Mars 2050

This is my second attempt at creating an image using compositing. There has been a lot of "news" about possible manned-Mars missions recently, nothing - of course - to do with the success of the film "The Martian"!

Mars 2050-thumb

The background image is from one of the NASA Mars Rovers. These images are great in many ways - especially as NASA has learnt that the public love to see the Rover's tracks in them. However, they are often built from images taken by the Rovers panoramic camera - and that does present an issue with regard to shadows. I tried to minimise the issue of shadow direction by selecting a chunk of the original image near the centre. In the original, the Rover had obviously done some manoeuvring and I didn't want those tracks in my image. That meant a bit of Photoshop work (the shallow gully/dry river bed-style terrain in front of the vehicle is not there in the original). However I did shoot myself in the foot, as you can see the shadows are a little different.

My Mars Crawler is based on a mesh by Kenny Mitchell (I think). I turned it into an open back configuration, added the crane, observation bubble - and also tried to give it some Chris Foss-style wheels. They didn't turn out the way I was hoping, but they look OK. I also gave it an interior, but you can barely see it.

The base in the distance is actually one I built for a moon base image - I may get around to it at some point. The ship is based on a super retro magazine or book cover I snipped from somewhere - I think from Dark Roasted Blend.

Again, I put a deformer under the plane object to give more realistic shadows.

My biggest issue with this image has been the sky; it's quite featureless and after some processing (rendered in C4D then into Photoshop) it began to show some banding. I have done all the usual things to reduce the banding, but it's also why the imitation vignette effect is a bit heavier than I would normally do.

Again - like Solar Observatory - this was lit with a single sun and HDR sky. The HDR image was coloured to get it as close to the Mars sky colour as possible.

Great article on artist Peter Jones

Toward the end of last year I posted a new image - "Explorers Of The New Frontiers" - that was inspired by a fantastic image by artist Peter Jones.

As a fab follow-up, scifi author John Guy Collick has a great article on Peter over at his blog - well worth reading!

Solar Observatory

I decided to learn about compositing; I have been trying to create a number of images with mesh terrains, and they have basically killed my computer when trying to render. Compositing seemed offer me an optional way of crating some of the images in my head with fewer polys!

Solar Observatory-Thumb

This is a follow-up to this image, and takes place on a mostly terraformed Venus. This is an early outpost, a scientific community established to study the sun, particularly the solar wind (Venus has  little or no geo-magnetic field)

The main issue I ran into was building colour; the logical choice - white or off white - simply made it look like Mos Eisley!

The dome building was a simple half sphere; with my first thoughts for the image I did start modelling the interior and there are still remnants of that - a floor and lift shafts. The tower isn't mine at all - it's by Serg Sobolev and is part of the DCCGI Buildings collection, available over at http://www.foundation3d.com

The solar wind detectors (the top) also started life as simple sphere objects.

The radio telescope is a NASA model, hacked a little bit, and sat on a version of the base used for the solar wind detectors.

The vehicles were actually built for another image - a Mars colony idea. They are essentially a single decker bus-sized vehicle on balloon tyres. They didn't turn out very interesting, but are fine for distance shots like this.

The background image is the Yelan desert in Iran - I came across it on the interwebs and it was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. You'll get an idea of its real scale when I tell you that the tracks my vehicles are following are actually the single set of tyre marks left by a 4x4!

To get some irregularities in the shadows of buildings and vehicles, I added a deformer object to each of the plane objects. This also enabled me to create an irregular terrain around the base of the buildings.

I kept the texturing pretty minimal; the concrete texture on the buildings is from Total Textures "Aged & Stressed", the Solar Wind Detector top is from Total Textures SciFi. The texture on the base of the SWD is by Philip K. The windows and the telescope whitish paint texture are mine.

The scene was lit with a single sun and HDR sky.


I mentioned in my post a month or so ago for Progress that I have several robot/mecha style projects on the go. So here is another of them: Prototype.


Some time in 2013, when I still bothered to subscribe to Daz3D stuff I got a freebie model of some sort of hanger for Mecha's which looked interesting. I thought that it could be useful for something and so filed it away. By chance, later the same year, I came across an mecha with a cool design and so filed that away with the Daz freebie. Then forgot about them for 3 years (I am fairly certain it came from Turbosquid - but after a few searches can't find it there now. However, I wasn't searching for mecha or similar when I found it… Usually I'm looking for background scene elements that I can't be bothered to make myself. So, it must be up with an odd description).

Watching the recent Ghost In The Shell (animated) movie made me think about doing something with a mecha in it. Ghost In The Shell movies always have great hardware, including armoured vehicles and mecha and I was interested in doing something along those lines.

Hunting through my snippets folder for ideas, I found the Mecha bay/hanger/workshop thing and mech walker thing. I could see the image straight away - which wasn't what I ended up with!

The original idea was an shot looking up at the mecha from low down, so that it towers over the viewer, the hanger around it. So, firstly I built out the hanger - gave it walls, ceiling, fluorescent fittings around each floor and the main ceiling. I put in an open lift/elevator at the back and then started fleshing out mainframe computers and so on, on each level. There are ceiling air ducts… You name it.

The mecha model was good but too spindly. Also, I wanted to give the impression that it was being assembled as a prototype with parts being supplied from different manufacturers. So, the first thing I did was add a new rotator for the legs and body, as the original was too spindly/lightweight. I Also added more armour around the top of the leg joints and replaced the feet. I then altered the cockpit a little so that I could get the pilot seat in there, put a hinge mechanism on the cockpit cover and so on.

I played with various weapon combinations, including some rotating turrets and a Gatling gun, but eventually chose a classic combo of missile launchers, "hand" cannons and some front facing machine guns.

To make the mecha look like it was being assembled from different sources, I textured them in various colours. I went through dozens of iterations of this. For example, the mecha shown on the screen on the ground level, comes from a period when I had some parts of the mecha in jungle camo, others in flat grey paintwork.

I could never get this idea to work though and gave up, settling on digital camo - though even that went through several iterations.

After all of that, I could not get the image to work with the camera looking upwards. I tried every possible angle, I tried all sort of focal lengths… But it simply never worked. Then one day when I had all but given up, I was whizzing around with the default camera and stopped pretty much as the render image.

Lights. The scene has LOTS of lights. There are 20 lights over the ground and first floor, each for the fluorescent tubes I put there. Then a load more for the upper level. All of the lights are tinted the colour of a cool fluorescent tube.

Textures: the mecha's digital camo is mine and in the Downloads section for you. A lot of the textures used for the hanger are Philip K and available from his ace website.

The mainframes are all simple shapes, again sporting textures by Philip K. A lot of the desktop computers and screens are supplied with C4D. Other scene elements are by Dex or freebies from TF3DM. The mecha control screen and one computer screen use textures from Total Texture Scifi pack.

Way Station

Way Station is an attempt to do 70's -ish space station image; now the interesting thing about that statement is that you don't actually see that many space stations in the art of that period. Look through the work of Foss, Hey, Elson, etc, etc and weirdly, space stations are strangely rare (especially given that they are a staple of the genre).

Way Station-thumb

Anyway, I had the image in my head - more Elson than Foss…. So off I went. In fact I was extremely lazy about things. The wheel part of the station I stole from my Tennhauser Gate image, so most of my effort went into the central section.

For some reason, I really struggled with the windows on this mage - I tried dozens of window textures: made from real, totally Photoshop, hybrid, different scales, colours…. You name it. However great they looked when I was making them, they didn't really work for this image. I remain deeply unhappy with the final effect.

I'm also unhappy with the visiting starship; this looks really interesting in any other image - but just looks like a butt plug here.

You have probably formed the impression that I'm unhappy with this image - and I am. It just isn't working for me at all. I have tried different lighting (it started off with lighting taking their colours from my background nebula image), angles, etc. Nothing has really brought the image alive for me.

So… Station textures are mostly Dosch. The windows are obviously mine the docking bay are Philip K. The starship textures are mine.

There were three lights for the scene (one backlighting, the sun and a fill for the shadows), plus an extra light in the docking bay.


I'm not sure why, but I have become a little bit fixated with robots recently…. I have 3-4 projects that I have been tinkering around with that feature a robot or mecha of some description.


This project, actually, wasn't ever intended to see the light day - it was a personal project for exploring volumetric lighting. Following the problems had had with volumetric lights in both Gold Rush and Wreck Of The Shuttle Peredur, I have continued to look for answers/solutions. This project was just a plaything for fiddling round with volumetric lights. I did discover some Sample Distance tricks which I need to try in both of those old projects.

Anyway, as this was about playing, I modelled absolutely nothing in this image. The robot is a freebie from PIxelLab (I did give him different hands). The pallet comes with C4D, the barrel, tools, cat and soft drink tin are all from TF3DM. The grass is by Nobiax on DeviantArt.

Part of the trick with this image was dirt; everything - including the cat - has dirt added in to the diffuse layer of the material. The yellow door material and red/white chevron are mine… The concrete is from Total Textures. The textures on the robot are built from images I found around the interwebs and created the additional layers in Photoshop and CrazyBump.

So eventually I ended up with this image and thought it actually worth sharing… In the end, it became as much about telling a story as it did learning about volumetric lights.

Sub Orbital Manoeuvres Sub Orbital Manoeuvres- 7-April-2016

Long time no posts, once again! :-/

This one has had quite a long gestation… I started the project last summer (2015), influenced by some articles on ESA's future shuttle project and the film Gravity.

Sub-Orbital Manoeuvers-thumb
Anyway, I decided to design my own shuttle, which didn't end up especially radicle, save for the outboard engines (and of course, they are recycled from other projects!). I did try to spice up the design by giving it a Syd Mead style cockpit design, though that didn't work out exactly… Trying to do that on a cylindrical mesh did my head in for some reason!

As the shuttle is intended to be an ESA vehicle, I wanted to show it in orbit over western Europe - as usual using Michael Welter's Atmosphere plug-in to create the Earth (http://www.welter-4d.de/fplugs/freeplugins_en.html). However, I just couldn't get that to look right… After 3-4 months of playing around with it when I could I gave up and tried some other ideas.

The one I settled on was this - the shuttle sliding into the night side of Earth as it adjusts its orbit for re-entry. That big cockpit allows some human drama to be created by revealing the crew. For me the major shame of this version is that you don't get to see the nice ESA mission decals I created for the shuttle.

Lighting was simple - the sun (from that direction obviously, but not the one you can see) and a little bit of gentle blue fill to give the shadows that touch of earth light.

What you see is pretty much what came out of C4D, though - of course - I did add the sun and I did adjust the colours just a little bit. I always find C4D renders a little flat.