TOS Miranda Class, Pt. 06

Well, I haven’t worked on this for a few days because I’ve been busy playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, which got a massive update on Steam, including the ability to play on Linux. So, I’ve been happy. Even though I own the old CD version for Windows, I could never get that working in WINE. If I remember correctly, I could never get past “insert disc 2.” It wouldn’t register the disc and let me continue installation. But, that’s all moot now, because all I had to do was buy it on Steam and download it. :D

Anyway, back to the ship. I forced myself to add the remainder of the windows. It’s tedious, but I got them all on there. Note: there are less “rows” of Windows than on the Enterprise because mine actually line up with a deck plan, they’re not just put on there wherever I felt like. I couldn’t really find a lot of good places to put many windows on the bottom, so I just did one row.

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TOS Miranda Class, Pt. 05

It’s just one of those days. I have nothing really new to show, but I actually did a lot of work on this thing today.

One thing I absolutely despise and will not tolerate to the point of going to great lengths to get rid of them are smoothing errors. They’re ugly. I had a few around my aft section window cuts last night, but not too bad. Minor things, but I knew they were there. So, I bisected in some geometry to fix it. The geometry itself is ugly, but who cares? It’s not like the wireframe matters, it’s what the thing looks like rendered that matters. So, this morning I was doing some renders with different lighting hitting that part to make sure there were no more lingering errors. While I was happy to see none there, there was a major issue around the back of the model, where the back of the trenches and the shuttlebay openings are.

I turns out the booleans tool in Blender has a major issue. Well, all booleans tools do, but this is a particular quirk of Blender, it also happens on the Knife Project tool. It turns out, when you cut into a plane, the booleans (or knife project) doesn’t create flat, even geometry. It cuts the new geometry a fraction off of the level of the existing geometry, leading to smoothing errors when rendering. When you’re dealing with a face that’s lined up with one of the 3 axes used in the 3D space, that’s not an issue. You simply go around and manually realign the points to be level. That worked great for the top of the back of the saucer. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with angled planes, like the ones found on the back edge of the saucer, things get trickier.

I fought with the existing geometry for a good couple hours or more. I tried the Edge Split modifier and all kinds of things, nothing got rid of the errors. So, I finally realized that the offensive geometry had to go and that I needed to start over. Fortunately, I’m anal about saving stuff to new files when I do things like cuts, so I just had to open a second Blender window, open the uncut file and copy and past the sections I needed over to replace the messed up geometry. That’s where it got even more fun.

I tried re-cutting the geometry using the Knife Project tool, that’s where I found out it does the same thing booleans does. So, I wound up through a series of bisects, insets, extrusions, and whatnot, getting the elements I wanted back in there, without using either the booleans or knife project. It was a giant pain in the butt, but worth it in the end because there are no freaking smoothing errors. It’s all clean and it looks beautiful rendered.

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So, after a long day of frustration, this is all I have for tonight. While they may look like last night’s renders, there are differences you don’t see. And, now that I’m done with that and I’m mentally drained, it’s time for some XBOX 360. I’m going to go take out a day’s worth of frustration on some thugs in Gotham City. ;)

TOS Miranda Class, Pt. 04

Work, work, work.

OK, lots of things here and there. I added some cuts to the back of the saucer for the shuttlebays. I also added trenches to the top for the greebles that will more or less replicate (at lower detail of course) the nurnies that ILM put on the movie version. I also added a cut for the deflector-like details on movie version, but I don’t know yet what I’m doing there. I also put in the three groves that are in the underside of the Enterprise’s saucer. And, I added windows. A whole bunch of windows. I’d have done more, but I also spent a lot of time cleaning up the mess that the booleans made. And, I fiddled with the bussard collectors some more.

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TOS Miranda Class, Pt. 01

So, this is what I’ve been working towards. I wanted to do the nacelle first because I wanted that to match the original Enterprise’s nacelle. The rest, of course, has to all be custom built from either fan plans of similar configurations and from my head. Of course, people have done these over the years, with different options for hull shape, pod/no pod, where the deflector goes, etc. I did one several years ago in Truespace and then nearly two years ago in Lightwave, I rebuilt the same ship for Star Trek: Equinox. Though, that was a smaller ship and one that I never personally called “Miranda class.” This one is more appropriately sized. Like the Miranda class in Star Trek II and onward, the saucer has the same diameter as the Enterprise’s saucer, though this one is (of course) based on the TOS Enterprise, as opposed to the movie one. So, the saucer has a diameter of 127.1 meters. However, I did “beef up” the edge a bit, to more realistically fit 2 decks there. I also made the teardrop taller, for the same purpose, and the bridge is probably taller to, as I don’t believe the series version bridge structure was large enough to house the bridge. So, this is where it stands right now:

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The saucer was time consuming (it took up much of yesterday) but not particularly difficult to do. I did it pretty much the same way I did in Lightwave, which involved a lot of box modeling, a custom curve or two, and a buttload of edge rounding. The ship is going to have a roll bar, just as the movie one does. I plan to put the navigational deflector and possibly the torpedo launchers in the pod. I’m also going to do the big phasers on the roll bar, just as they are in the movie version.

Blendering, Pt. 05

The bussards are about where I want them now. Or at least, I’m done fiddling with them for now. I redid the lights and played around with the dome settings. The dome itself has no glow, all of the light comes from the inner bulbs, just as it should be.

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Here’s a look at it without the dome in place and with the emission shader turned way down so that the lights don’t blow everything out.

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Yes,there are only two colors of lights here. Also, my dome is tinted orange. It doesn’t look like the bussards on the Enterprise from the original TV show and it’s not supposed to, because I’m not building the original Enterprise. I’m building something else. And, since this is done, (or at least as done as it will be for now) I can get on with the rest of the ship.

Blendering, Pt. 04

Well, the nacelle is mostly done. I’m still fiddling with the bussard collectors. For one thing, I need to redo the light bulbs. Plus, I’m still hunting for the correct combination of shaders to get the dome to light how I want it to with transparency/translucency and all.

Also, I have some kind of odd “bright” pixels happening in the second and fourth images. I’ll have to look into Cycles settings and figure out what’s going on there.

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Also, I have a question for Blender users. When you take several objects and make them one (like the various parts of the nacelle) how do you connect them? Do you Join them? I’ve seen “joined” meshes when I import my Lightwave meshes and they don’t handle multiple UV maps very well, so I’d think joining them would mess up the UV mapping. Or, do you Group them? Or is there a third option I don’t know about? Truespace had a cool glue tool, but not many other packages seem to have that. In Lightwave, I just collapsed everything down to one layer, but that’s not how Blender works.

Blendering, Pt. 03

Muwahahahahahaha*-cough-hack-wheeze!

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It’s obvious what this is. I just have to do the grills, the bussard collectors and that little light on top and it will be done. I put a little shiny material on it to make sure there weren’t any hidden errors.

I’m really liking Blender. The work flow is so smooth and effortless. Plus, I can build most of this stuff very similarly to how I did it in Lightwave. Sure, some things are better in LW, but some are actually better in Blender. My favorite thing right now: edge loop select. Freaking genius! Select a couple points in a line, hit that and it selects the rest. I had to go around and lasso select them all in Lightwave. Unless the space was too tight for the lasso select to work, then I had to do it manually. Ugh.

Blendering (AKA, Paris Class Pt. 01)

A while ago, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for around 6 years now.  I completely switched all of my computers from Windows systems to GNU Linux systems.  It’s not that I don’t like Microsoft, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I don’t since I own an XBOX and an XBOX 360 and I love both systems.  However, Windows simply doesn’t fit my needs anymore and I was having various issues with Windows 7 that I don’t have with Linux-based operating systems.  Plus, I loathe Windows 8 and Windows 10 doesn’t look like it will be any better for me.  So, I made a switch to something I love.  I’m running Peppermint OS 6 64-bit and it’s fantastic.  Minimal desktop UI to keep system resources free for other things, such as gaming and CGI.

Naturally, when you make changes like that, other changes are necessary.  I’ve had to say bye-bye to many Windows programs, most of which are games.  Sure, I can run some stuff using WINE (the Microsoft compatibility layer) but not everything works or works well with WINE.  One thing I’ve never had any luck with, and what has kept me in Windows these past several years, is my 3D CGI software.  I’m set for 2D software, I use Inkscape for logos, texture bases, etc. and I use GIMP for textures, backgrounds, post processing, etc.  Both of those are easily installed on any Linux OS.  However, 3D is another story.  Over the past 15 years, I’ve basically used two programs:  Truespace and Lightwave.  Truespace is Windows only and Lightwave is Windows and Mac only.  Neither has a Linux installer.  Also, I have never had any luck getting either to work with WINE.  For unknown reasons, Truespace just never worked.  Lightwave works and runs (kind of roughly) but I can’t get my USB dongle to work with it.  WINE has no USB support.  There’s a patch, which has to be applied to the source code and then you have compile it.  I’ve tried this, I’ve copied all of the necessary files over from the Windows registry and I just can’t get it to work.  More recently, I’ve tried a Lightwave 2015 demo, which doesn’t require a dongle.  Newer versions of Lightwave use a file that you drag onto the splash screen.  This didn’t work for me either.  So, Lightwave is out.

When it comes to 3D CGI in Linux, there are a few options.  There’s Maya, which costs $3675 USD for the perpetual license.  Yikes!  I can’t afford that.  Then there’s Modo, which is $1799.  While less than half the price of Maya, that’s still too steep for me.  More affordable options include Silo at $159 (currently on sale for $104) and AC3D at $89.  I could certainly afford one of those, but those are more “game centric” choices.  Plus, Silo doesn’t have an internal rendering engine, I’m not sure about AC3D.  I prefer full featured software.  And, of course, there are several free options.  There are a few packages that are no longer developed and then there are Wings and Blender.  Wings is nice, but is all subdivision and another modeling only program.  Blender is the full deal.  Modeling, materials, animation, rendering.  You can do it all in Blender.  So, that was the best logical choice for me.

I’ve tried Blender several times over the past decade.  My two biggest attempts were in 2010 and back in January.  In 2010, I was running Blender 2.49 and looking to switch to that.  I was making good headway when a project took me back to Truespace and I never got back to it.  Back in January, I was working on some modeling tutorials and other good stuff in Blender 2.73a when I decided to try converting some of my Lightwave models to Blender.  There are some issues there.  The easy one to fix is where Blender flips the ngons.  I can just convert those to triangles in Lightwave and all is good.  The biggest hurdle is how differently Cycles handles textures.  Cycles doesn’t have simple mapping tools (plane, cube, cylinder, etc.) and you have to unwrap everything.  Unfortunately, most of my objects in Lightwave use that type of mapping.  Also, Blender won’t let you assign multiple sets of UV coordinates to a single object, Lightwave will.  So, that’s an issue.  What it boils down to is that I need to do new UV mapping and all new textures when I convert my models.  Fun.  Anyway, I didn’t want to do that back in January, so I went back to Lightwave.  However, this time, I’m not letting any of that stop me, I’ll get around to converting those models eventually.  I figure I can run Lightwave in Discovery Mode (limited function) which should hopefully be enough to let me triangulate those ngons and get stuff ready to convert.  We’ll see.

Anyway, on to Blender. I’m using the latest version, 2.75a. Since it’s not in the repositories of the distribution I’m using, I just downloaded it from the website, dropped it into a folder and created a menu entry for it. Easy peasy.  I’ve done tutorials in the past.  I don’t really care for tutorials, especially the ones that take you on the “tour” of the program and its UI. Sure, you’ll learn stuff, but you’ll forget it as quickly as you learn it.  Studies show that, if you know where to look up information, you’re less likely to remember it than if you find the information yourself.  So, I’m not doing tutorials this time, at least not long ones.  I’ve had to do a web search on a few things and I’ve found some answers to a few things on forums and YouTube, but I’m not doing full tutorials.  I’m looking for the information I need and then getting back out.

In my opinion, the best way to learn art software is to simply get in and make something. That’s how I learned CGI originally and I find it’s the way I can retain stuff better, if I figure it out on my own. For my first big project, I’ve decided to start with the Paris class from The Starfleet Museum. I’ve always liked the Paris Class, I did one in Truespace nearly 7 years ago. I’ve been thinking of doing a new model of it for a while, so I’m doing one now. I picked this ship because it’s not overly complex, but it is complex enough to force me to use a variety of techniques to model it. It’s definitely helping me get a grasp for the software. This is where it stands after a few days of learning and building:

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So far, everything is going smoothly. I find modeling in Blender to be not much different than modeling in Lightwave. It’s certainly closer to Lightwave than it is to Truespace. So, the transition isn’t as bad. Lightwave has more tools, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Lightwave has too many tools, in my opinion. It has tools for EVERYTHING, even separate tools whose functions could be combined into one tool. A great example is edge bevel and edge rounding. In both Lightwave and Blender, I can select an edge by selecting the individual points that makeup said edge. To soften the edge, I can do what’s called an edge bevel to add a single angled series of faces, or edge rounding, which adds a series of faces at different angles to create a rounded transition. In Lightwave, these are separate tools. Why? I dunno. In Blender, one tool. If I want the bevel, I just tell it to make one face. If I want it rounded, more faces. It’s that easy. No need for two tools. Another thing that I absolutely love that totally rocks over Lightwave is the Cycles render engine. It’s so much better than Lightwave’s Radiosity.