Science Fiction Art by David C. Mueller / dcmstarships

Copyright 2020 – No part of this blog may be used without the permission of the artist.

My Design Process

I have been doing 2D and 3D artwork on the computer since 1995. Over the years, I have used a variety of hardware and software in the creation of my speculative spaceship designs. For many years, I used the commercial programs CorelDraw for 2D illustration, Corel Photo-Paint for 2D pixel illustration, and Rhino for 3D modeling and rendering. In 2020, I transitioned to the OpenSource programs Blender, Inkscape, Sk1, and Pinta to replace the programs listed above.  With these new tools, I am finding myself revamping my design process.  The basic process I used when doing 3D CGI spaceship design prior to 2020 was as follows:

1) A series of rough hand-done sketches is created that document the basic shape to be used for the ship with notes about what features it will have.  These sketches often include notes about specific modeling methods to use.  Occasionally, a rough sketch is scanned into the computer to use as an underlay for basic line-work employed to model the hull. I use the 2D pixel manipulation program Corel Photo-Paint for the scanning operation.  The scanned sketch is then imported into to the 2D vector graphics manipulation program Corel Draw where I trace over the basic hull shapes.

2) A simple 3D hull shaped is created using the 3D modeling and rendering program Rhino.  Often, the hull starts as a handful of spheres that get stretched and squashed to get the proportions desired.  At other times, guidelines created in Corel Draw will be imported into Rhino using the DXF file format.  These guidelines may be used in various extrusion and revolution operations to create hull shapes.

3) Once the hull is roughed in, deck spacing lines are drawn onto the front and side orthographic views of the model. For human ships, I usually use a deck spacing of 3.0 meters between 0.5 meter thick deck assemblies composed of two deck plates with a plenum space between them. The plenum space is conceptually where the horizontal HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning) runs, water pipes, and power lines are located. Once the deck spacing is in place, the hull is then adjusted to fit the deck spacing desired. 2D trim lines are usually drawn to further shape the hull components by trimming away unneeded portions.  Then patches are modeled to close up the openings that the sections cut off leave behind.

4) With the hull basically figured out, a numbered task list is then written detailing what needs to be added to the design. Layers are added to the modeling file to separate the various elements of the design such as hulls, engines, large openings, viewports, sensor arrays, weaponry, etc. These layers are color-coded to ease the modeling process. Often, detailing parts from various other models done in the past are imported into the model and adapted as needed.

5) Hull markings and viewports usually start out as 2D line elements drawn above a hull component.  These 2D lines get projected onto the often curved hulls to create the cutout pieces that become the actual markings and viewports.

6) Now it is time virtually “paint” the final colors and textures of the various ship components. I have a large collection of texures that I use for various parts such as hull plating, engineering intakes, etc. If an existing texture does not exist for the desired look, then a new one may need to be created. Corel Draw and Corel Photo-Paint are both used in creation of new textures. In the “painting” process, a major task is to define the number of times the texture image repeats in both the horizontal and vertical directions of the imaginary net, called a UV Space, that wraps around each major shape.

7) Once the model itself is completed, one or more light sources are added to illuminate the model. An image is usually used for the background behind the ship.  Some ship parts, like running lights and engineering openings, can be set to have a glowing effect that makes them appear to be self-illuminated. Raw renderings are then created and exported using the JPG image file format.

8) The resulting raw rendering files are imported in Corel Photo-Paint and basic cropping is done.  The image files are then passed on to Corel Draw where titles and other text elements are added. Occasionally, a few minor tweaks will be added using Corel Draw and / or Corel Photo-Paint. One final cropping operation is done on the image and its final length and width is adjusted.  Often, the actual file size is also reduced using a file compression tool. The final image is now ready for posting.

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