Andrew Dickson CPSC 3710 – Computer Graphics Project
For my project, I decided to model the Starship Enterprise from The Star Trek series. Because I couldn’t quite decide which version of the ship I most wanted to do, I decided to borrow elements from the different versions of the ship over the years. My main inspiration for the shape of the ship came from these images below (references follow), which was the ship from the original Star Trek series.
From these pictures, I incorporated the glowing red caps on the nacelles (the long tubes coming off of the back of the ship), the protrusion of the deflector dish (the brown circle on the bottom middle part of the ship), the angle of the edge of the saucer section (large circular part in the front of the ship), the glowing white domes on the top and bottom of the saucer section, and the general shape and proportions of the nacelles and the connecting sections of the ship.
After watching some of the beginner tutorials on the Blender main site, I began to model the ship. This was my first attempt at creating the general shape by adding cylinders, cubes, and one cone mesh, then scaling, rotating and translating them into place. This part of the project was relatively easy once you got used to the Blender interface and tools. Another feature I used extensively was the “mirror” modifier, which allowed you to duplicate an object about an axis. I drew my ship lengthwise about the x axis so that I could use this trick to perfectly align the many symmetrical elements in the model, which included the nacelles, the struts, and the nacelle caps that I will discuss later.
After that, I proceeded to refine the model and added details to the ship. These included adding the round caps you can see on the ends of the nacelles by using sphere meshes and placing them within the ends of the nacelles. I also created the slope of the saucer section using the insert key tool, which allowed you to create and extend new faces inwards from the outer edges of an existing face. I used that three times, interleaved with pulling the new center face upwards, to create the three slopes of the dome, flat, steep and less steep in that order from bottom to top. I did the same on the bottom, but that is not visible in this screen shot. I then used one sphere to create the upper and bottom dome sections because the use of the insert tool was not producing proper smooth dome shapes, and neither was the poke face tool, which turned one face into many smaller triangular faces all meeting at a vertex in the middle. In addition to those changes, I made the nacelles and middle section more pointy by transforming only their back faces.
I also added a skybox around the ship to put it in an environment that made more sense than a gray void. The skybox was composed of three flat planes with image textures applied to them. A picture of their configuration is shown below.
At this point I added lighting to the scene (because when switching to rendered view, the skybox didn’t show up because there was no light hitting it), with one sun lamp pointing directly at the ship and several more arc lamps pointing at the different faces of the skybox where the camera was pointing. This ended up causing more problems because with this new lighting scheme, it was apparent that the skybox was indeed a box, and the different angles the planes were placed at became apparent. Therefore, I removed two of them and only used one as a constant backdrop for the other images.
After solving the initial lighting problem, I was faced with more similar problems. I wanted to make the deflector dish, nacelle caps and the bridge glow. First I modeled the protrusion of the deflector dish by using the same insert tool I used on the saucer section. Then I figured that I could add in another glowing element, the glowing blue lines that showed up on the sides of the nacelles in later versions of the Enterprise from The Next Generation series. So I modeled two more cylinders, squashed them down to be oblong so that they would protrude from the sides of the nacelles, placed them in the correct positions and mirrored them so they would be the same on both sides of the ship. Then I changed my render engine within Blender to be the Cycles engine, which I learned about in a tutorial on the main Blender site, to take advantage of the built in glass-like material they provide with it. In the tutorial it looked quite good, so I decided I might be able to use it to achieve a “tail-light” like effect, and have a coloured glass object, lit by a point light from within, and it would project a nice, even, perfect tone through the glass onto the world around it to create that glow. (I used that technique on the deflector dish by changing the cap on it to a blue glass. Then I changed the end caps on the nacelles to be a red glass, and changed the glowing bits on the sides of the nacelles to be another blue glass. On the white sphere, I used a different technique where I combined two materials using a mix shader, the emission and the glass shader, so that the bridge would not glow as strong as the other lit objects.)
I was wrong. This was where most of my problems with the lighting came in. Apparently the cycles engine uses a new system of ray bouncing to generate its rendered images, and it has a tendency to generate a lot of noise in the render. I employed a few of the tricks suggested to reduce the noise, but the result was still not optimal, and that is why there appears to be a lot of speckles of coloured light all around the ship and even on the background of the stars. This was the final product, after I also changed the material of the rest of the ship to be a diffuse darker gray:
This was a high quality render with ray bouncing turned on and used over 400 progressively refined samples that took over an hour to finish and still, lots of noise was generated.
This was a lower quality render using the tile render option from a different angle.
And this was the lowest quality render which still took 12 minutes to finish.
Overall, this was an enjoyable project, and learning the basics of blender was a valuable experience. Although my hopes for a fantastic looking starship were dashed by the inability of the render engine to perform adequately, it still won’t deter me from trying to model with blender again. I am happy with Blender as a modeling tool; it is quite impressive for free software, it only crashed once!
Image of stars in space retrieved from http://walls4joy.com/wallpaper/41511-outer-space-stars
Images of main ship shape inspiration: http://qbits.me/watto-news-bits/160-we-should-build-the-starship-enterprise-seriously-our-continuing-mission-to-seek-out-new-sources-of-funding.html