Back to Basics with the Enterprise-G

A few days ago, Marc Bell released his CG model of the Titan-A/Enterprise-G from the final season of Star Trek: Picard. I’ve been acutely aware for the past… fifteen years… that I don’t just hop onto the computer to mess around and make some fun spaceship pictures like I used to. Despite my attempt to get back into the groove a few years ago, it didn’t quite take, possibly because I was scratching the 3D itch at my job at the time, and then Lightwave 2018 came out and my library of models assembled over the years and tweaked to my liking became more-or-less useless.

I recently started rebuilding a new, PBR-based set of models in Lightwave 2020, mostly thanks to the models of Chris Kuhn, Marc Bell, and Alexander Klemm, but I hadn’t really done anything with them yet. This new model was a good chance to, and since it hadn’t been officially converted into Lightwave, I got to dip back into my roots a little when I had to convert anything I wanted to use. Downloading a cool new model that was just mesh and textures, and really digging into it to get it to look right. I spent the weekend building out the lighting rig and doing various minor modifications and tweaks, like breaking out the formation lights and impulse glows so they could be animated, and found picked an angle to run a test render (a good thing, too, I found a tiny sliver of window-box sticking out of the hull). I thought it looked pretty good, so I did a final version adding a basic Sun/Earth/Moon three-point light setup, and that was that.

I tried to think of something more dramatic, and thought up a concept for another image, with the Enterprise-G over the Founder’s Homeworld seen in Deep Space Nine, returning the renegade Changelings who’d infiltrated Starfleet to their own people. Luckily, my prep came in handy, and I already had a Jem’Hadar fighter and a Defiant ready to go for a suitable escort. I spent a bit of time making new decals for the Defiant-A (I know in-canon the second Defiant had the same markings as the first one, but Ron Moore wanted it to be the Defiant-A, I wanted it to be the Defiant-A, so I made it that way). I was pretty far along before I remembered the Defiant was a museum exhibit now, so I just went with it, not having any better idea what ship Deep Space Nine might have assigned to it in the PIC era (or if there’s even still a DS9 at all). Maybe they flew it out as a goodwill historical thing.


Enterprise-G by Marc Bell, Jem’Hadar Fighter by Chris Kuhn, Defiant mesh by Chris Kuhn, textures by Marc Bell, and Lightwave conversion by Matt Christou.

Star backgrounds in both images are NASA’s Deep Star Map (though I should’ve been used the fictionalized version without recognizable constellations for the second render). The Founder homeworld is NASA photo ISS048-E-010018, recolored in Photoshop to match the planet as seen on the show. Both images had compositing and post work done in After Effects.

Virtual Sets and Educational Animations for UC Scout

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as part of a team producing video lectures for on-line classes in the Scout and University Extension programs. As my time there comes to a close, I wanted to post a retrospective summary of what I’ve been doing. Day to day, the majority of my time was spent assembling and editing individual lessons, though at one time or another I at least touched on all aspects of production, including filming, quality assurance, and asset creation.

As far as 3D work goes, while I did have the chance to produce short explanatory animations for various lessons, something I volunteered for in the first few days on the job was creating virtual sets for our courses. Our presenters were shot on greenscreen, and I though it would add a level of visual interest to place them in a realistic environment, rather than up against some sort of plain color or gradient backdrop. 

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Hey, I Can Do Motion Graphics, Too!

I was pleased to see that these videos I animated at Ninjaneer have been publicly released.

The project was very straightforward, so there’s not much to sink my teeth into with one of my trademark write-ups. Assets, storyboards, and voiceovers were all provided for us. Heather Knott was lead on the project, and we coordinated and cross-checked to ensure all our flourishes and tweening were consistent, so the videos would have a unified style. The videos were animated in Adobe After Effects from assets provided as Adobe Illustrator files, and compression for delivery was done with Handbrake.

Step From the Road to the Sea to the Sky

A quick animation using Foundation 3D’s favorite new spaceship. There wasn’t much excitement to this. A bit of noise added to the camera to give it some wobble (which YouTube insists on trying to “correct”), and the Jupiter map was recolored in the comp to be an alien planet. The cloud plate was a photo I shot with my phone and then enlarged with this on-line tool, though I still had to do some noise reduction in Photoshop.

The most interesting thing was a new idea I tried to do the heat haze coming from the engines, which I made using After Effects’ “Displacement Map” filter. I created a couple of blimp-shaped dummy objects in Lightwave which I placed inside and behind the engines of the ship. I colored the environment and the ship 50% grey for the render, and gave the gave the haze objects an animated black-and-white procedural noise texture. I had the transparency fade towards the rear and edges of the object with gradients.


The Displacement Map filter can actually drive horizontal and vertical seperately displacement based on separate color channels. I experimented with using colored noise when I rendered the still frames, but it would only make a real difference in an animation.


Prometheus: Russell Tawn
Planet: James Hastings-Trew
Moons: Fridger Schrempp and Björn Jónsson
Rings: Yuri A. Parovin

I also have a trio of 4k stills for your viewing pleasure.