100 Days, 100 Renders— Day 2


I had the idea for this image a while ago, not long after I finished my Puddle Jumper model. As I recall, I got the idea looking at the cover of The Terror, a historical novel by Dan Simmons describing the horrible fate of the Franklin Expedition as the crew succumbs to the harsh environment and also some sort of bear-monster. I think that part was a metaphor for how we’ll never know entirely what happened to those people.

Anyway, I more-or-less saw it in my minds eye as you see it above. Crashed Puddle Jumper buried in the snow, askew Stargate in the background, a set of lonely, filled tracks marching back. My premise for the image is that the ship tried flying through an older gate, unaware that it had fallen prey to the elements in the years since it was last used. The Jumper emerged at an odd angle, the left wing clipped the ground and sheared off as it was extending, and the rest of it plowed into the snow a short distance away. Continue reading

Stargate puddle effect: Now with quality!

I don’t even remember what prompted it, but I started fiddling with my four or five year old Lightwave Stargate model this past weekend, and decided to take another shot at something that had heretofore frustrated me, the “puddle” effect.

Originally on my model, I did the highlights in the middle with a specular hit. The trouble is, that only looked right from a head-on view, with the spec coming from a head-on light, with all the scene lights deacivated. I ended up pre-rendering a loop of it, and then applying it to a plane for actual scene work. It took a lot of space, and meant a separate pre-render if you wanted to show another set of ripples form something passing through the stargate. It also tended to look flat from oblique angles. Huge pain, and I always wanted to figure out some way to do it procedurally in-camera.

A couple years ago, it occurred to me that I could help reduce the fakeness of the effect by just pre-rendering the highlights, and having the reflection map I used to break up the ripples be rendered in-camera. This helped, but not really that much.

So, that brings us back to now. I started looking at it, and suddenly realized I could just use a gradient to ramp up the reflectivity closer to the center of the object. The reflections would blow out to white as it got closer to the center, it’d be totally independent of the scene lighting, and it’d shift subtly with the angle of the camera.

It’s just. That. Easy.

Old Effect:


New Effect:

Anyway, I fiddled around with it further to perfect it, all the while kicking myself that this perfectly obvious solution hadn’t occurred to me five years ago when I started trying to nail this.

Also, if I’d figured it out then, my interactive lighting solution would still work. Apparently, something in Lightwave has changed in regards to caustics and refractions, breaking my old solution, leaving me stymied.

From the rear, the stargate effect looks the same as the front, except semitransparent, and occasionally with a ripply refraction effect, if the VFX people think it’s worth it this week. Simple enough, right? And so it was. Just the same texture as the front, slightly transparent, and with an appropriate refraction index.

The stargate also vomits light out of the front, like sunlight reflecting off water onto a building. I replicated this with a spotlight shining through the back, with caustics enabled (and rediculously cranked up), through a dummy puddle hidden from the camera with a higher refraction index so it would look right. And look right it did!

Now, though, the transparent back doesn’t work properly, apparently catching a reflection of the front despite the fact that the front side of the puddle is one-sided polygons in every way it’s possible for polygons to be one-sided. Now that I’m talking about it, I think I remember something about caustics or refraction being altered in Lightwave 9 to remove the nessessity of “air polys.” That could have something to do with it.

Well, that’s not too bad. I just live without the refractive back. No big. Unfortunately, the caustics are just wrong. They move very slowly in one direction, and flicker like it’s going out of style. It looks like nothing so much as a helicopter’s blades on film, a wide blur slowly moving around and around.

I backtracked to the versions I did my old test renders with, and made sure the problems weren’t the result of something I changed (which it seems to be in one other case, where the spot I used for the caustics ignored the caustics object and went through the proper puddle, despite having exactly the opposite set in the “exclude object from light” settings. That’ll be a fun one to track down). I’ll continue fiddling with it in the coming days to see if I can figure some new workarounds for it. I’m also thinking about trying to do a kawoosh now that I’m looking at it again, having seen some spiffy CG ones on youtube (including one that used my gate model).

At the moment, though, my gate looks fine from the front, and the lighting looks fine in a still.

Old Effect:

New Effect:




Updated January 30, 2015

I’ve rendered a 5K version of the showcase image.


Movie-poster style Stargate image

A while ago, I came up with the idea to try to recreate the image of the stargate used in the original movie poster in 1994. I finally got around to it after matching the angle last night for an AO render in the “New Headers” thread. To get that extra-shiny look, I rendered it in seven passes; three lights, each with a separate diffuse and specularity pass, plus one for the red chevron lights. I saved them all as HDRIs, and put them together in Photoshop, adjusting the gamma and exposure of each layer, with blending mode set to “Linear Dodge (Add).” Once I had it the way I liked it, I merged them together into a single HDR layer, and used that to make the bloom effect. I think it’s a little strong, but that’s why we’ve got layers. I can fiddle with it more if I want to use it in the future.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever end up using the image for anything, but it ended up being a pretty fun exercise.


The reference image


The final product


Breakdown of the component passes

Ambient Occlusion Renders of the Jumper and Stargate

I made these Ambient Occlusion renders for the Foundation3D rotating site headers. Two were put into the rotation.

Puddle Jumper Showcase

Renders of the Puddle Jumper and Drone models.


– Deployment and retraction of the Jumper’s drone bays and engine pods




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Saturn, Saturn, and More Saturn!

I recently realized that I’d been putting off making a scene of Saturn, even though I knew what I had to do to make it work. Seizing the opportunity to do some work in Layout again, I made a scale reproduction of Saturn, it’s rings, and five or six moons (the ones I found good maps for). I’ve already made similar set-ups for Jupiter and Earth. While I was working on it, I came up with ideas for three pictures using it, so here they are.

“Gossamer” is just a beauty shot of the planet.


“Take Us Out” is a Star Trek picture that’s something of a riff on the end of the computer game “Starfleet Academy,” where the Enterprise-A is seen in drydock around Saturn.


“Ouroboros” is a Stargate SG-1 picture, based off the first season cliffhanger. I felt like the the picture needed a quote, but I couldn’t think of anything specific, so I searched Google for quotes relating to the word “serpent” until I found something that was apropos to the situation.

Well, it’s a “ship” that goes through the “gate,” so we’ll call it…

…a puddle jumper!

Front view

Rear view

Now that the modeling of the exterior is finished, I believe I have enough invested in it to start up the WIP thread. I’ve started on texturing, and I believe I have a good base for the hull texture above. I’m painting alpha maps for it so the mottling isn’t so uniform. I already finished animating the unfolding of the engines, though I’ll need to work out a new way to clip the objects so they don’t show up inside the cabin of the ship when they’re retracted. The method I’m using now only works when the ship is pointed along the Z-axis.

Also, I’ve finished texturing on the drone weapons, complete with a low-detail version for those scenes when you have thousands of the things flying every which way.

Drone Showcase

Active Drone

Added July 22, 2007

I’ve finished texturing and the light set-up on the exterior. I’m going to try to figure out how to get this clip-mapping fixed, though. Being able to only point the ship in one direction is a bit limiting for cinematography. After I’ve gotten that done (or given up in hopes of figuring it out later), I’ll get back to modeling the interior.

Also, I’ve rigged the engines so I can throttle their brightness with one slider. In fact, with the complicated retractions this ship does, I have to say, sliders and Master Channels are an absolute Godsend.




Added July 23, 2007

As for the engines on the Jumper, those are a magical wonderland of cheating. The engine bays on the original are about twice as deep as mine (the reason the bays on my model are shallower is so the rear compartment fits in at something close to its actual proportions), so the actual engines fit in with a bit less of a problem. However, it seems clear that the pivot they rest upon jumps off of its track while it’s retracting, so the engines can point straight up. Also, the wings themselves just pull into the body, without any sort of fake compartment or rationalization as to how they could possibly fit into the ship. Part of the fun of making this model was realizing exactly what compromises were made in its design, right after I made the same ones and thus knew what to look for.

The best look at how the engines retract (and how the VFX artists hide the fact that its physically impossible for them to move the way they do) come in the opening shot of the episode “Trinity,” and in a number of shots in “38 Minutes” (thought the best angles from those episodes aren’t included in those caps).

Seriously, after reverse-engineering this whole thing, I’m thinking about doing a writeup on the Jumper, mostly a taxonomy of the 3+ distinct 3D models of done on the show.

Here’s a movie of the cycles for the drone and engine bays. I’ve already decided I’ll take a page from the Atlantis VFX teams and only show the engines unfolding while the ship is distant, in motion, in shadow, or all three.

The same movie as above, but with the main body of the ship hidden so you can see precisely how the engines have to be clipped out so they don’t show up inside the cabin.