"C" Movie Starship Miniature Effects Model

star-art

Sr Member
It took about 3 days to build the "basket" for the turbine module. This removable assembly is not only one of the most intricately detailed parts of the ship, it also contains three separate built-in lighting effects. We tested one of those effects -- the red turbine glow -- and it looked incredible.

The original design was to have the heatsink sticking out of a large tube. I found that mounting it inside the tube makes for a much more dramatic effect. It now appears to glow red like an oven heating element.

I also spent time this weekend cleaning up and detailing the bow module. It's nearly complete and ready to be mounted on the armature.

The last remaining details to be attended to involve the cooling modules. Since they are the main mounting points, these must be complete before we can assemble the model on its armature. I have run fiber optics in one of the modules and there is still some more work to be done before they can be detailed.

We also have to finish detailing the three engines that go on the very back of the ship. Those are assembled, LEDs are installed, and they are ready for final finishing.

:)

Charles
 

TheNylonGag

Well-Known Member
Gone but not forgotten.
I just love a scratch built originally designed ship

The red turbine glow is outstanding, you can almost feel the heat coming off the thing

Brilliant

The Nylon Gag
 

jdford

New Member
Fantastic work! I posted a link to the film's Kickstarter page a few months ago, and it's great to see more detail of the actual filming model. I have a lot of respect for the filmmakers' choice to use practical effects over CGI...especially with so many scaled miniature effects shots. I really do miss seeing not only the multi-pass techniques of 2001, but also the motion-control chromakey methods used in the original Star Wars trilogy. I still think Return of the Jedi has the most effective and imaginative space combat sequences ever committed to celluloid.

I'm an aspiring filmmaker who has been educated in the digital age, but grew up loving practical effects far more than anything rendered by a computer. The way light interacts with physical objects...we just aren't there yet with CGI. Not even close.

I've noticed that current virtual camera movement also contributes to the "uncanny valley"-type issues plaguing CGI models in cinematic applications (especially spacecraft). For example, you'll have a virtual camera dollying toward a virtual spacecraft, then twisting impossibly through the superstructure before somehow entering the craft or transitioning in a way that a real, physical camera could not if it were photographing an actual spacecraft.

Scale models limit the movement of the camera and the subject, but that limitation only serves to both enhance the reality of the shot and force the filmmakers to think outside the proverbial box. It requires more creative thinking and planning, and therefore (usually) a better end result. Psychologically, the audience sees a virtual camera interacting with a virtual object in an impossible way and some background process in their brain says, "That's not real." Whereas with physical models and actual cameras, the brain reaches a point where it suspends disbelief and stays there so long as the effect is consistent.

My dream is to one day write and develop a feature film that seeks to not only tell a compelling story with three-dimensional characters, but also revive many of the effects techniques that have been thrown out with the bath water. I think a hybrid of practical and digital (to "hide the wires") is really the way to go. Current thinking in Hollywood is just plain wrong-headed. Just because a technique is old, doesn't mean it's not useful.

I'm also trying to find some CGI folks who are interested in playing with digital modeling conventions and virtual camera techniques...mainly with starships and spacecraft sequences in mind. I have this idea regarding textures that could help ease the pain of seeing CGI models replace the real thing.

In any case, it's really phenomenal to see folks doing it "the right way." Love your work, and I look forward to seeing the finished film.


~J. D. Ford
 

star-art

Sr Member
I agree completely. The dream with CG was that it would free filmmakers to show things that were previously impossible. Unfortunately, just because you *can* do something on film doesn't necessarily mean you *should* do it. Even in an age of amazing photo-realistic CG rendering, it seems realism has gotten lost in the process.

It's probably a matter of style at this point. Just like design trends for cars and houses, films seem to follow the pattern of going with whatever is "in" at the moment. That's why all the CG effects pretty much look the same to me no matter what the subject. It's all in the style of the movement of both the objects being rendered and the camera.

I used to think it was animators who could not seem to make objects move in a realistic fashion because they didn't understand the laws of physics. But, perhaps the blame really lies with the producers and directors who tend to demand CG artists accomplish moves in fewer and fewer frames. This goes hand in hand with the popular "A.D.D. style" of quick-cut editing that results in dizzying movement on screen.

For example, if a ship has to get from Point A to Point B while performing a certain maneuver, but you cut down the number of frames available for the shot, then you might get an impossible looking move as a result.

It would really help though if CG artists studied and understood concepts of physics such as mass, momentum, and inertia. A space fighter should not buzz about on screen as if it has the mass of a Christmas ornament! Forces of inertia that are always present in reality fight against such changes in direction. This creates a sort of "resistance" to movement for objects that exist in the real world.

You can replicate this in CG by having the ship ease into the move rather than jumping into it. Just pretend for a moment the ship is underwater instead of flying through space. Would it still be able to dart about so quickly? Of course not. That's because when you're underwater everything goes in slow motion. The resistance of the water slows down the moves.

Now take this same concept and apply it to a ship traveling through space when it needs to make a turn. Add in just enough "invisible resistance" and you should get a much more realistic looking maneuver.

The effects artists who worked on (the original) Star Wars seemed to know all this intuitively. They made their ships move in a realistic fashion -- whether they were small one-man fighters or giant Star Destroyers.

I also totally agree about virtual camera moves. It's impossible for me to suspend my disbelief when I see a shot that I know could never have been achieved with a real camera in a real situation. In contrast, my favorite sequences are the ones that are made to look like the action was really happening and the production crew just happened to be there to catch it on film.
 
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jdford

New Member
I agree completely. The dream with CG was that it would free filmmakers to show things that were previously impossible. Unfortunately, just because you *can* do something on film doesn't necessarily mean you *should* do it. Even in an age of amazing photo-realistic CG rendering, it seems realism has gotten lost in the process.

It's probably a matter of style at this point. Just like design trends for cars and houses, films seem to follow the pattern of going with whatever is "in" at the moment. That's why all the CG effects pretty much look the same to me no matter what the subject. It's all in the style of the movement of both the objects being rendered and the camera.

I used to think it was animators who could not seem to make objects move in a realistic fashion because they didn't understand the laws of physics. But, perhaps the blame really lies with the producers and directors who tend to demand CG artists accomplish moves in fewer and fewer frames. This goes hand in hand with the popular "A.D.D. style" of quick-cut editing that results in dizzying movement on screen.

For example, if a ship has to get from Point A to Point B while performing a certain maneuver, but you cut down the number of frames available for the shot, then you might get an impossible looking move as a result.

It would really help though if CG artists studied and understood concepts of physics such as mass, momentum, and inertia. A space fighter should not buzz about on screen as if it has the mass of a Christmas ornament! Forces of inertia that are always present in reality fight against such changes in direction. This creates a sort of "resistance" to movement for objects that exist in the real world.

You can replicate this in CG by having the ship ease into the move rather than jumping into it. Just pretend for a moment the ship is underwater instead of flying through space. Would it still be able to dart about so quickly? Of course not. That's because when you're underwater everything goes in slow motion. The resistance of the water slows down the moves.

Now take this same concept and apply it to a ship traveling through space when it needs to make a turn. Add in just enough "invisible resistance" and you should get a much more realistic looking maneuver.

The effects artists who worked on (the original) Star Wars seemed to know all this intuitively. They made their ships move in a realistic fashion -- whether they were small one-man fighters or giant Star Destroyers.

I also totally agree about virtual camera moves. It's impossible for me to suspend my disbelief when I see a shot that I know could never have been achieved with a real camera in a real situation. In contrast, my favorite sequences are the ones that are made to look like the action was really happening and the production crew just happened to be there to catch it on film.

Absolutely. The only modern production I can think of that got virtual camera movement and digital model maneuvering right was the BSG reboot. They treated the cameras more like actual "gun" cameras, for the most part (even though they had that tendency to punch in with a zoom, which I found a little disorienting at first). And all of their models were CGI, but they never really bothered me much. They worked hard on getting the virtual lighting right, and that helped a lot. The Cylon ships were more obviously virtual objects...mainly due to the textures and difference maps.

Like I said, I have this idea I would love to try for (cinematic) CGI spacecraft modeling. I have a theory that if we approach the model spacecraft in a different way regarding textures, it could make a HUGE difference. I figure that if you develop textures for your models as if they are made of plastic, balsa, other scale modeling materials, etc. (and painted)...NOT as if they were made of real world steel, titanium, and so on...it might actually change the audience's perception of the model. In other words, instead of trying to make the ship look "real" and fight the intangibles of photorealism the whole time, deliberately try to make your CGI model look like a scale model.

In other words, not real. Allow the audience to suspend their disbelief. The way your virtual light sources interact with the model *should* mimic the way real lights would illuminate a scale model on set. And we have seen in the prototyping industry, and elsewhere, that our CGI for small objects that appear in the real world is fantastically effective. Instead of trying to model and texture a ship that's 1000 meters long, attempt modeling a ship that is 10' long.

See what happens. At least, that's what I'd love to do. But I'm no modeler, and I don't have the time to learn just so I can attempt a wacky theory.

In any case, sorry to hijack the thread. I know this isn't the place for discussing CGI modeling.


~J. D. Ford
 

DaddyfromNaboo

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Fantastic work! I am really eager to see the movie, really like what they showed on the kickstarter page.

Now what I´d like to know is how many man-hours have been put into building this model?

Regarding the discussion about CG or practical, I think it´s just number crunching nowadays. How many personnel and hours are needed to build, set up, light, film, composite model shots? And how does that compare to a CG shot? I unfortunately have the feeling that CG wins in such a contest :( But then again, I was told by the PD of the last Brosnan Bonds that he shook his head when he heard what the production wanted to do digital when doing it practical would have been much better. Not necessarily cheaper, but in the end faster and better which at some point amounts to being cheaper. But hey, who needs the input from people with decades of experience when you have a handful of young computer jocks who can do EVERYTHING just by hitting a few keys on their computer key boards :p
 

jdford

New Member
Fantastic work! I am really eager to see the movie, really like what they showed on the kickstarter page.

Now what I´d like to know is how many man-hours have been put into building this model?

Regarding the discussion about CG or practical, I think it´s just number crunching nowadays. How many personnel and hours are needed to build, set up, light, film, composite model shots? And how does that compare to a CG shot? I unfortunately have the feeling that CG wins in such a contest :( But then again, I was told by the PD of the last Brosnan Bonds that he shook his head when he heard what the production wanted to do digital when doing it practical would have been much better. Not necessarily cheaper, but in the end faster and better which at some point amounts to being cheaper. But hey, who needs the input from people with decades of experience when you have a handful of young computer jocks who can do EVERYTHING just by hitting a few keys on their computer key boards :p

In addition to man hours (a great question), I'd like to know how much upkeep this model required on set during principle photography. I understand it's very common for scale models to require full-time supervision and repair...especially under hot lights, or if they manage to ram the mo-co camera into it (*cringe*). IIRC, that happened during the filming of Star Trek: Generations...the bigature of the Enterprise-D during the planetary landing effects sequence.

As for the practicality of CGI vs Miniatures...you're probably right. There is definitely the flexibility of being able to fully tailor content to suit the needs of the production. And to make changes on the fly, re-render, set up many different shots and previs everything. Also, you can farm out the work to a larger number of people because digital content is digital content. A physical model is typically built by no more than a few people, and you can't exactly share it on a server.

On the other hand, because CGI has basically taken over the post-production effects industry, it has become mainstream. And, much like Arri camera accessories, mainstream = expensive as hell. I don't have any hard figures to back up my suspicions, but I have heard certain figures in the industry commenting on the cost of digital vs. practical. IIRC, Ridley Scott used a lot of practical effects on Prometheus, and they ended up costing less than their digital counterparts. They had the added bonus of content which the actors could physically respond to, and content that was lit by the same sources. Oddly enough, the spacecraft was the one extensively digital element in the film...go figure. Though I have to say that they did a better job with it than pretty much any other CGI ship I've seen in the past few years.

All that said, maybe we're seeing a potential shift in cost-benefit regarding practical effects, scale model work, etc. I think some of the downsides still remain: longer build times, more extensive planning, soundstage rental, equipment, expertise, and so on. But with the ridiculous budgets we're seeing these days...I don't know. Maybe it's time to revisit the past and integrate what we've learned in the last twenty-five years to enhance it and increase flexibility from a production standpoint.

I hope that's the case. It's time for scale model work to make a big return to the screen, working hand-in-hand with digital technology.


~J. D. Ford
 

star-art

Sr Member
We're probably pushing 1000 man hours so far just in construction (not including design time).

This week we reached a major milestone in the project -- final assembly of the modules on the main armature. The front half of the ship has now been permanently mounted on the frame and the front wire harness (umbilical) has been installed.

Work continued on the final three rear engines in the very back of the ship. The mounting structure (shown) was built and detailed. The engines themselves (not shown yet) have been built, lights installed, and they are undergoing final detailing.

We also completed the lighting effects for the ring section and main engines 1 and 2. In addition, custom miniature "can" lights were fabricated and installed in the front cooling module. These face aft and light up the hex cargo module. As far as I know, this is the first time such lighting effects have been created in miniature using fiber optics. The overall look is very similar to what you might see on a building at night.

The open hex module (shown in the lighting test last week) is next to be installed. After that, we'll button up the rear mount and install the turbine module with engines 3 and 4.

Thanks! :)

Charles
 

ringa

Well-Known Member
You guys have done an incredible job. I'm excited about seeing it in person. I like the homage to the 2001 Discovery and the Star Destroyer.
 

star-art

Sr Member
Thanks! :)

Richard was here for another marathon building session starting Saturday. We are in the home stretch in our push toward final delivery. The more we get done, however, the more it seems there is still left to do! This is one complicated model. . .

We installed the rear cooling module spotlights for a lighting test. All spotlights are now on individually controlled circuits so the lighting for each section of the ship can be adjusted independently to balance out the effects.

Because the open hex module creates a "choke point" inside the model, there was too little room to run all the wires and fibers through that area. This forced us to improvise some solutions. I added a rear wire harness/umbilical to the aft cooling module that exits the left side of the model. I also had to redesign the electronics and wiring inside the turbine module in order to get everything connected. We now have a new circuit board in there and everything is ready for final hookup and testing.

To reduce heat buildup inside the model, I am stepping down the supply voltage from 12V to as low as 5V. This means further lighting tests will have to wait until the control box has been completed. Fortunately, the wiring design is well laid out and modular so this did not require any rewiring inside the ship. All I needed to do was swap out some resistors on the internal circuit boards. We also added some improvised air circulation vents to the hex cargo module.

Before wrapping up work yesterday, we moved the model from its work stand to the crate base in preparation for final delivery. We are expecting triple digit temperatures in our area starting today and lasting through the weekend. Since the shop is not air conditioned, further progress will be slow until things cool down a bit.
 
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GKvfx

Sr Member
..........I also totally agree about virtual camera moves. It's impossible for me to suspend my disbelief when I see a shot that I know could never have been achieved with a real camera in a real situation. In contrast, my favorite sequences are the ones that are made to look like the action was really happening and the production crew just happened to be there to catch it on film.

There shouldn't be any sound in space, either...... :cool

Gene
 

star-art

Sr Member
It's been a while since the last update. We've been working long hours trying to get everything ready for final delivery. The truck will be here this week to pick up the model and there has been a long punch list of things that still need to get done.

We've fully detailed most of the ship and we put primer on many areas to see how it looks. The bow module has been completed along with the "hex cargo module." That section has removable top and bottom hatches to get at critical components inside the model. It also has some hidden air vents to allow for internal ventilation.

The turbine module proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the ship to build. There is so much going on inside that module alone. First, it’s hollow to allow for some impressive lighting effects -- including an eerie red glow and also a flashing red "photon torpedo" burst. In addition to a removable "basket" inside, there is also a large circuit board in there to power the mid-ship engines and some of the spotlight effects. And, it all comes apart for servicing.

Because of all the equipment that had to fit inside, I had to come up with a clever way of structurally attaching the turbine module to the pusher plate that goes behind it. I accomplished this using brass tubes that telescope inside each other. This allows the pusher plate to be attached to the back of the turbine module for some shots while being removed for others. A *lot* of engineering had to be done to make that work. In the end, however, everything came together beautifully. The turbine "basket" is now fully detailed and all lighting effects are in place and tested. It looks amazing!

The rear engine section has also had a lot of work done to it. I built this area weeks ago, but it only recently got lights and details while we focused on finishing the rest of the ship. The three rear engines are now installed and working properly. Because the ship has seven main engines, I had to put them on separate controls to handle the load. Everything is adjustable not only for brightness, but for color as well. This required a LOT of wiring as you will see in the photos. It's all hidden inside removable structures on the model.


While I buttoned up the turbine module, trimming out the rear opening, Richard worked on adding details to the top of the engine section. We’d already built the ladder platforms, but he had to hand fabricate shelves inside to hold the details. These are spaced up and away from the bottom of each structure to make room for wiring. Everything comes apart for servicing and it ended up being rather complex to build. Richard did a fantastic job as always, though, and the finished results speak for themselves.
 

ShowCraft

Well-Known Member
Simply stunning Charles!
You'v done an incredible job with this. How you managed to fit everything inside the structure is amazing.
An engineering marvel - respect!
 
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