Crisis Point

This was the one: The project that was going to break me. I knew I was taking on a lot of new skills to do this one but honestly didn’t know how little I knew.

The project started with a sketch of an organic stylized atmospheric craft, that was a rough hybrid between the shape of an insect (Stage beetle) and a bird (hawk) – more insect than bird but something that gave the appearance of being manufactured despite the organic flow and contours 


Initial rough sketch

Early Days

I started experimenting with a nurbs surface shaped like an upside down horse shoe stretched into a tube

Here I was trying to pull out the lower aerodynamic lifting surfaces on either side

I thought it made sense to design the craft using separate sections as that would make it more consistent with real world manufacturing processes however this caused major problems when attempting to line up the edges of the different nurbs edges unfortunately hindsight is an amazing ability – which i didn’t possess in this case.

different nurb densities resulted in issues when lining up the different sections

I like to switch between difference parts of the object especially if I encounter an issue in order to keep flowing

above is one half of a cardian joint that I used for the landing strut legs

The craft is powered by a single engine that directs thrust to 3 vector nozzle outputs

The ‘engine blade were actually animated to help with thrust vectoring and power regulation but I ran into issues when using instances due to their center of mass being offset. it was related to the how to control pivot points of each blade instance that I couldn’t get to behave as expected

Part of what makes an interesting design is mixing primary secondary and tertiary shapes. Blender has a nice option that you can use to assign a random color to an object

above is an early test of slicing up the hull into parts using and positioning some of the components such as the vector nozzles – the final result is shown further down this post

Admittedly I over designed several components because I didn’t know what camera shot I would end up using however, the time wasn’t wasted because I learned how to do mechanical rigging which was needed in other parts of the craft

This was an over complicated hinge lift control mechanism for the craft that I ended up simplifying because: A it would likely be too fragile in potentially hostile environments; B it probably would have disrupted the laminar flow in atmospheric flight across the hull!

Once I was happy with the silhouette of the craft it was time to incorporate all the sub components placing them in their respective parts

After cutting out various sections of the hull I started to add in all the sub components. good scene management is a must for anything approaching this level of detail

This might hurt a little

It was time to figure out how to deal with the disrupted hull flow. My solution was to create one singular hull using nurbs (as before) then use the knife project tool (after converting it to a mesh) to “slice” the hull into sections along with a very limited use of Booleans to actually cut out major holes to place components

this was the last assembly with the ‘old’ hull it was time to say goodbye and replace it
here is the almost complicated single flow hull
here I’ve commenced using booleans to cut out the major holes – used very sparingly. The majority of the paneling was done using the kite

Finally happy with the flow I took a break from the the hull to finish the components and design the landing legs struts. It took couple of attempts to get them right

I tried a method with sub divisional surfaces but the result didn’t blend with the other components

The folding leg design was challenging and resulted in modifications to the hull shape because it wouldn’t fit into the hull! You can see in the original design the Legs were never designed to fold into the hull

The final result was derived from box Boolean modelling. So whilst the leg is still clearly mechanical in nature it leans heavily on the insect leg parts (coxa, femur, tibia and a meld of the tarsi and pretarsus)
a good example of everything except the hull (hidden) to get get a sense of that primary, secondary and tertiary shapes I mentioned earlier and check the ratios/balance between them.
A closeup of some of the panel work and boolean cutouts

A fine mess

The texturing was done in Substance Painter after a horrendous time with trying to pack UV’s into a single island because I was wasn’t sure about going the UDIM route. At the same time trying to understand what ‘texels’ are. The mess I made due to my lack of knowledge about texels, stacking uv’s for identical object really messed me up to the point I actually didn’t even open Blender for about a week.

a jam packed uv island in substance. I only found out about UVpackmaster and ZenUV after what felt like forever struggling with UV’s – two essential Add -on’s that I couldn’t live without now
Also added an emission channel for the navigation beacons and other lights
created about 5 materials based on promising advance material science research such as Amorphous metallic composite, polycrystalline graphene, transparent aluminum, para-aramid fibre…was it necessary nope but I found it helps to ground your design with some sense of reality when you start to think about how the elements are manufactured and out of what

After importing all the PBR materials it was fairly straight forward wiring it up

screenshot of all the components with their materials applied
and one of the hull with the materials applied. Note the hull panels were actually created using the knife projection tool (in most cases) then bevelling the result followed by an internal extrusion to get the depth

For the render output I wanted to give it a cinematic look so I used added various effects using the Compositor

i played with a combination of bloom, vignetting chromatic aberration for the final output

The final bit of the project was of course the animation which went fairly well only because I spent time studying ‘hard Surface Rigging’ by Jeannot Landry which really made the animation part easy. It was worth every penny.

I even had some fun adding sound effects and creating a music score (using Garageband on my Ipad)

Ending thoughts

This project was a journey well into the deep end: Was it stressful at points – yes; was it fun – oh absolutely!

I’m so glad I kept going because the sense of reward beat any of the pain points you encounter. I found solutions to almost all the technical challenges encountered and some others were actually none issues due to the final camera shots and angles used.

There were still a few things I would have liked to improve but I set myself a time frame so making every shot and object perfect wasn’t a tenable position. Plus that added time crunch forces you to think more creatively and produce workarounds that one probably wouldn’t have thought of.

Anyway I hope this short blog inspires someone on their journey and if you have questions (or tips for me!) just send me an email

Stay curious and ignore the distractions and the people that say you can’t!

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