Sunday, 1 September 2013

Big Spaceships 004 - Columbia Class Carrier - Part 1

Thought I'd take a moment to answer a couple of letters recently received at the Coolhand Graphics reception desk. My faithful assistant, the lovely Hannah, typically drowning in my personal fan mail generally tosses it all in the Mr Fusion, which funnels vast amounts of electrical charge to my Delorean sized graphics card, seriously it weighs more than the motherboard, what's up with that? 

This week however one or two escaped the nuclear annihilation and shockingly, were not death threats that had been extensively sneezed over in a primitive attempt at bio-warfare.  

Susan from Fife asks: 

"Steve, I'm a huge fan of yours - along with all of us at the retirement home - and really like spaceships and all the other junk you make, but wait a minute, you're still in the middle of 003 - that Covenant thingy, this is 004...? Also, why "00X", do you have like more than a hundred of these things?"

Dear Susan, How unbelievably prescient of you to write to me about something I haven't even published yet, people might think this is all merely some kind of self-serving literary device. Anyway, I thought I'd mix things up a little, please bear with us for the final part of that other article, as for the numbering, I thought it looked cooler that way and perhaps makes sense in the long run, but who knows, I thought about starting them at 0001, but that seemed overly ambitious.  

Donald from Albuquerque pedantically inquires about the article labelling: 

"Why specifically *big* spaceships, why emphasise this aspect? I guess we've had the mile long vessel entering Disney's Black hole, and monstrosities like the super star destroyers from Star Wars. Was the Death Star merely a gigantic symbolic ova and the SSD crashing into it somehow symbolic of reproduction? Why is bigger often seen as better? Is there something inherently sexual about these gigantic leviathans? - Pls answer I need help with my 3rd year dissertation."

Dear Donald, Like towering Apollo rockets, or train tunnels drilled through mountain ranges, No, absolutely not and you're massively insane for even bringing it up. But its important to recognise and accept that there are nearly always several valid interpretations of a form and to not shy away from a functional design because it could be interpreted in such a way. Otherwise, we'd have never gone to the moon and the 10:15 from Euston would be hopelessly late. This design in particular is excessive in many ways, not all good... Maybe none of it is good, but it's always a challenge to build something bigger and better than before and that's all part of the fun - the only way is up, is a perfectly valid point of view, as much as its totally obsessively wrong.  I'll be Frank, Donald, often the more sexy a design is, the more popular it is, and the bigger it is, the more popular it is.  Never fear or shy away from these things! However I have always viewed these craft holistically - more as large living organisms, animals in their own right rather than any specific organ or cell, but others may have different interpretations. I call them big spaceships to differentiate from, well, the smaller ones. All the best and good luck with your dissertation, always here if you need help! 

greebles abound on its form
Shots like this would really wow people back in the day! coo, look at the out of scale chipped paint effect, looks fairly realistic even, but out of scale making the whole thing look too small, reminds me of the Nostromo miniature after it was left out in a carpark in LA for 20 years. 

Anyway, for those still reading, enough with the guff.  I'm pretty sure this particular beast is circa 2003, built for my Sol project - the "Allies" side of the system wide cold war lacked a serious carrier-deterrent, in comparison to the mighty Lenin class of the People's Republic. In an effort to close this carrier gap the Columbia Class (named after the recently at that point, tragically lost real-world Space Shuttle Orbiter) Is commissioned, greatly extending the reach of the Allied Super-Powers. 

It has some nice features but overall its far from my favourite design, as we delve more deeply into the construction, perhaps we'll find out why. 

3 point lighting on the low detailed form
Humble beginnings
It starts as all others with a shape, as smooth as it needs to be to carry the later detail.

a large spaceship on a black background
Beginnings here of that chipped paint effect, this is purely procedural as I did little work with bitmaps back then. 
The detail begins, I decided to try a double-bridge structure, I'm not sure what that was all about but it somehow seemed appropriate at the time. 

before you die you see goatsy
Every carrier needs somewhere for its fighters to land, this is it, coming back to what I was talking about in the pre-amble if the whole thing is an animal then this is the... 
I decided it needed a single fly-through, internal flight deck, some questioned whether this was 'safe' given the proximity to the propulsion systems, but if you don't want to soak up some radiation,then don't join the Allied navy. 
a ship up close, under construction
Swiftly moving on with the detailing here.
I always feel that the bridge of a ship like this becomes something of a centre of interest, though it shouldn't really received any more detail than any other area (because who knows which areas will be shot on) but I often began with this area of a ship.  I recall my style of greebling at this point being criticised by some, it was simple for sure, but I think how I arranged the elements still made it work, once complete. 
Note the turrets in the next shot are in some ways similar to ones seen on Battlestar Galactica 2003, however they are from the earlier Sheffield class (as yet undocumented) I believe both these ships pre-date the appearance of the nu-galactica, certainly the Sheffield did anyway. Cooincidence? Possibly, I like to entertain the notion that some of my work was printed out and put up on a wall in some meeting somewhere, and made a tiny contribution to that epic design. 
did i rip off galactica, or the other way around;)
Lets get some better lighting on there... Or at least try.
Lighting makes all the difference, I would spend endless hours tinkering with the setup and the materials, not really knowing what I was doing, I would for example load up one model, and import another one to find that one ship would be totally blown out (over-exposed) and one was too dark, because I'd put too much light into one scene, and too little in another.  It's best to set things up realistically, photographically and make your lighting a realistic simulation complete with exposure control, but back then it was all beyond me. 

this is a poor line of questioning
Spaceships are not phallic, OK Donald from Albuquerque?
The lighting here is nearly quite nice, its always a good idea to rake the lighting at a shallow angle, so to throw long evening shadows along the hull, the closer your key light gets to the camera, the worse things are going to look, I didn't really understand this at the time. 

Trying to evoke something like a marine animal, like a shark or something. 
the opening which releases smaller vehicles.
A toothed mouth? a forked tongue perhaps? 
a bomber departs the deck
Starting to look the part now, but I think this shot shows the whole weighting of this design is perhaps off, its much too tall, lending it an old-fashioned look, I'm reminded of the old artwork illustrating the trans-atlantic liners of the early 20th century... Heavy is the word, perhaps its appropriate.   
A white space-fighter.
The fighter/bomber seen in the earlier shot, I fear this was too ugly to live, and it was never seen again outside this project.  
a ship hangs in space
Lets put her in space (Allied ships were female, Soviet ships male, I didn't invent this, its just how it is)
The above pic demonstrates a common error of the scifi-artist, the stars... These are horribly sharp, way too even in value, real stars, a photograph of stars, will be blurred, fainter, less even in value/albedo and with a more random distribution - denser in some areas. 

a large ship hangs in space recovering a fighter.
Wave off, wave off, you're too ugly to land... although unfinished, this shot lends a nice sense of scale.

death to the non-believers
A pair of large drop-bays, uses the ships artificial gravitational field to propel troop ships downward or allows the berthing of larger vessels. 
look up and say goodbye
If you're the enemy looking up at this, well, for you the war is over. 
navigation lights and drop bays on show on the spacecraft
more detail going on the underside. 
This brings me to an issue I've had with every spacecraft model, I hate working on the underside, I never have as many ideas, it never turns out as well as the top and I'm never motivated to work on it, I have no idea why really... Perhaps its because the interesting parts like the bridge always go on the top? 

the ship flies in space, half complete.
Another lighting change and trying out some different shapes on the bridges. 

And once again the Blogger blog editor thing is goofing around so I'll get back to work and pick this up real soon in part 2, I promise, and also the final part of the Covenant project, Susan. 

Thanks for reading, if you liked it please share this on social websites and feel free to leave a comment, it really helps keep me motivated to blog more.

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