[WIP] Wolfy's guide to making custom ship graphics!

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Wolfy
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Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:47 pm

[This guide is a work in progress ATM- information and examples will still be added]

Welcome to my guide to making custom ship graphics! :D

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First off, I'd like to give thanks to George for giving us a great game with great potential for modding!

Secondly to people like perculi, digdug, bobby and many others who have pioneered in creating new functionality, scripts, and ships...

Thirdly to dvelnk6 for being the first to create high quality ships that I know of and being an inspiration.

Now fourthly to Aeonic who showed me how awesome textures can be (And for making great ships, along with the teraton ships used in TX2).

Fourthly and finally to all of you who have tried the difficult task of creating custom graphics for transcendence mods!

This guide is meant to turn your ability to make ships like this:

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into this:

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First off, an introduction to making ship graphics for transcendence.

Ships in transcendence are NOT perfectly top-down:
the camera is set 1 unit aft of the model, and 2 units above

Ships in transcendence are lit from 3 of the aforementioned units on the port side (to the left of the ship), 5 units above the ship, and 5 units in front of the ship. - When viewing the ship, make sure that the light looks like its coming from the upper left hand corner of the screen; this is correct; if the light looks like it is coming from the wrong direction (ie, the bottom, a common error in lighting due to a phrase George wrote ambiguously), it is incorrect.

Finally, try to use a minimal Anti-Aliasing (such as a soften-filter of 1.5), as this will give the ship a crisper final look while still being smooth enough. Texture Anti-Aliasing/filtering is also highly recommended if your model uses textures.

You will also need a 3d modeling program (though small ships can be done by hand if you posses enough patience and skill to create them in a 2D environment.)

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Making quality custom ship graphics in transcendence is not for the uncommitted, lazy, weak of heart and/or casual modder.

The transcendence style ship is a work of art- detailed, with subtle variations between different areas of the hull as different devices and structures protrude out and simply the variations in color of the hull itself. You can often see more or less what the ship is simply by looking at it: oh, that's a freighter, you can see all the cargo containers; oh, thats a fighter, it looks small and fast and aggressively designed; oh, that's a capital ship, its big, menacing and covered with guns.

Specific Tutorials MAY be available in the future for the following programs (I cannot guarantee any of this however):
gmax/3dsmax
DOGA
solidworks
wings3d
blender - http://neurohack.com/transcendence/foru ... php?t=2036

Suggested programs:
Gmax- free, hard to find (no official site anymore), but wonderfully obvious interface that is very simple and intuitive. You have to download the rendering tools separately however. Great materials editor allows for bypassing of texturing.
DOGA- free, has pre-made parts you can make a ship with, however its not nearly as powerful as a dedicated program. Still, for a beginner, an excellent place to start.
3dsmax- costly, but powerful and as easy as gmax. If your a college student, you may be able to purchase this wonderful program for a low price (student discount)
Blender- actually, I don't suggest this one, but others use it. If you can get past the absolutely horrendous UI (which apparently will be improved in version 2.5), blender can be a stupendously powerful program. It's basically the gimp of the 3d world if max is the photoshop. Just with a far worse UI.
3d wings- Its free (http://www.wings3d.com), and I don't know much about it. I heard its pretty easy and simple to learn though.
solid works- I think its free, and it seems versatile enough. Psycholis uses this for his alcurean fleet (formerly paper fleet)
... I you know another great 3d modelling program, please tell me in this thread so I can add it! :D
metasequoia- apparently people like this one. I think dvelnk6 said it was free
truspace 7.5- also recommended by dvelnk6

suggested 2d programs (you can use these for small ships and for pasting together ship facings):
PHOTOSCAPE - it does to ship facing making what 1.0 did to mod making for transcendence: it is seriously the easiest and fastest way to make your facings. It's free too! Just drag and drop your facings in order into the application, and viola! you have exactly want you need - all your facings stacked vertically in the order you dropped them in!
gimp- its free, its powerful, the UI leaves something to be desired, but it's still very simple.
Paint.Net- its free, its powerful, and it has a great UI. It's not nearly as powerful as gimp of photoshop, but its more than enough for transcendence
photoshop- its costly but powerful and simple to use. I wouldn't bother buying it if all I'm doing is making ships for transcendence though.

programs you should avoid like the plague:
MS paint- making ships for transcendence in MS paint is like writing a thesis- in binary- to create a docx file that contains your thesis- without a calculator and without the file format for docx files. It is BEYOND painful. Don't try it.
blender- if you are NOT good with it, don't bother trying- opt for an easier and simpler ship.

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Designing and building your ship:

Note: Due to the sheer variety of all the possible ways of actually building and rendering your ship, I'm not going to be able to provide a walk through of every 3D modeling program in existence. However, I can provide pointers as to how and how to and how not to make your ship.

Note: It's a good idea to have in mind what your ship is going to do and what type of ship it is.
Tip: playerships are nice and all, but those tend to be the first type of ship that everyone is going to want to make! There is very little competition in the "friendly"/"enemy" ship sector. It's always nice to see other well designed ships flying around that arn't part of the original transcendence. Playerships can get a bit cliched after a while, so I would recommend trying to make some non-playerships too.

Ship Design:
Every good ship needs a good design- I'd recommend the first step is to sit down, think about what would look good and workable in your mod, and then to draw it out on paper. A directly top-down view is fine for this, no need to bother with the angle of the viewpoint just yet. Toss in all the details you can think of. You can never have too many details.
Things to avoid in your ship:
- large empty areas (ie, any large, flat, unbroken area)
- a design that does not convey use: a mining ship in transcendence is NEVER going to look smooth and shiny with graceful contours- its going to be rough, utilitarian, well-worn, and built for the purpose of mining.
- ships that are too small to see (Generally anything below 16x16 pixels is simply out of the question; that is the domain of projectiles)
- designing a ship for the sake of breaking records: if your going to make a ship just for the sake of having claim to the biggest ship in transcendence, forget it- with that little motivation, you can simply drop the "p" in "ship" and swap it out for a "t"
- flat/paper ships- ships in transcendence are not paper-thin: they have depth and thickness to them- thin WINGS are fine, but the body of the ship should NEVER be thin as paper, especially the engine.
- the belief that all details must be bigger than a pixel- it's not true, believe me: I once thought this to be true and designed my first ships around it, but they kept coming out inferior in design, and I couldn't figure out why! Then once I simply spammed detail, even the smallest of objects, on the model, they became progressively better.
-too many bright colors- unless you are making a casino luxury cruise-liner, then don't put bright and brilliant colors on your ship. No self-respecting military would create such an obvious target, and even civilians don't want to get caught out in the open by pirates. White, grey, black, washed out colored, and brown ships are all ok in following the transcendence style of ship design. If you are designing a faction that uses exclusively brightly colored ships, then that's ok, but don't put more color on a CW or corporate ship than is already seen on ships like the scarab or EI series. A little bright color here and there (especially for components on the ship or to show its windows) is acceptable
-the belief that little decorative nubs and spikes and objects on a ships hull and be replaced with texture- its also not true, and the results are generally not too pretty.
-giant windows on a military ship - Don't we all know why?

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Setting up your scene in which you will build your ship:

We shall assume that your ship is being built facing in the same direction you are facing. This will be forward.

1) put a camera targeted at the origin 2 units to the back and 4 units up. Your camera should face forwards and down.
2) put an omni light source 3 units to the left, 5 units forwards, and another 5 upwards.

[A common mistake I have seen in ship building is when the light source comes in from the bottom left; this is incorrect, it should come from the top left. This mistake seems to have been caused by a misinterpretation of one of George's posts. Just follow my instructions and you will be fine- its essentially George's, just edited for clarity]

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Creating your ship facings:

Ship facings can be created by rendering your ship facing certain directions (Starting at 0 degrees) turning clockwise. George moromisato uses 20 facings for each non-playership and 40 for the playerships. However, I find that any ships of 100x100 pixels or more, it is necessary to use AT LEAST 40 facings, otherwise it will have very choppy movement, like the phobos or CSC.

The facings are stacked from top to bottom (Vertically) so that the ship rotates in a clockwise fasion as the image goes from top to bottom.

Warning:
Image
As seen in the above image, a mistake that has been made in several mods before is where part of the ship in one facing is pasted into part of another facing. If the 0 degree facing and the 18 degree facing are divided at the red line, then the circle region of the 18 facing ship will be clipped from that part of its facing, and the 0 degree facing will have that region stuck in its facing. Not to mention the ship will "bounce" up as it shifts from facings 0 to 18.

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Tip: Fileformats

Jpegs are notorious for their degration in quality of an image right? Well, thats true, but those very same artifacts that may make your screenshot ugly can sometimes actually boost the appearance of a ship in game. This is not always the case however- some ships (especially "fancier" or "shinier" ones where there tend to be clearly defined lines and edges) will be ruined by the "roughness" generated by the artifacts. However, a mining ship for example, could use some rough marks signifying its wear and tear over the years, and depending on the level of compression, the jpeg artifacts can supply just that. Be careful though- always keep a backup .png or .bmp image in case you mess up, and avoid going below 50% quality- the ship will tend to become too blurry to distinguish.
The artifacts formed around the ship in the jpg image will not show up in-game if you did the mask correctly (with a bmp file using only white and black), so don't worry, your ship won't have a greenish halo around it unless you totally messed up on the mask, and even that is easy to fix.

Some ships do not benefit at all from jpg compression however- these ships should be saved as .bmp's. As of version 1.0Rc2, George has said that .png support will be coming in the future (presumably version 1.0), but by my estimations, that leaves it until early 2011. Be warned though- .bmp's take up a LOT of space, so be careful when designing a large ship. Png's at maximum compression save a good deal of space and are lossless compression, but they are still often larger in size than the average jpg.
Last edited by Wolfy on Sat Nov 14, 2009 11:49 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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digdug
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Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:22 pm

Great job Wolfy ! :D

A small tip for the jpg stuff, work with your ships in an uncompressed format (or lossless format) until you finish it, then make the mask. If you are not making the mask with the 3D editor, always make the mask from a lossless or uncompressed image for best results.
Then when you save the jpg, in most graphic editors (if not all), you can choose the compression factor: setting this value from 1% to 5% max will give you ships with a very low jpg artifacts.

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Wolfy
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Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:57 pm

I found a post by dvelnk 6 with even more modelling programs!
I use 3ds max most of the time now; but it's probably not in your budget.
I did make quite a few transcendence ships and stations (and dockscreens) with a combination of Wings3d and Bryce. Those are both free, and they are both pretty simple to learn.

Here's links to some free modelers:
http://www.wings3d.com - Wings3d, polygon sub-division modeller. Easy interface, quick to learn.
http://www.anim8or.com/ - Anim8tor, pretty simple sub-d modeller and animation tool.
http://www.metaseq.net/english/index.html - Metasequioa, haven't used it; but know people that love it...
http://www.caligari.com/products/trueSp ... /intro.asp - Truespace Version 7.5

Truespace is a pretty solid all around 3d app. Used to cost around $800, I think.
There are lots of free modelers around, just google and do some digging.
- - - - -
And free renderers:
http://www.download.com/Bryce/3000-6677_4-10696716.html - Bryce 5.5
http://www.kerkythea.net/joomla/ - Unbiased Global illumination (including MLT) renderer.
http://www.indigorenderer.com/joomla/ - Similar to Kerkythea.
There are some others around: POVRay, Sunflow, Toxic, and so on. Some of them are rather technically oriented, and not very user friendly.

Kerkythea and Indigo have plugins for integrated use with Blender. Blender has its own built renderer that does a nice job also.

- - - - -

EDIT - If you are interested in using people for renders, you could look into DAZ Studio. Free base program, with purchasable upgrade 'modules'.
http://www.daz3d.com/i/software/studio?_m=d
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Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:12 pm

Awesome post. I'll try and see what I can say about solidworks, but the matter of fact is that it's an engineering design tool first and a ship designer second.. I use it because it's what I have. It's frustrating and often times unable to design the kind of pieces I want to make because it sees them as machined parts, not a cool space ship. On the flip side, I can do stress analysis on a fictional spaceship.. ;)

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Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:14 pm

Psycholis wrote:Awesome post. I'll try and see what I can say about solidworks, but the matter of fact is that it's an engineering design tool first and a ship designer second.. I use it because it's what I have. It's frustrating and often times unable to design the kind of pieces I want to make because it sees them as machined parts, not a cool space ship. On the flip side, I can do stress analysis on a fictional spaceship.. ;)
:) awesome- I actually might have a use for a program like that 8)
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Thu Jun 11, 2009 3:19 am

now updated with the exact positions of camera and lighting.

an example blank scene for gmax is available here: http://xelerus.de/index.php?s=mod&id=505
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Wolfy
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Sun Jul 05, 2009 4:04 am

I found an awesome program for creating your ship facings! [Kudos to Aeonic]

It's called "photoscape", its a free download, and all you do is click, drag, and drop each of your facings in order into the window of the application, and it automatically orders your facings for you into a single image!

Try a google search to find it.
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Sat Nov 14, 2009 11:49 pm

I made a few updates to this tutorial.
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