Oct 052013

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Finally an update! Although a somewhat unglamorous one. Been doing a ton of experimentation, cleanup, and method optimization to try to make this process less painful in the future by enduring the pain now. Stuff I’ve learned while doing Defender has also given me some ideas for improving how I approach certain problems, too.

One of the things I’ve been focusing on is trying to get my Aztecs to have a consistent scale. I looked over the Excelsior saucer and gauged that its Aztecs were each about 7m “tall” (if you think of each repeated element as a single “Aztec”), so I decided to match this scale. Some annotations in the image about this.

The other thing I’ve been futzing with, aside from correcting my over-zealous material reassignment (which wiped all the shield grid material assignments; figuring out how to quickly and efficiently select the “right” polygons for this has been a major timesink, but I’ve got it down to a science now!) is material unification. I’ve been wrapping my head around Blender’s Node Grouping system, which is really cool. Took some getting used to, but I have all the materials setup now so they have three texture inputs going to a single Node Group that does all the fancy schmancy stuff like balancing specular reflections, incorporating the iridescence (which I’ve actually disabled for now, with the intent to revisit it once I get the hand-painted stuff nailed down more), and so on. The best part is that I can tweak this Node Group and affect all of the materials in one operation now, while keeping their texture sources independent. Fun stuff!

All of the saucer materials now have correctly sized Aztecs…sort of. The sizing is correct on the texture, assuming the UVs are laid out correctly. They’re…probably not. But I couldn’t help but do some quick renders, since it looks like actual progress for once.

The orange/blue/red on the top of the saucer just highlights different UV shells. It won’t be part of the final texture.

I temporarily dropped the smaller panels for these renders, since I need to regenerate them with my new Aztec scale calculations, which is why it doesn’t look quite as interesting as before. Also retooled my light rig (again) to show them off a bit better. Still, pretty happy with the general direction this is going in, especially since it means there’s light at the end of the saucer UV tunnel! I’m optimistic that the other parts of the ship won’t be nearly as hard to UV.

I spent a bunch of hours this evening tweaking the UVs so that all of the Aztecs are the same “height” along the surface they span. They were close before, but not quite. I also used this as an opportunity to clean up UV distortion around the windows and RCS notches. To illustrate exactly what changed, here are before and after renders of the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the saucer with the contrast amped way up. It’ll probably be easiest to see the difference if you open each render in a new tab and then flit between them. (Note: the position of the color bands shifted as a result of this too, which I still need to go back and correct for.)

Before / After

Hopefully, the majority of the saucer UV work is now done(!) and I can start doing some texture work on it in earnest!

Starting actually look something like a Federation starship now! All the colored bands are now in their correct positions, the Aztecs all wrap correctly now, and I’ve added some multi-colored paneling to both the diffuse and spec maps.

I need to tone the spec map down/futz with the balance of it a bit still. It seems a little strong at the moment. I also still need to make a bump map and incorporate a bit more grit and grime and surface structurey bits into all three maps. Still, I suspect the saucer UVs will end up having been the hardest of all of the components, so…yay!

Toned back the spec map to a level I’m happy with. UVed the dorsal saucer superstructure (A-C decks), with the exception of some of the greeble bits (escape pods, transporter pads, and the equipment over the shuttlebay). Started texturing the lateral edges of B and C decks.

Kind of amazing how much difference just a little panel variance makes. Realistically, I should probably correct the skew that shows up as B and C deck stretch toward the back, but I’m not sure that I will. I suspect it will end up being a lot more of a pain than will be visually worth it. I’m also thinking about toning down the shades of blue. The darkest blue, in particular, feels really dark. On the flip side, I kind of like how striking it is, so…who knows? 🙂

Contrary to my statement that I probably wouldn’t correct the skew, of course I did. I can’t leave well enough alone! Also went ahead and finalized the material that goes in the shield grid troughs. It’s a pretty generic dark metal, but I think it works pretty well. Of most obvious note in this update, however, are the textures for the bridge.

I’m thinking about toning back on the intensity of the colored panels. The idea is to introduce subtle variation, but at this range the variation isn’t subtle at all. I also still need to make bump maps for, well, everything. I’m holding off on that for now, though, and focusing instead on diffuse and spec maps while I hammer all the UVs into place.

Next up is probably that stuff above the shuttlebay. I also need to do something about those escape pods…

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