Monday, 18 February 2013

Big Spaceships 003 - Covenant CCS Battle Cruiser - part 1

"Wait, come back, I've left my iPhone on board! Oh, I'll call the captain.... Oh, sh.....eez" 
If you, like any sensible person have a fetish for GIGANTIC ALIEN SPACECRAFT you have come to the right place.  As previewed earlier in the year, one of last years major projects for Coolhand Graphics revolved around building assets for Halo 4, specifically the Spartan Ops campaign that has ended with the last segment released just today! Which means after an agonising wait I'm finally able to spill the beans, squeal like a stuck little piggy-wiggy and lift the lid on a particular fascinating and challenging construction.

I invite you, Dear reader (wasn't he in charge of North Korea? -ed) to the following briefing which has until today been TOP SECRET....

Sit down gentlemen, ladies, and anyone in between... Even if you're on a mobile thing and crossing the road, just sit down, right there in the middle of the street* - that bus will wait, the driver has seen you, I promise! Are you sitting comfortably? OK, please review the datasheet below:


This nearly two-kilometer long monster of a vessel is perhaps mid-range for the Covenant arsenal, that said its still absolutely gigantic. Naturally, given its tremendous size and because it has more curves than Kim Kardashian's wobbly bits, and about as friendly to caress, this is not an easy shape to build up to movie quality standards, as required for these cut-scenes. Fortunately, Axis Animation up in jolly old Scotchland, knowing they had a problem, knowing now one else could help, and having a pretty good idea of where I was (hiding in a small lead-lined cupboard, as I so often do on a Thursday), thought maybe they could hire... The S-Team!

Anyway, enough with the shtick, we don't have time for it... This is against the clock, people, against the clock!  And indeed it was, as I had all of 4 weeks to complete the largest, the most complex single model I have ever built, in fact two models, but we'll get into that later. Was I ready for it? Did I massively screw it up? Find out next week on the S-Team!

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Naw, just kidding, where shall we start? at the beginning  OK... It may come as no surprise to some that the huge CCS BC is in fact very similar in shape to a much smaller Covenant ship, the Covenant Cruiser, (I'm not sure it has a better name?) So I first built this smaller craft and based the larger CCS on it.

Starting with a model from the game, I dropped in my Akula model, to get an idea of the detail I wanted to put into both ships:

Comparison of ships
See that tiny ship in the corner, thats one of my most detailed ships, the 5 million triangle Akula Class. Yikes!
I had to up-scale the low detail mesh and make sure its smooth - nice and high-res looking, here's some of the initial work on the bow... Remember this corresponds to the smaller of the two covenant ships in the above image:

A closeup of the bow
I added textures pretty early on, it was requested that i put only basic UV mapping data as many effects would be achieved procedurally - as usual most of the final look of the surfaces were established in-house after I handed over the model.  
Was I worried, was I, bah..... Yes of course, I was completely terrified, so I decided to concentrate and complete the bow first as a self contained part, this way I could see how long it took and how much to panic about doing the rest. 
'Clay' Render of the bow
I was allowed a lot of freedom with the detailing and trusted to handle it in my own way, after analysing the Halo 4 covenant style guide I added shapes such as the hair like detail on the borders where the armour steps down. I also drew some inspiration from my one of my favourite designers - H R Giger, appropriate as Halo is often said to draw inspiration from the Aliens franchise.
Underside of the bow WIP
Textured underside of the bow - something a bit squid-like about this, again channelling a little Giger. 
After finishing the bow to an acceptable standard, I realised this was a huge task but I was pretty sure, well fairly sure, it wouldn't end in a huge embarrassing disaster, but still the fear of that was a powerful motivator, a bit like a Death Star commander awaiting a visit from Palpatine.
Overview of the WIP
Sometimes I'm asked, hey you why you put that colour on so early, you stoopid or somethin'? Well, it helps a modeller to make selections, for example all the underlying layers are a darker material than the overlaying armour, so its easy to select these areas by material, or by colour, also, grey is boring, also, It helps to show where I've put UV's, also, shut up.;) 
So, I'm tackling the model methodically, working from one end to the other, often I'll work haphazardly on many different areas at once, depending on my mood.  Here I tried to be as disciplined as possible, if only so my client could see clear progress with each update, as you follow the pictures you can see the "HD" areas growing and overtaking the low detail without jumping ahead.

A far more subdued colour scheme though, the final version as created by Axis was somewhat brighter like the first renders, but I had no idea what tones they would choose at the time.
As always, progress is slow and demands immense patience... But then if I wanted excitement I would never have given up on that career delivering pizza on the Gaza Strip.

Converting the covenant
Ok, Jumping ahead just a little! Most of the panels you can see cut into this hull are carefully made to be faithful to the in-game textures. 
What, you can't see this image?
I think this ship looks best from the side! 
Some of the "engraved" detail on the cargo bays. 
Some of the detail on the upper-mid section, not sure what these freaky looking shapes in the cut-outs are meant to be, they just seemed like an interesting way to use up that space and create some contrast area. I recall after showing this image to the crew at Axis, they were wondering just where I was going to go for the larger Cruiser.  I had some ideas... 
One of the purposes of detail on a spacecraft model, for film use, is to create areas of contrast. The gaps between detail create darker areas, they can cast shadow or soak up light, so even if you can't see all the detail itself, you'll see the darker, contrasting areas on it, this creates visual appeal no matter what the lighting angle, it's important to have smooth areas that will light brightly, and darker areas which add definition, which adds scale, make sense? Good, there will be a test.*

A view of the top of the cruiser
Work in progress of the upper side of the cruiser, thats what WIP means if you haven't been keeping up with the world of nerd. 
.... Flip it over and attack the underside for massive poly-counts! 
Ah, now its starting to look the part.  I always imagined this area in the centre was the bridge of the ship, but according to various un-nammed geeky sources it's probably just the ship's bar, the covenant space hooch is good, hardly make your insides melt but served warm with side orders of live salty flies. 
Getting close to what I thought the final version of the small cruiser would be... This is perhaps a week or so into the build, anxious to finish and get started on the real ship, little did I know at this point I'd already started it. 
Underside small cruiser
Look closely at the (landing leg?) adding the first bit of actual mechanical looking detail - 'Greeble' or 'Nurnie' this shape was ripped straight off my Akula, and has been used on numerous models, you will need to click and see the expanded version - but you were doing that anyway, right? 
Underside, small cruiser
A nice view of the energy-rose, err, thing... Yeah I have no idea what that round part is called, just that it has light coming out of it - I really did my homework as you can tell! 
A nice view of the Airlock thing on the side, again with the covenant engraving, which also sees use on the upper rear of the bridge area - I figured this could be another airlock or shuttle bay, like a huge door that slides upward, but nothing like that is hinted at in the plans.
And so friends, we all too soon reach the end of part 1, not to be cruel but Blogger's editor hates having too many large pics in one article and its acting up, making it hard for me to add anything else... I fear if I add any more awesome to this piece I may break the internet forever!    

Moving on, lots of ground to cover in part 2, which will not be too far down the road, and hopefully if I haven't been assassinated by the studio's sinister agents for giving away too many insider secrets we can get all the rest into the next exciting update! 

Hope you've enjoyed it so far, please click the buttons below to 'like' and 'share' this article on Google, Facebook etc, each one means a lot to me, and don't forget to hit the follow button on the sliding tab thingy on the right.:)

* Coolhand Graphics takes no responsibility for you becoming fatally injured, slightly bruised or sore in an intimate area after reading this blog.
** There will not be a test.