When I’m writing a story I build up a collection of images that act as references for what’s in my head. Much of the time these are things I find on the web, but as I write science-fiction sometimes I just can’t quite find anything that looks right. Or sometimes I want to work through how something might work if it were real.
When that happens I often build the object in 3D. This allows me to get more of a feel for the object in question and can help solidify my ideas and furnish me with details I otherwise might not think of. Many times very little of this detail makes it into the actual writing–it’s really background for myself. But sometimes these designs see the light of day in my book covers, such as the Three Lives Of Mary cover and the additional “character image” of Ben.
With Ben I had something very deliberate in mind. He’s a cysapien total conversion. His brain has been installed inside a ship and–much augmented–acts as the ship’s main computer. Essentially the “ship” is his body and I wanted a design that reflected that to some degree.
My idea led to a design with a central body a little like a human torso. This was where I imagined Mary living, along with providing any storage space required, for samples or transport. Then I decided he’d have four wings and engines. These would take the place of Ben’s arms and legs.
I felt that Ben should be very maneuverable. So I decided that the four main engines would be mounted on rotating joints, allowing him to point them in different directions for control in a kind of vector thrust arrangement. These engines were only for sub-lightspeed flight so I also decided to add in a thickened section in the middle that would house the Jump drive. At the end of all of that I had a general layout like this:
As you can see my sketching skills are pretty basic, So I did a quick model in Blender, rendered a scene and that went in my story notes as the Ben character.
When I was ready to release the story I decided to put out an early preview. Usually I would add in the cover and leave it at that, but I felt Ben was so important to the story that I wanted to include him.
I dusted off the original 3d model and took another look at it. Although good enough for my internal purposes it was clearly not good enough to render an image for public consumption. I only had a couple of days to pull this off if I was going to do it, so I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in.
First I rebuilt the Ben model completely, adding in extra details and also making use of the better modelling techniques I’d picked up since the first attempt. This gave me something that would render well once textured and lit appropriately. Lighting in 3d is often a time consuming fiddly job, but I made use of Andrew Price‘s excellent Pro Lighting Studio plugin to quickly get the lights rigged how I wanted them. So there it was except…
I needed to “set” the ship in some kind of scene. I could have knocked up some kind of space scene with a sun/planet set-up like the one above fairly easily, but sometimes my insanity overwhelms my sense of timeliness and I decided I wanted to try and create a full scene of Ben in the Haven repair bay.
Back to my model of Ben, I “deconstructed” some areas to simulate him being damaged and under repair. Then I created the main repair bay using modular segments that I could repeat to make the full length of the bay. To minimize working time I made use of some “greeble” packs to add detail (some of my own, some downloaded from BlendSwap.com).
More tweaking with Lighting Studio and some additional lights gave me a good basic render. But as anyone who works in 3d will tell you, the results straight “out of the can” are rarely good enough.
I brought the image into Gimp, tweaked the curves, and played with the lighting. I also added in a few extra “volumetric” effects to add in more atmosphere and composited a star-field into the background. All this could have been done in Blender, but working in an image editor like Gimp is quicker (for me at least).
Add in a couple of text elements and a final rinse with Sudso and there you have it. Ben in the Haven repair bay. It was a busy two days, but fun and I was pleased with the results in such a short time frame.
David M. Kelly
Copyright © 2016 by David M. Kelly
Mary gasped as her legs were ripped from under her and she slammed face down into the ground. Several tendril-like vines wrapped around her arms and legs and she instinctively pulled against them. Thorn-like bristles clawed at her burnished skin as the vines coiled tighter around her, despite her struggles.
She rotated her head one hundred and eighty degrees and simultaneously reversed the movement restrictions on her joints. She was now effectively lying on her back, which she hoped would give her a better idea of what was happening.
She was only forty-three minutes into her ground survey of ST2398-5 and had seen nothing unexpected—just the ever-present vegetation they’d detected from orbit. Plant life wasn’t unusual on planets inside a Continue reading
Today, I’d like to reveal the cover and description for my forthcoming short-story Three Lives Of Mary. Click the image to see a bigger view.
While investigating the surface of a rare, potentially habitable planet, Mary encounters a strange plant-animal hybrid that threatens to destroy her despite her near invulnerable Continue reading
Recently I’ve been researching and world building for an upcoming novel and came up against an interesting problem. If you’re writing science fiction that’s set in a galaxy “far, far away” then you can just make up any setup you want, but my novels are intended to be more realistic than that and so I need to reference real star data.
If it was just a case of setting the story on another planet around another star, this also wouldn’t be too much of an issue. There are numerous very good star charts and Continue reading
A little while ago I set myself the challenge to only use open-source tools for all my graphics work. The reasons for this were varied. Some tools that I’ve used in the past such as 3DS Max are simply way beyond my reach, while some others (Adobe’s Creative Cloud)–while not completely unaffordable– are still expensive and have numerous usability issues (over-riding Windows settings for someone with visual impairments being the most insulting). Plus I don’t like the endless Pay-To-Play syndrome where you’re treated as nothing but a cash-cow to be regularly “milked”.
The replacements I chose were Gimp for image processing and Blender for 3D Modelling/Rendering. I’ve been working on them over the last few weeks to try out their features, stability and overall functionality.
The best proof of any software is in the results you can achieve Continue reading
In recent months we’ve seen the historic flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons probe, a remarkable achievement in space exploration that has produced some amazing imagery and scientific information. A little known fact: the probe carried with it a small portion of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who first discovered the planet (Okay… dwarf planet–happy?)
Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 while Continue reading
The New Age of Medicine (continued from part 1)
When Constantinople (Istanbul) fell to the invading Ottoman army in 1453 many scholars and physicians fled to Europe, carrying with them scientific medical knowledge that had been “lost.” This led to a European resurgence in medical developments.
The 18th and 19th centuries showed steady progress in medical knowledge leading to the establishment in England of the Continue reading
The recent news that Kepler K2-72 may be home to two earth-sized planets in the star’s habitable zone make it an exciting time for astronomers and fans of exo-planets. Whenever I see these stories I always wonder what the star systems might look like if we could travel there.
With that in mind I decided to have a go at something I’ve had in mind for a while–simulating a star-system!
I made use of publicly available data regarding the star itself and newly discovered planets. The data we have is a little sketchy, but enough to get a reasonable approximation. Throw in a little computer simulation wizardry and we have:
As part of my open-source challenge I made use of Blender to do the video editing, with a little help in the titles department from Gimp. The music is a royalty free piece I found on Incompetech. This was assembled (roughly!) in the Blender video editor and I’m pretty pleased with the results.
I’m not sure if this is 100% accurate, but I think it’s reasonably close given the software and data limitations I worked with. It makes me tingle thinking that this is an actual idea of what the real system might look like!
Last week I had further foot surgery and am currently laid up, with limited mobility. This got me thinking about the history of surgery, and reminded me of a joke I read in one of Isaac Asimov’s books:
The Oldest Profession
A doctor, an engineer, and a lawyer were in their favorite watering-hole discussing who among them had the oldest profession.
The doctor said, “According to the bible, on the sixth day God took a rib from Adam and used it to create Eve making him the first surgeon. Therefore, medicine is the oldest profession.”
The engineer replied, “Yes, but before that, God created the heavens and earth out of Chaos, surely a feat of engineering. So, mine is the oldest profession.”
The lawyer smiled, then spoke up. “True. But who do you think created the chaos?”
That always made me laugh (and it’s a perfect excuse to have a cheap dig at lawyers!)–but what about the real history of surgery?
We tend to think of surgery as a relatively modern invention, Continue reading
Today I’m sharing a post from Dianne Lynn Gardner, the multi-talented author of The Ian’s Realm Saga on the intricate and spell-binding topic of fantasy map-making. High fantasy can be confusing. It’s little wonder that readers find the inclusion of a map a welcome relief. I know as a writer, it definitely makes it easier to keep track of my characters and which way they are headed.
But map making has also become a beautiful addition to fantasy literature. Not only does it help the readers understand where a story’s characters are traveling, what sort of dangers lie ahead, and illustrate Continue reading