely noticeable on the primed version now looks quite crude and clumsy :( - All of this, however is only really obvious on close inspection. From a few feet away, it actually looks quite impressive. So now I have to decide if it's worth the effort to try and sand back a few areas and re-do them. I've also got to find some (fake) fur, leather and suede from somewhere to bind the grips.

Q'apla! It is done. Having sanded it right back, resprayed it and left it a couple of weeks in the loft to dry, I finally took a stab at binding the grips. The silver paint is already starting to get scratched and worn away on the points and that's from really quite light contact with random surfaces (even though I've been really careful not to make it contact anything - sigh) but it'll have to do. Short of machining it out of steel or spraying it shiny grey (what normally passes for silver) I don't have much of a choice.

I'm not entirely happy with the grips. I was hoping the variety of materials would give it a more primal, tribal feel but it just looks more like a sort of brown rainbow :( I might add some bits of cloth, lace and beads to give it some character, though.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Remodelling the Suleiman 02

A quick and simple pass at procedurally texturing the afterburner. I say quick and simple, I've spent most of the day on it, predominantly trying to figure out how to get layered shaders to work with the Mental Ray renderer. I finally figured it out and put this together. It's a really simple spherical environment map blended with a standard 'granite' shader for rust. I did a quick automated UV mapping pass and then baked an Ambient Occlusion map to use as an alpha channel to blend the two. The idea being that the rust would sit in the recesses and the shiny chrome would be on upper, exposed areas and edges etc. It hasn't quite worked out that way but given how slapped together this is, I'm quite pleased with the way it looks.

I need to map the geometry properly to get a decent AO map from it that I can work into and make the distribution of the two procedural materials more realistic. I also need to work on the two procedural materials to make them a bit more convincing as well.

Something else I need to do is establish a texture scale. This is something I learned whilst working on Puss in Boots. It gives the textures on each surface a consistency and also gives you a fairly good uniform idea as to how close you can get to any given part of the model before it get's all soupy. The scale we used on Puss in Boots was, if I remember correctly, 512 pixels = 2 metres. Giving a pixel density of about 2.5 pixels per centimetre. That's pretty darn good but if the textures aren't tiled I'm going to end up with a load of VERY big textures which could get quite gruelling for the memory and the render times :/ I'll have to wing it, and I may well reduce the scale as I don't really ever intend rendering the ship up quite that close.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Remodelling the Suleiman 01

I'm slowly, very slowly remodelling the Suleiman Scout/Courier I modelled way back in about 2002-ish.

It's a ship from the Traveller RPG and at the time I was very proud of it.
I opened it up a year or so ago and was amazed at how poor it actually was on close inspection. Faceted, simplistic geometry and low res maps meant that it didn't bare close inspection at all! Even some of the modelling was futzed. It was an interesting lesson in what I've learned over the years but also made me want to improve it.

I've tidied the barrels and small crates in the cargo hold but I need to retexture them properly.
Today I have mostly been remodelling the afterburners.

You can see here the difference in the old and new.

The original was a fairly simple cylinder with depressingly few facets. On top of this I mapped a photoshopped photograph of the afterburner from a MIG fighter plane that a colleague had taken at an airshow. From that photo I also made a crude specular and bump map (I was still using bump maps instead of normal maps!!!).

It worked okay-ish in a reasonably small render, poor lighting and with heavy 'noise' over the top of the image as seen above, but as you can see from this render, stands absolutely no close scrutiny what so ever.

I hope that the new one, once textured will be far more convincing.

This image shows the Afterburners in place and also demonstrates how poor the texturing really was!