Why is there so little realistic, high-quality SF illustration on the Web these days? Airplanes in space, Star Warts, endless variations on the Starship Enterpies... there's lots of that stuff. But realistic art? Or high-quality? Hard to find. Damn hard to find.
That's the need that this group addresses. It's for anyone who's devoted to making high-quality, realistic art. We're mainly focused on 3D rendered images here, but pretty much anything goes as long as it is realistic and strives for quality.
Principles of Design
Here are some things you can do to make your creations more realistic:
- Try to remember the maxim:
Function Over Form.Your designs can be beautiful, but the beauty should flow from necessity. A realistic starship has an elegance all its own, like a particularly efficient math proof. Almost like engineering, you might say...
- Another thing to remember:
The devil is in the details.Have you ever told a lie that you really wanted someone to believe? How did you try to make it seem real? You added details, just like the cop (Mr. Pink) in Reservoir Dogs. Details make anything -- a story, a lie or a hard SF 3D illustration -- seem real. We don't normally see spotless, featureless things in everyday life, and we expect anything real to have a lot of detail. A good way to do this is to make up a backstory for everything, then illustrate the story. Leave a spanner hanging on your spaceship; the mechanic forgot to take it back in after the last overhaul. Make one of the lifeboats half-disabled; a pirate once tried to escape in it, only to be foiled by the crew, but they haven't had enough money to replace it yet. If you can explain why everything is the way it is, and your explanations are plausible, then your illustration will be realistic.
- And another one:
Nurnies are almost always good.Having little grommets and whatchamacallits all over a vessel gives a good simulation of plausibility, even if the vessel isn't really so. Be careful, though, that your nurnies aren't just random. A ship with too many nurnies looks just as bad as one with too few. Again, the golden rule here is, everything should have a reason to look the way it does.
- Another, closely related thing:
There is beauty in small things.I don't know about you, but I get really sick of endless images of planet-busting, rebellion-crushing, everybody-fighting starships. Why does every single ship have to have 15 3xturrets of Warglom SuperMegaCannons? If it's possible to make these things, why haven't the enemy come up with a counter-measure? Or if it's impossible, how come there's still a war going on? Why does every ship have to be the top-of-the-line UltraBattleMegaSuperDestructoCruiser-a-thon? Where are the little ships?
- Think through your design. Determine your propulsion system and determine the ramifications of it. Decide on the type of sensors your ships have, and figure out how this would affect your designs. Figure out power sources and their implications for design. Think through everything. Even if you have to resort to handwavium, it will at least make your designs internally consistent.
- Remember the basic rules of physics, too. A great SF writer once said that any great SF setting can break two fundamental laws of physics, no more; beyond that, and you're getting into science-fantasy or space opera.
- Avoid making your designs streamlined unless they are actually supposed to travel through an atmosphere. If they are meant to do so, add lots of grime, burns, dirt and other wear to their surfaces; it's virtually inconceivable that a real ship could live long without acquiring many scars, and few ships will be photographed on the day after cleaning. If they're not streamlined, don't forget that engineers will put things wherever they can on the exterior of the ship. Huge antenna arrays, big solar panels, bulky cargo containers... Many things would be attached outside a ship, in almost any way, since drag would not be a factor in the design.
Additions to this list are more than welcome!
It's hard to know where to get started in 3D SF. Here are some places that might help:
- Rachel's list of 3D modeling/rendering/animation applications. She has attempted to give a brief introduction to every package that's out there, from the US$10,000+ monsters to the freeware packages that anyone can use.
- You'll probably also need a 2D package to do your surfacing. Photoshop is of course the standard, but many people like to use Paint Shop Pro, since it's far cheaper and does almost everything PS can. Many people also like to go with a completely free app like the Gimp, Pixia or Project Dogwaffle.
- Plugins for Photoshop and Photoshop-compatible programs (which includes Paint Shop Pro) are also very useful. A lot of people like Flaming Pear's Lunar Cell, for example.
- You'll probably also want some tutorials to get you started.
- ap3d's BetterSpace tutorials are great -- they give you the basics of modeling and texturing starships and how to create 3D starfields. The tutorials are written for Lightwave, but should be applicable to most other programs.
- There are lots of great tutorials indexed at Flay.com and Lightwave Tutorials on the Web. Again, the tutorials are for Lightwave but widely applicable.
- Greg Martin has some excellent Photoshop-based tutorials, such as one on how to make a planet using only Photoshop.
- There's a great tutorial on how to make a photoreal Earth at Dean A. Scott's Silicon Magic. Rachel has a similar tutorial for Inspire 3D.
- Sci-Fi Meshes has a lot of *ahem* other SF 3D images, but a good number of high-quality, hard SF things, too. They also have a few handy tutorials on their site.
- Ad Astra Games. Owned by list member Ken Burnside, Ad Astra produces Attack Vector (formerly Delta V), one of the most realistic tabletop starship combat games there is.
- Have you been to Winchell Chung's 3D Starmaps page yet? No? Why are you still reading this? Go! Now! And don't forget to check out his pages about the Leif Erickson and atomic rocketry.
- David has some very tantalizing images of a spaceship called Artemis on his livejournal.
- Etranger, a resource for the excellent hard SF RPG 2300AD, features some excellent images by list-member Laurent Esmiol.
- eetu, from eetu (that's his name). His site is minimalist and with great content.
- Neil Lucock's site, Naves Caelorum, has some great images. His starships have a very nice sense of unity -- like they all operate on the same principles.
- Joe Nickence has some great ideas and images up for his Pathfinder Project spaceship.
- Tero Niemi has some amazing starmaps up on his site. His other SF images are pristinely and artisitically rendered.
- Rachel's Pages. Rachel, who started this group, is a big fan of rotating spin habs on starships. See also her page of info on different 3D apps; you may find a program in your price range that you didn't know existed. Finally, she also has a tutorial on how to create a 3D planet; it's designed for Inspire 3D, but most of the principles are universally applicable.
- David "Bambam131" Robinson has created some astonishingly hard designs, such as future Mars probes, spaceships designed to go to Jovian orbit, lunar colonies etc. His creations are hard in two senses of the word: one, they are incredibly realistic, seemingly only from a few years in our future; and two, he did them all in Bryce! He actually booleaned those monsters! :)
- Scarecrow's Nest has some amazing renderings of starships for the Traveller game universe. His original scout craft, the Florian, is excellent; the interiors are just astonishing.
- DarcTangent. Todd Zircher is working on a really cool tactical combat game for the Fire On the Suns universe, and he has some excellent images up on that site. He's also heavily involved in DOGA, an excellent freeware Japanese program for modeling starships and mecha; he has become something of a guru for people who want to translate DOGA into English.
- And naturally, a link to the group's YahooGroups page.
- Adriann Mann's This Is Rocket Science. Beautiful illos of all the classics, including the beautiful Daedalus.
- Joe Bergeron's Spacecraft Art. Excellent renditions, some traditional media, some computer-based.
- The Starship Design Project is almost as hard as you can get.
- The Confederation Information Network is an online reference to Peter K. Hamilton's Night's Dawn series. The illustrations of the ships there are great! This site is unfortunately down right now, but I'm keeping up this link in hoeps that it'll return.
- The Traveller RPG has inspired some very nice 3D art:
- Jesse DeGraff's gallery. It's currently down, but I hope he'll put it back up soon.d
- Ted Lindsey's gallery.
- Mateen Greenway's gallery.
- Armin "Drakath" Schieb's Terra3 has some excellent images.
And here are some good sites for general information:
- The Starship Design Project is an attempt to design a real, human-crewed starship capable of going to nearby systems. It hasn't been updated much recently, but there's still a lot of good information there.
- A great little site, simply called Star, provides all kinds of nifty info for anyone who wants to design a realistic spaceship or station -- all about radiators, spin habitats, how to grow food in space, etc.
And there are, of course, many, many more. People post cools hard SF 3D links to the list quite frequently; join up and see!
- No spamming. Commercial endorsements are not accepted.
- No Star Drek or Star Warts. (I'm not using their real names in case someone does a search for -SW or -ST.) Don't post URL's for sites concerned with nothing but them, and don't post any images from/about them in the Yahoo files section.
- No viruses. If you don't have virus-protection in this day and age, you need to get some. One accident gets a warning; two incidents get you banned.
- No images posted through e-mail. Put them up on the Yahoo group, or better, post a URL.
- Only SF that tries to be accountable to real science is acceptable here. Plausible, realistic SF with minimal hand-waving, that's what we're aiming for. Use your judgment, but moderator's opinion takes precedence in the event of disputes.
I keep dead links up in the hope that their authors will eventually refresh their websites from morbundity.