View Full Version : Grand Space Opera 3D Entry: Michael Crawford

10 October 2004, 04:57 PM
Michael Crawford has entered the Grand Space Opera 3D.

Challenge Page (

Latest Update: Lighting: Plasma Experiments - Part 4C (

Last one in the series, so you can all breathe a sigh of relief. ;-) Yeah, I finally worked out the kinks and feel reasonably satisfied with this compromise approach that doesn't completely cover up the plasma but avoids some of the other render headaches. More importantly, this design should enable me to get the glow I want for the inside of the domes without any unfortunate "side effects." Whew!

10 October 2004, 08:46 AM (

Ever since the Age of First Contact, the twelve species which had signed the first Interstellar Trade Alliance had sought a means of shortening the enormous travel-time between planets. That day finally came with the development of Jump Gate technology, and the construction of the first Waterholes: transportation hubs that would usher in a new era for the species of the Trade Alliance.

My mission: to develop a scene built around the completion of the first operational Waterhole -- a time of celebration and anticipation of the great discoveries just around the corner. The concept sketch I've submitted is a starting point: an attempt to arrive at a "look" for the actual Waterhole jump gate. I plan to build an immense space port / engineering facility around this, and perhaps show a delegation assembled in one part of the Waterhole, toasting their accomplishment and watching the first starships line up to make the inaugural jump. More sketches to come as I hone this idea.

10 October 2004, 07:54 AM
hi man, this is nice sketch, you know the whole idea is good but for my suggestion may be making (perspective changes) that ring come quarter way behind camera (Close up shot) and the planet near it goes bit behind, i only see this may be you have better thing going in your mind.
good work so far.

10 October 2004, 08:42 AM (

Making gradual progress. I've been bouncing back and forth between working on basic modeling tasks -- doing a lot of experimenting on how to put together an intricate and complex space station without going over the triangle limit that crashes mental ray. As I get a better sense of what I can -- and can't -- do, I'll use that to refine concept sketches until I arrive at something that seems both "doable" and interesting enough that I can at least hope to get a portfolio piece out of the process. At the moment, the sketches are rough (to say the least!) and probably a far cry from where I'll end up ... but I guess that's the nature of the process.

10 October 2004, 08:49 AM
I can't believe noone has posted any crit... This idea rocks, and the concepts look great! If the final image is even as half as good this will be one great image!!! Keep it up! and good luck!

10 October 2004, 08:59 AM
Designer2: Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I'm testing out a lot of different perspectives in my 3D app, and will almost certainly end up with the final render being from an observation deck on the Waterhole Alpha space port -- a vantage which should provide a good view of the jump gate itself.

10 October 2004, 09:02 AM
Borro: Thanks! I hope I can pull off the gate itself. I've wanted to try something like this since renting a copy of the Hellboy DVD; that transdimensional gateway at the beginning of the film was just awesome (and around 100 separate composite layers -- yow!).

10 October 2004, 09:09 AM
good idea, i think should find a better view, more dynamic, may be near the gate.
well, it's just an idea. :)

all the best.

10 October 2004, 05:23 AM (

Hope to get some real progress posted tonight. The image on the right gave me the kind of "proof of concept" reassurance I needed to get going on the Kahir ship -- one of the twelve species who have come together to launch the first interstellar jump gate. And don't worry: the modeling will get a *lot* more complex, though I tend to make shaders and displacement maps do a lot of the heavy lifting.

10 October 2004, 05:56 AM (

More progress. Will post some shader tests of the assembled ship shortly.

10 October 2004, 06:01 AM
love the concepts.. very originals :thumbsup:

Good Luck

Best Regards,

10 October 2004, 06:25 AM (

Not quite what I intended, so it's back to the drawing board to try to get the "skin" right. The version on the left is *closest* to having the translucent effect right, but no cigar. The others ... well, they help prevent the spread of venereal disease on Neptune, but ... :-(

10 October 2004, 11:44 AM
great concept, I like the yellow lighting that you have thr. Your greebles look really cool ;p

cheers m8

10 October 2004, 12:13 PM
Really, really like what you're doing here! The ships are awesome.

will keep an eye on this thread for sure - keep it going!

my space opera (

10 October 2004, 12:59 PM
ah i recognise that xyz icon :) a fellow xsi'r for sure. It looks like you are forging ahead with your modeling and seem confident you have the right scene. my only concern here is that the dynamics of your image might not be clear enough from the concept sketch. eg I am unsure of how the 'gate' functions, it seems to have a protective shield around it and im not quite certain how the larger alien ships are to get in and out of this gateway or wether they are meant to or not. For sure it is a spectacular idea and concept! I would just like to see more workings of the composition and perhaps the gate in mid use or something.

Also if you are going to be putting a lot of polygons in the surrounding city scene, you should not concern yourself with reaching a MR limit, render in passes and seperate elements which will allow you to reach your limit per pass and layer them together afterwards. This way you will reach your limit x how many seperate passes you render.

Personally I have not entertained the idea of starting modelling in 3d until I feel as though the composition is nailed, which im still struggling on mine. I feel if you have put a lot of effort into modelling/ texturing something then you are less likely to drop it for an alternative or 'better' idea of doing it along he way. but you seem confident enough. good luck!

10 October 2004, 04:22 PM
Versiden: Thanks! As for the greebles ... yeah, it seemed a lot faster to do a very rough approximation of Waterhole Alpha using the greeble script and then take it into Photoshop and apply more detail than to spend hour after hour trying to get the hang of sketching with an Intuos tablet (great if you come from a traditional art background ... *not* so great if you're used to sketching while looking at the sheet of paper your pen is resting on).

Gunilla: Glad you like the ships! I'm having a lot of fun with the shader networks on the Kahir ship, so I should be posting some better test renders later today.

Tekano: Yep, I just got my upgrade to 4.0 last month, which part of why I've launched into modeling *before* really taking the time to establish exactly how I want to handle the scene -- I'm bouncing back and forth between the new training DVDs and trying out some of the techniques I'm learning. Ever since 1.0 I've just used a few key parts of the program, and pretty much saved everything else "for later." Well, now IS later, and this contest seems a perfect opportunity to get a better working knowledge of the things I've put off for so long.

As for how to get across how the gate functions ... hmmm, I'm working on that. The original plan called for building something like a cyclotron around where the gate is generated, but then I started thinking about the radiation this would generate and how there would need to be some sort of protective shield separating the jump gate from the platform where the generators are located. Of course, making the shield solid would complete screw up the visual splendor of the jump gate itself, so ... um, working on it. :-( Hopefully as I put together some rough pieces and investigate the layout in all three dimensions I'll figure out some clever engineering solution. Either that, or the Kahir ambassador will contact me with an explanation. ;-)

In regards to the mr limit: yes, I can certainly break the scene down and do it in passes. My concern with crashing mental ray actually stems from some horrendous problems I had with huge displacement maps during the Alienware contest. At the time, I hadn't known about the displacement options in the visibility panel, so I was using a script to turn grayscale terrain maps into some really complex solid geometry, and the size of these was wreaking havoc with the triangle count. With Waterhole Alpha it will a *lot* easier to block everything out and then do different segments as separate passes -- though there's a lot to be said for being able to quickly bring up the render region and check everything in the same scene file. :-)

10 October 2004, 04:27 PM
Holy cow, that is amazing. How are you getting those shader effects for the scout ship? This entry is one of the most exciting I've seen! Awesome work.

10 October 2004, 04:42 PM
Tyler, I'll post the shader networks later today. For now: the skin of the Kahir scout ship is the byproduct of two overlapping meshes (same mesh, but fractionally different in size). One mesh uses the XSI "gas flame" shader network to provide a bit of a glow, while the other mesh has a Phong shader with high transparency, moderate reflectivity and both bump and displacement maps applied at very low settings -- just enough so that the map textures show up primarily in the specular component. Some internal lighting interacts with the objects that constitute the innerworkings of the ship to provide additional "glow."

Like I said, I'll post the networks later today -- once I fine-tune things a bit more. But thanks for asking!

10 October 2004, 05:27 AM (

Lots to upload tonight, so I guess I'd better get started. Normally I'd save the culmination of the day's work until last, but just in case I fall asleep at the keyboard I thought I'd better post the test render that makes me feel like I'm on the right track.

10 October 2004, 05:35 AM
The design is very good, like very much the colours and the lightning, but the tentacles seem to be a bit small and rigid.

Keep up the good work

Best Regards,

10 October 2004, 05:55 AM
Tiago, I fully agree about the tentacles; they're just extrusions based on the same curve, and a bit thin to actually make much visual impact. I'll probably try out some alternate approaches to see if I can come up with something more compelling, though I'll think I'll try to make a little progress on Waterhole Alpha and the other ships before doing more fine-tuning on the Kahir vessel. Anyway, many thanks for the input -- it always helps!

10 October 2004, 04:08 PM
Nice Look. The translucent part is very nice. I agree to the other regarding the tentacles.

Here are some suggestions if you dont mind:
Maybe it could look great if you integrate some more different hulls into the ship with different translucent scales and glowing values. This increases the depth and complexity of your ship. (See left picture I attached just to show).

10 October 2004, 04:43 PM (

Still in the rough stages, but at least I'm starting to get the hang of what shader settings / combinations come close to the intended effect. I'll experiment some with building up some more translucent layers and see what that nets, though I worry about the render times. (Even with a dual 2.66-GHz Xeon system, the HDRI render took about three hours, and that was with the raytracing set fairly low.)

10 October 2004, 05:09 PM
Fahrija, many thanks for the feedback and posting those reference shots! I will definitely experiment with additional layers and greater modeling complexity, particularly if this ship ends up in the foreground. The main problems I've found thus far have to do with rendering time and the loss of details on interior layers when the ship is viewed from a distance. Ideally, this ship would be just one of several docked at Waterhole Alpha, with other ships lined up for the jump gate. I'm guessing that I'm going to have reposition the jump gate at a perpendicular to the rest of the space port, otherwise the angle of view is going to be so acute that the effect gets wasted. I like the angle of the ship in the "HDRI Render Test" picture, so I'm thinking I'll compose the actual scene as a wide-screen shot with the Kahir ship (as well as some other ships) docked on the left, an equivalent set-up on the right, and all the perspective lines running towards the jump gate, which will be perpendicular to the spaceport. I'll post a sketch of this later, but I think this "you are on Waterhole Alpha, down among the docked ships and spaceport workers, looking towards the jump gate" is more promising than the "distant overview" perspective in my original sketches.

Anyway, many thanks for your input and good luck on your 2D project!

10 October 2004, 05:20 PM
I forgot the render time > this must be the hardest challenge of all 3D challengers. The wireframe view at this early stage shows a complexity I didnt recognize first. Is it worth it to build up everything in low poly and increase the mesh in the final rendering or do want to prevent getting the bill of incomputable render-time in the end? I hope you get the right render values to haver fairly rendertime.

10 October 2004, 06:53 PM
I like your conception and the design of the ships :) But the textures are outstanding! :bounce: :bounce:

10 October 2004, 08:31 PM (

Trying out a different approach that should provide more flexibility than the scattershot "two overlapping layers" thing I was doing with the tentacles.

10 October 2004, 09:19 PM
I like the detail in your scout ship and the tentacles! It reminds me of Geof Darrow's drwaing madness.. filling up every single space on the paper with details!

Definitely make the gate somehow the focus, bring it closer to the camera and possibly have the city in a back corner or the background. I'm interested to see where your idea develops!


10 October 2004, 09:43 PM
Hey, great idea! I really like the gate idea and the sketch looks very cool, though I agree with Gendou that it should be more the focus of the image with the city looming in the background.

10 October 2004, 09:50 PM
wow wonderful textures and lighting i'm going to fallow this thread to see the out come

10 October 2004, 10:50 PM
Great work so far!
I really appreciate the great amount of minute detail!
The mixture of organic patterns using mechanical structures is a intersting twist.

I would suggest that maybe you should make more a play with translucency and incandesance like real life jelly fish do.

Just wondering how the final composition will look and how this scout will play a part.

10 October 2004, 05:48 AM
Awsome, new age borg. Just keep it clean and detailed. The more the better :thumbsup:

10 October 2004, 06:17 AM
Very nice man!

I like so much :-)

10 October 2004, 06:39 AM
Really nice, cool madel and a verry cool texture.


10 October 2004, 08:27 AM
WOOOOOW You're great man! Wish i could do things like that, but computer is too slow and i have to think 10 times before I add something new... Well keep it up!

10 October 2004, 08:40 AM
Very good texturing there! And the concept is very not-warish (like most of us here do). I really like the combination of organic translucent skin to mechanical inside organs, I have some doubts on the color scheme though. Very good :thumbsup:

10 October 2004, 08:22 PM
Oh my! You're going fast. Love those textures - very inspiring. Thanks for sharing your work methods, always fun to find out the facts behind the magic.:)

10 October 2004, 10:06 PM
Cripes, I'm soooo far behind on responding. :-( Been really busy working on some other spaceship designs -- a lot of failed experiments at the moment, littering up my hard drive.

Fahrija: If I end up with several elements in the same render pass, then it's definitely best to keep the meshes light and use the geometry approximation tools in XSI to treat those meshes *as though* they were much denser at render time. (The geo. approximation tools will even do the subdivisions in OGL if you set it that way -- though it can really slow down camera movements in the viewport.) By force of habit, though, I tend to do smoothing through actual subdivisions, just so I can go in and make really fine adjustments.

Taavi: Thanks! I've been putting together a pretty good texture library since the Alienware contest -- a combination of high-res outputs from some Darktree experiments, a lot of custom work in Photoshop, and some additional texture shots taken with my D70 (roughly 3000 x 2000 dpi). Most of the textures I use are 2000 x 2000, which allows for a decent level of detail, but I've also got 4000 x 4000 and even a few immense 8000 x 8000 in .map format, so it doesn't crash mental ray.

Gendou: I'd forgotten that Darrow did the conceptual art for THE MATRIX, but I looked up some of his work online and I see what you mean. Actually, I think my biggest inspirations at the moment are The Larouse Encyclopedia of Animal Life, which is a great resource for "thinking alien," and circuit boards and other computer parts, which tend to have incredible visual complexity. Mind you, I love a lot of the simpler, more streamlined ships I've seen in the contest -- they're actually harder to do well than this kind of thing -- but I know to really get 'em looking photorealistic you pretty well HAVE to use an HDRI pass, and doing that for a space scene is just asking for trouble. (The render time with just one element was several hours!)

Velk: I promise, the jump gate will be the visual centerpiece in the final work.
Funkmonkey90: I give full props to the genius who came up with the "gas fire" shader network -- what a brilliant use of the incidence node!

WazaR: I will continue to experiment with translucency and incandescence, and have big plans for Daniel Rind's outstanding "diffusion" shader. Will post the results as they become available. As for the composition ... I'm going to handle the perspective lines ala DaVinci's The Last Supper, with the jump gate looming over everything in the center, and the docking bays for the various ships running on either side. I'll do a general layout later this week and post it.

Marcomaxbonaria: Clean and detailed -- yeah, that's the real challenge, isn't it? I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that I can give the scene "real world" visual complexity without it seeming like a mess!

aiTOR, Carl: Thanks, guys!

Borro: Man, I *know* how tough it is without a dual-processor system; believe me, I've been there. I finally invested in the workstation in April of 2003, after spending 2 1/2 years avoiding global illumination on my 733 MHz Micron system. Did a thorough cost-analysis of workstations and components and discovered that HP was making most of their profit by overcharging on the RAM, so I was able to shave something like $1500 off the cost of the system by just installing a few things myself. Anyway, it's made life MUCH better, and has encouraged me to really learn what the program can do.

Terraarc: I decided to avoid explosions (and anything warlike) after I tried to use the smoke and flame shaders for the XSI particle system earlier this year. Once you have the computer running the calculations for reflections of the smoke and flames ... geesh! Absolutely hopeless. You can get nice smoke and flames from Combustion's particle tools, but the drawback is that you'll have to find a way to fake the reflections. As for the color scheme: yeah, I have my doubts, too. Tried a reddish/amber test render, but I don't think it'll work with the metalic surfaces of the space station itself. If you have any suggestions, please, let me know!

Gunilla: Fast? Only because the modeling on the ship was so basic -- it gave me more time to play with shader/texture/lighting combinations. The hard part comes now: trying to develop the other eleven types of ships -- *gulp*!

Thanks, folks, for the feedback and encouragement. I hope to have the next ship undergoing test renders tomorrow, which will free up some time to catch up on the progress the rest of you are making!

10 October 2004, 07:13 AM
I love Your idea of ship- it's really inovative and gives precious occasion of using unusual shaders. Only thing that I might consider possible upgrade is a little bit of irregularity in shape and lenght of tentacles which would differ ships between each other (as real life forms) thus making them even more "biological".

10 October 2004, 07:51 AM (

The modeling wasn't going to smoothly this afternoon, so I whipped up a quick logo for Waterhole Alpha. By the time I really need to use this as a texture map in the station, I'm sure I'll have refined it more -- and probably jetisoned the stuff rising from the water droplet, as I ended up using the same structures in the Kahir deep space drone. Anyway, every little bit of progress counts. :-)

10 October 2004, 07:59 AM (

Still working on this one. Lots of additional components to put together so it looks less like a ... um ... well, you know what I mean.

the sparky
10 October 2004, 08:01 AM
i like those detail bits that stick up. they give it a nice look, not too smooth.

10 October 2004, 08:06 AM
Marcin: Thanks for the suggestion -- it's an excellent idea, and I will implement it this weekend. I took a break from working on the scout ship to work on some of the ships for other members of the Trade Alliance ... only to end up with another Kahir vessel. *Groan.* Have some very different things in various stages of completion, including a Terran scientific vessel, but I need to settle on some aspects of the designs before I can really get them whipped into shape.

10 October 2004, 08:19 AM
Sparky: Thanks for dropping by! The technique is really very simple, and gives one a lot of control over the overall look:

1) Convert any NURBS mesh to a polygon mesh, making sure the mesh is dense enough that you can select fairly narrow bands of polygons.

2) Start tracing out patterns by selecting, but (and this is a limitation of the "solidify" script in XSI) make sure you keep the selected polygons within about 90 degrees of curvature -- ie, don't go all the way around a cylinder, sphere, etc.

3) Use the "extract (keep polygons)" command to lift a copy off the surface.

4) Open the script editor and load Mindthink Tools' original "solidify" script (dated from 2003 -- there's a version 2 out there, but it requires the use of weightmaps) and select the amount you want to extrude the extracted polygons (small amounts work best -- ie, look most realistic when subdividing).

5) Subdivide the extruded polygons (level 2 Catmull-Clarke works best, IMO) -- this will give the appearce of rounded pipes / mechanical stuff sticking out from the surface, though you can achieve other fx with difference shaders.

6) Repeat on another area of the underlying polygon model, varying the height of extrusion to give a more interesting texture to the work.

As I said: very simple technique, and quite fast once you get used to the kind of selection patterns that look best for what you're trying to achieve.

Mad Inventor
10 October 2004, 08:36 AM
Love the waterhole idea. I like the ship but as _RK_ already mentioned it, if the tentacles were maybe moving around (different positions) and maybe even different lengths it would look better in my opinion - but that's just my opinion so feel free to ignore it.

Keep up the good work :thumbsup:

Jayden Morris
10 October 2004, 08:52 AM
Thats some serious detail on that probe, and its looking great. Looks kind of like a nano bug until some sense of scale will go with it.

10 October 2004, 09:14 AM
Hey Michael Rav4, you are good!
Wich software are u using, seems great!

I wish you luck, and keep working hard dude!

10 October 2004, 05:13 PM
Well, I can't add anything to what I'm seeing. Your style is very impressive. The tech you're using to generate the details, I don't think I've even head of some of those.

What I'm really liking is your overall presentation. Feels like I'm reading a documentary. I guess you're getting a jump start on the "how to" portion. Please keep it up, I enjoy watching someone else's workflow. It's amazing the better techniques you can pick up that way.

10 October 2004, 07:28 PM
Holy Shit! That is really great work man! I've been working with microcosmos stuff recently myself at work and I can say that the procedurals you've made look really nice. Never mind how nice the model looks. How'd yuu do that on the tail?

10 October 2004, 08:54 PM
wow some gr8 jobs going here... i believe this is my first tym to this thread... so far looking totally hot... i really dig those SSS... nice modeling too.. keep goin.. i wanna c wad u cook with all those vegis;) :thumbsup:

10 October 2004, 08:55 PM
Mad Inventor: Thanks! I *will* whip those tentacles into shape -- add some variety in length, diameter, and positioning, just like you get with squid and jelly fish. I'm just trying to solve a problem on another ship at the moment, so I'm a bit behind on getting the first ship revised and completed.

Jayden: The detail is primarily an optical illusion -- the product of shaders, textures and bump mapping. I'll be posting a more detailing explanation of how the look is achieved momentarily.

Climax: Thanks. The software is Softimage XSI 4.0 , with an assist from DarkTree 2.5, Photoshop, and Helge Mathee's superb Mindthink Tools 2.01.

Wyatt: Thank you very much. Most of the scripts I'm using are courtesy of -- a real godsend for the XSI community. There are some superbly-skilled, technically-oriented folks who have made a real effort to extend the capabilities of the program by coding solutions to common production problems. Without their efforts, there'd be a lot less time available for working on the artistic end of things, that's for sure.

Gamoron: Just about every great shader I've seen for the microcosmos stuff makes clever use of incidence nodes, so, yeah, there's a lot of crossover between that and how I'm approaching the look of the Kahir ships. As for how I did the tail ... the tale will be uploaded shortly.

10 October 2004, 09:00 PM
3doid: No SSS involved. I've tested most of the available SSS shaders and love the results but hate the render times with multiple lights. Have opted for incidence shaders and transparency effects to get the look, but will be making use of SSS on some other ships.

10 October 2004, 09:04 PM (

Just some additional details to show how this simple effect was achieved.

10 October 2004, 09:07 PM (

The rest of the info on the inner cone.

10 October 2004, 08:10 AM (

Trying out some new approaches and not worrying all that much (at the moment) about poly counts, since I'm saving all the pre-subdivided pieces and will swap 'em in as things get heavy -- thank goodness for the geometry approximation controls!

10 October 2004, 08:23 AM
Just impressive nuclear , is looking great thanks for the explanation about that . :thumbsup: We want more hehe:applause:

10 October 2004, 10:50 AM
:applause: Fantastic work,this is very impressive,good luck

10 October 2004, 11:08 AM
All of your work so far is fantastic. The organic looking of the tentacles and your texturing are a wonder.

And, as a XSI learner at the very beginning, I just can't help but to thank you a LOT about all the explanations. Just looking at how you're working on this is an incredible help for me.

Now I'm subscribed, so I won't miss anything of your new posts.


11 November 2004, 09:11 AM
Hey very nice progress! The deep space probe looks gr8, also the power conduit looks very solid, that layer think really gave it hell of a depth! Keep it up mate!:thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 03:44 PM
:eek: :eek: :eek: As it was said in one great film: " that's some crazy shit" lol!!! Keep it up man, I knew you would make a great scene :)

11 November 2004, 06:45 PM
Your textures are absolutely wonderful (sorry for repeating myself) ;-), do you do a lot of micro/ medical work? They'd be perfect for that kind of stuff.

Peter C.
11 November 2004, 08:18 PM
I have to chime in here to say how impressive your design is. Textures have a wonderful organic quality. :applause:

11 November 2004, 08:53 PM
Man... Great Job
looks really cool organic+mech=machineflesh
Keep on rockin'

11 November 2004, 09:52 PM (

Okay, now the fun starts. Had some problems with assembling some NURBS meshes yesterday, but I finally saw where the problem was and now I'm off and running. Also learned a thing or two about the Voronoi noise shader, and see great things for it in generating bump maps for the exterior of the space station. Anyway, I feel like I'm back on track, and look forward to posting better things later this week.

11 November 2004, 10:29 PM
Adr: I could post the explanation about what I did *wrong* yesterday, but I'm currently recovering from post-NURBS traumatic stress syndrome (PNURBSTSS, but don't try to pronounce that).

Mad-mick: Thanks! Good luck to you, too!

Doublecrash: Glad to hear the additional info is proving beneficial! If you have any app-specific questions, I'd be happy to share whatever I know. XSI has a really, really steep learning curve because the program is tremendously complex and powerful (heck, the manuals run to 4500 pages, yet barely scratch the surface!). Moreover, until recently the user base has been small enough that there really hasn't been enough of a market to generate a lot of books and learning tools for the program -- but that's gradually changing. Anyway, I can probably steer you clear of a lot of *mistakes,* if nothing else. :-)

Terraarc: I'll do my best! The biggest problem is there are just so many different parameters of the scene to experiment with that I'm torn between the need for linear progress and the joy of just taking time to try things out.

Borro: "Crazy shit" indeed! :-) Yep, but I guess that tends to happen when you keeping asking yourself, "I wonder what would happen if I try *this* ..."

Gunilla: Concerning the textures: yes, incidence nodes are used a LOT in medical illustration (there's a well-known mental ray shader called "molecola," which is great for blood cells), but the closest I've come to that was using MAX for a DNA logo. BTW, if you're interested in expanding your texture library, contact me after the contest and I'll burn you a couple of CD-ROMs from my own hand-built collection.

Peter: It seems that the best work coming out of Hollywood makes use of multiple layers so that the light bounces around, passes through and diffracts more like in the real world. I'd really like to strive for achieving similar results, though it probably takes a LOT more technical expertise to do it properly. :-)

Kaajey: Yeah, I was going to experiment with similar effects for the MachineFlesh contest, only there was some major remodel work at the house slated for right in the middle of the contest, so I reluctantly decided to pull out after a week or so. (This time, I've pretty much got until mid-December, when I leave for Seattle for a month and won't be able to access the workstation. Yoikes!)

11 November 2004, 10:48 PM
Hi Michael,

your objects are looking really great. But I think I mentioned this allready. :) Im really looking forward to see what kind of story your image will tell and how your objects will be arranged to show all the details you are working on. Is there a early rough sketch or line drawing that shows a bit of your composition?
Youll mentioned afterburner for creating atmosphere effects > do you intend to use this or similar software for your image also?

Greetings and good luck for this challenge

11 November 2004, 11:07 PM
Hi Fahrija,

I did some untextured, rough-block 3D "studies" over the weekend, trying to get a feeling for the final composition ... but basically came away from it with two thoughts:

1) Perhaps the only way to get the "iconic" part is to do it ala a postage stamp: foreground focus on two hands -- one humanoid, the other clearly alien -- shaking in a gesture of good will as Waterhole Alpha is dedicated. In the background, the jump gate (centered, visually rising above the hands) with a ship ready to depart through it. Small details of other ships and the station itself visible to either side of the gate (above and below the forearms of the hands). Inscription at bottom of the image -- something to this effect: "Waterhole Alpha: Opening a doorway to a shared and common future."

2) Other than Option 1, I will arrive at the best possible image simply by building my environment and then -- like any good photographer -- investigating the best camera angles. (This may NOT result in a strictly "iconic" work, but will probably net me something useful for my portfolio.)

That's how things stand at the moment.

As for Afterburn, it's a plugin for Studio MAX, not XSI. It's been used for a LOT of Hollywood films involving rockets blasting off (the 1998 film ARMAGEDDON springs to mind), but I'm afraid I'll have to settle for either XSI's particle shaders or -- more likely -- do it as post in Combustion, using their particle system, which renders extremely fast and has great flexibililty. It's 2D, but can do a more than adequate job.

11 November 2004, 07:07 AM
Gunilla: Concerning the textures: yes, incidence nodes are used a LOT in medical illustration (there's a well-known mental ray shader called "molecola," which is great for blood cells), but the closest I've come to that was using MAX for a DNA logo. BTW, if you're interested in expanding your texture library, contact me after the contest and I'll burn you a couple of CD-ROMs from my own hand-built collection.

More than generous of you, thank you. In the meantime I'll hang around, cheer you on and pick your brain as much as possible. :) I find your thread one of the most inspiring so far, so just keep going!

11 November 2004, 08:23 AM
Pretty nice design on the waterhole! :bounce:, I've got this feeling that you'll make it with the textures (thanks again for the tip :thumbsup:).

I had an idea on the final composition and the "iconic" problem you seem to be concidering, just a thought for further brainstorming though:

Maybe you could put two set of ships putting some final parts on the Waterhole Alpha pretty close to each other: One set with human spaceships and the other with alien ones. Also various race ships entering or leaving the gate (maybe on human grand ship entering and one grand alien ship arriving or the other way around). Again, just one opinion.

11 November 2004, 08:47 AM
Mike, many thanks for your excellent suggestion on the composition! I will indeed consider that! :-)

When I first started developing the idea for the Waterhole I considered doing a piece similar to the old pictures of the completion of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad, with two teams of workers or engineers meeting at the top of a completed loop (instead of a slightly open loop), but I abandoned the idea because it implied a static moment -- one before the power is actually turned on and the Waterhole becomes a fully functional gateway.

Seems, though, that I may have been premature in tossing it off, as you've reminded me that it *could* be operational even as the final pieces are being put into place -- and the vantage point could be quite spectacular: looking down from a construction platform above the edge of the Waterhole jump gate, with the loop of glowing energy almost directly below, the ships moving into position, and the orbital space port stretching off to one side. Hmmm ... I will have to try some test renders from that vantage. :-)

Thanks, again, for the suggestion, Mike. It really does sound MUCH more promising than the "postage stamp" idea!

11 November 2004, 02:31 PM
Me thinks this Design and Shaders (XSI right?) can kick a$$ in final...very nice work keep going friend :bounce:

11 November 2004, 11:45 PM
Doublecrash: Glad to hear the additional info is proving beneficial! If you have any app-specific questions, I'd be happy to share whatever I know. XSI has a really, really steep learning curve because the program is tremendously complex and powerful (heck, the manuals run to 4500 pages, yet barely scratch the surface!). Moreover, until recently the user base has been small enough that there really hasn't been enough of a market to generate a lot of books and learning tools for the program -- but that's gradually changing. Anyway, I can probably steer you clear of a lot of *mistakes,* if nothing else. :-)

Nuclear, really thanks. Not only your work is fantastic on the aesthethic side, but it's also so incredibly useful to whom, like me, is striving to learn XSI. In fact, I decided to participate in this challenge to get my feet very wet with the program, and I soon fell in love with it. I'm using Foundation trial, but I've just ordered my copy of Foundation at my local reseller! :bounce:

Your kindness is really fantastic, and I'll take advantage of that for sure in the future. In fact, I would have at least 200 questions for you right now, LOL... but (and I bet you know what I'm talking about) I'm more a stubborn type of guy, so until I've read the manuals and watched all the DVDs that come with the app, I likely won't ask nothing, contenting me of just watching more experienced and talented people working.

What I really want to ask you, is to just keep posting your work and the "inner workings" like you did so far: they're unvaluable for someone who's trying to learn.

Thanks a whole lot again.


11 November 2004, 12:05 AM
Amazing modeling!! I very very like the Waterhole Alpha!!! :eek:
Specially the details texture... very very cool!!! :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 08:11 AM
I really like it, interesting modeling metod
Good job pal!

11 November 2004, 08:13 AM (

Currently working on the base of the jump gate, trying to piece together some fairly detailed components that will work together to help provide a sense of scale.

11 November 2004, 08:45 AM (

A bit more on how the look was achieved.

11 November 2004, 09:00 AM
Dimitris: Thanks! Your Grand Space Opera entry has been inspirational, as has your portfolio. And yes, this is all XSI work. :-)

Stefano: I will, indeed, keep posting. Enjoy the DVDs; they really make a difference in getting a handle on the program!

SuperXCM: Hope to catch up on your entry this weekend. I trust all is going well.

Climax: Thanks! Amazing the things that end up working when you're experimenting, isn't it?

11 November 2004, 10:19 AM
i love ur work, i just have to say

11 November 2004, 03:10 PM
Yeah! It realy is and your work is been eye catch since the begining. Go on man!

11 November 2004, 02:03 AM (

Minor update, but potentially major breakthrough. I'd been struggling with the question of how much of Waterhole Alpha I'd really need to model, particularly since I want to test out all sorts of camera angles. Obviously, the foreground requires the most attention, but I'd like to make the background *seem* like it's just as detailed without getting into the law of diminishing returns. Well, I rented a DVD of Attack of the Clones last night, and was going through it shot by shot, examining the LOD on the models ... and then it struck me: a lot of the best visuals in the film don't take place in full daylight, but at dusk or night, and rely on the building lights -- not the modeling -- to convey the complexity!

All this came to a head this morning, as I was trying to figure out how to handle a couple of problematic details on the jump gate components. I had tried adding a bit of geometry to the interior of the wiring hole -- just something to make it look like it wasn't just an empty shell -- but it *still* lacked the kind of complexity one needs to convey electronics ... so I resorted to a chip-design texture like I'd used for the bump map on the component, and connected the image to the incandescence node as well as the diffuse node. Bingo! With the settings turned up high (I keyed in 3 -- much higher than the normal 0-1 range -- before settling on 2.5 as a good value), the effect worked better than anticipated, and now has me thinking that a series of really good "incandescence maps" may be the answer to conveying complexity on those parts of Waterhole Alpha that are far enough away from the camera that "hinting" is more important than actually building. :-) We'll see how that goes.

11 November 2004, 03:11 AM
XSI eh? You make it look like one incredible app. The detailling of your models is blowing my mind. I wish you were using max though because I could stand to take a few lessons from you.

11 November 2004, 11:01 AM
I've read your postings like they were tutorials, so thanks a lot! And, now that I think of it... they *are* tuts! Too cool! :buttrock:

I tried incandescence mapping with other apps, and obtained very good results. I just can't wait to receive the package of XSI Foundation.

Thanx again for all the inspirational and detailed info. :applause:


11 November 2004, 12:53 PM
You seem like having a lot of fun building each of your great components! I wish I can utilize all those useful staff you keep mentioning in here!
Keep it up mate!:)

11 November 2004, 01:25 PM
Excellent modeling man!!! Keep going!

Update! :bounce: Update! :bounce: Update! :bounce:

11 November 2004, 04:23 PM
Excellent work and informative posts too. I really like the "motherboard" look the textures have, Nicely detailed. Displacement could be the way to go for a lot of the geometry you're needing to create.

If I think of anything that could help you out on the xsi front I'll post it up.

Best of luck from a fellow xsi'er!

11 November 2004, 04:26 PM
Thanks, Chris! Much appreciated. :-)

11 November 2004, 04:44 PM
This thread continues to give so clever ideas for use of textures! Your last solution for the details inside the cone is really good - makes me get a lot of ideas on how to enrich my own projects - thank you. As a Max user I suppose I can just translate the option for incandescence node to self-illumination slot, right? What I don't quite get is how you can get so good looking results from displacement - or is the surface pattern modeled?

11 November 2004, 04:55 PM
those are some amazing details ure working

u ve been so inspirational and really great for sharing info in so much detail:applause:

11 November 2004, 12:51 AM
I don't want to repeat the others, but it's really all looking extremely well. :thumbsup: And your efforts will certainly make me update my entry ... soon.

What is missing is ... a predator! You know that there's a big predator near every waterhole. :scream: :D

Only I don't know how would you incllude something like that in your composition. :)

11 November 2004, 01:43 AM
hi Michael..
your making really great stuff here.. :thumbsup: i have to say i'm glad to see your using DarkTree here.. i myself am a big fan and inveterate user of this app.. :) may i ask you why don't you use DarkTree shaders directly but preffer printed out bitmaps? doesn't it better for such high resolution images use procedural shaders instead of bitmap maps? all the more you have to create shaders anyway..

well.. great job in any case.. your models look very impressive..:thumbsup:

all the best and cheers..

11 November 2004, 03:04 AM
Hi, Paul,

Thanks for the thumbs up! I can certainly explain the DarkTree issue, since it's an app-specific problem:

Unilke the other simbiots, the simbiot for XSI was a one-man labor of love ... and apparently (as noted on xsibase) that man died of a heart attack this past summer -- before he could iron out some problems with the mental ray integration. As a result, you can use the procedurals for color and displacement, but last I'd heard there was no way to generate a bump map with the DarkTrees unless you render out a map and simply apply it as a regular texture. Now, this may be really frustrating, but there's one advantage: complex procedurals tend to produce an annoying and problematic flicker in mental ray sequences, so you're probably going to get a better result by *not* doing a DarkTree as a procedural. The other advantage of rendering out a texture before applying it is that there are some PS filters that aren't of a helluva lot of use for most things ... but *do* happen to work some pretty neat magic for textures (plastic wrap, glowing edges, and so forth). I've found it very helpful to be able to massage the DarkTree bitmaps in Photoshop and then bounce the results back and forth between the shader networks and Photoshop to fine-tune the map. With the render region in XSI, I can test an inch or two of "final" output and tweak to my heart's content ... or until my eyes implode, whichever comes first. :-)

One other thing about the bitmaps: for high-res images, you can simply render out an absolutely HUGE bitmap (I've gone as high as 8K x 8K, or approximately 256 Mb, and have no doubt you can go even higher) and apply it as a "memory-mapped" texture.

To quote the manual (p. 208 of the Shaders .pdf, for those who want to read up on the subject):

"When a texture is memory-mapped, it means that the texture is never loaded into memory. Instead, it is accessed directly from disk whenever a shader uses it. When used properly, memory mapped textures can speed up rendering considerably.

"For example, if a scene and its textures are large enough that they don't fit into physical memory (RAM), loading a non-memory-mapped texture means loading the file into memory, decompressing it, and copying it out to swap (the disk partition that acts as a low-speed extension of the system's RAM). From then on, the texture is accessed from the swap.

"If you use memory-mapped textures in the same situation, the 'read-decompress-write' step is eliminated and the textures are accessed from the file system instead of from the swap; therefore, less space is needed. In other words, instead of accessing the entire texture, mental ray only accesses the parts that it needs to access to render a given tile."

There's a handy little PS script that enables one to convert a .bmp or .psd to a .map file and then export directly to the folder you've got your textures in, so the whole process can be made pretty simple.

Anyway, Paul, those are the reasons for the convoluted workflow. It's really not as bad as it sounds. :-)

11 November 2004, 03:14 AM
Whoa, nice detail with your models. I'm no XSI user, but I sure can appreciate good work when I see it! Cheers


11 November 2004, 03:26 AM
Erlik: Wrong type of "waterhole," I'm afraid. :-) Actually, I'm playing off of the notion in SETI that the best place to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations is in the fequency band between 1420 (the emission frequency of hydrogen) and 1662 MHz (the emission frequency of the hydroxyl -- or OH -- molecule) -- which roughly corresponds to the quietest part of the electromagnetic spectrum. I chose this as the name for the Trade Alliance's big exploratory outpost to imply that the twelve species which comprised the Alliance had discovered each other via a search for tell-tale "signals from space." For more on the subject -- Frank Drake's "Water Hole" hypothesis -- see the following site:

As for putting aliens in the scene, well ... still some time to go in the contest. :-)

11 November 2004, 04:07 AM
thanks for explanation Michael.. i really didn't know that simbiont doesn't support bump mapping in the XSI.. i personally don't use Mental Ray.. i preffer default scanline renderer in the max.. it's fastest renderer and still can give good output with proper setup.. also i don't use advanced lightings and preffer to "paint" with lights and shadows.. but complex procedurals produce flickering in any renderer because of antialiansing.. to solve this problem i use Surface Distance external component.. and sure you can use bitmaps very successfully but many great features like 3D mapping are missing in this case.. i think DarkTree is very flexible tool and allows to produce any kind of shaders of any complexity..

ok.. i won't discourage you anymore.. all the more you can't use bumps.. :scream:
one more time i want tell you that your work is outstanding and wish you good luck!

cheers mate.. :beer:

11 November 2004, 04:10 AM
Keetmun: Thanks! I'm slow getting some new stuff posted as I'm currently trying out some techniques for doing the edge of Waterhole Alpha's main platform and haven't been satisfied with the results thus far. Hopefully by Thursday ...

Pinnamraj: While the CG Challenge is, indeed, a contest (with some really fabulous prizes), I think the main point for most of us is simply to share what we've been trying, get help, support and inspiration where we can find it, and come away feeling like we've improved our skills, made new friends, and added something worthwhile to our portfolios. I've benefited sooooo much from others in XSI community -- and here -- taking the time to share their professional expertise and tips that adding a few explanatory notes here and there seems like the *least* I can do. And if it has helped you shave a few minutes off a project, or add an extra tool to your arsenal, or get that "second-wind" in the middle of the night ... hey, that's what it's all about. :-) I'm sure I'm going to learn a great deal about working with SSS when you get going on those creatures of yours!

Gunilla: You're quite welcome! It's been awhile since I've dipped into Max -- I've got 4.2 on my old NT workstation -- but I think almost everything I've done is easily repeatable in Max. As for displacement ... no, the texturing is a combination of bump mapping and actual geometry. The base layer of the component is a NURBS-to-mesh conversion that's been divided into clusters -- particularly near the base -- to allow a relatively even texture projection without the need for unwrapping the mesh. Next, I selected a batch of polygons on the surface -- about a quarter of the total surface at a time -- and used the "extract polygons (keep)" command, which basically cloned that portion of the surface, allowing me to subvide the extracted polys so I could "paint" a texture by selecting a pattern of them that roughly approximates a circuit board. Next, I used the "solidify" script to extrude the selected patterns a very small amount, and then applied enough levels of subdivision in the geometry approximation panel that the extruded blocks became this smooth "displacement-like" effect rising from the underlying geometry. Let me tell you: it renders MUCH faster than any highly-detailed displacement map would, and I can fine-tune the shader (in this case, a Phong shader, while the bump-mapped cone beneath is a Blinn) or even add selective textures.

Hope that explains things better!

11 November 2004, 10:29 AM
Man I really appreciate all the effort you're giving in this contest and it's always a pleasant surprise visiting your thread one time for eye-candy and the other on technical information!:thumbsup: Appreciation and respect man!
I'll try getting and testing as much as I can, improving and sharing. :)

(Sorry if it's kind of off topic post)

11 November 2004, 11:27 AM
While the CG Challenge is, indeed, a contest (with some really fabulous prizes), I think the main point for most of us is simply to share what we've been trying, get help, support and inspiration where we can find it, and come away feeling like we've improved our skills, made new friends, and added something worthwhile to our portfolios. I've benefited sooooo much from others in XSI community -- and here -- taking the time to share their professional expertise and tips that adding a few explanatory notes here and there seems like the *least* I can do. And if it has helped you shave a few minutes off a project, or add an extra tool to your arsenal, or get that "second-wind" in the middle of the night ... hey, that's what it's all about. :-) I'm sure I'm going to learn a great deal about working with SSS when you get going on those creatures of yours!
That's it! Same feeling here, but being a newbie in XSI, on the "other side" (the ones that take advantage instead of sharing because at the moment they have nothing to share, ehm)...

Michael, I sent you a private message to continue the discussion you started on my thread yesterday.

Thanx a bunch.


11 November 2004, 05:32 PM
Next, I used the "solidify" script to extrude the selected patterns a very small amount, and then applied enough levels of subdivision in the geometry approximation panel that the extruded blocks became this smooth "displacement-like" effect rising from the underlying geometry.
Hope that explains things better!
Thanks for clearifying - and thanks for not doing that with displacement - I was almost on the edge of tossing my Max license through the window there for a while... Kidding aside, I really think I'll have to check out XSI later on - your work makes me tempted in trying new tricks, not that I've in no ways reached the limits of Max trying a new app can sometimes be stimulating, and oh, so frustrating!
Just keep on posting :)

11 November 2004, 10:46 PM (

Starting to examine ways of unleashing the power of procedurals, thanks to the inspiration of Paul Gulianelli's wonderful DarkTree work. (If you haven't seen Greentek's planet procedurals, you owe it to yourself to check out his Space Opera thread -- it's just outstanding use of the technology, and better than any of the examples you'll find on Darkling Simulations' own web site.) Anyway, I'm still slogging away on the details of Waterhole Alpha and the jump gate, but will post my implementations of recent texture work as they become available.

11 November 2004, 11:53 PM
hi Michael.. i'm very grateful for such great compliments! although i'm really a bit afraid if i'm able to justify all your praises..:buttrock: thanks my friend.. in fact it's just a few months that i got access to the DarkTree.. i still can't use a quite amount of features this great app has.. so i'm still digging it :)

well.. what a cool thing your making.. with some scarry level of details.. despite the fact that i have no idea how you are going to use it :D it looks really very impressive.. very complex and artificial look.. and i personally watching it can't understand what is modeled and what textured.. it looks very real.. and at the same time very futuristic.. it's simply cutches an eye and attention somehow magically.. outstanding texturing my friend.. :thumbsup: is there any lights inside it? or it's just additive transparency? anyway you achieved a great result..:thumbsup:

i'm very curious what kind of texture you'll do next.. ?!?!
cheers my fiend and keep this great stuff up! :beer:

11 November 2004, 12:16 AM
That's fantastic, to achieve this complexity more with texturing than modeling. And a big thank for showing out even the tries that you labeled "unsuccessful". Very much interesting to see the inner workings.


11 November 2004, 01:23 AM
Paul: There are a couple of excellent DarkTree examples in the gallery over at ( -- "Factory" is pretty jaw-dropping, and the asteroid textures are also excellent -- but, quite frankly, I never knew you could do anything as complex or convincing as the "night cities" procedural until you posted those renders. On XSI Base there was a discussion of how to pull off that kind of thing about a year ago, but it involved multiple layers, NASA textures, and a lot of tweaking to get something that looked good. Like I said -- and many folks have echoed on your thread -- your approach was quite ingenious, and the kind of "case book" example that I would've loved to have seen in the DarkTree manual.

I'm also not surprised that you haven't uncovered *all* the tricks and approaches inherent in the package; like the procedural shader networks in XSI, there are more possible combinations to try out than you could possibly explore in a lifetime. (If you think this is an exaggeration, just read the discussion of computational biologist Stuart Kauffman's attempts to simulate a network of 100 genes in the book "Complexity." If each node had just two possible settings -- "on" and "off" -- and you had a network comprised on 100 of these nodes, there are in fact 2 to the 100th power, or almost exactly one million trillion trillion possible combinations.)

As for the texture/modeling work I posted today, I'll be sure to put up a screen shot of how I intend to use it when I get some more stuff uploaded tonight. First, though, I'm going to put up a visual breakdown of how this effect was achieved. On the cone-like structure I'd done previously, a lot of the detail was modeled since it would receive direct lighting. This new "filler" material will be in recessed panels along the side of Waterhole Alpha, giving the platform the kind of partially-exposed innerworkings feel you get with iMacs and some other industrial design work. Anyway, this will be clearer when I posted the "layout" update.

As you correctly surmised, there *are* indeed a pair of internal lights to help achieve the effect. The lights are also present in ALL of the failed attempts, which just goes to show how much difference a few tweaks in a transparency map can make!

Stefano: The inner workings will be posted very shortly. I think you'll be surprised to see how simple the set-up is. :-)

11 November 2004, 02:41 AM (

Sorry for the poor quality of this JPEG. To fit everything on it and still keep the image below 150K I had to adjust the quality settings lower than I've done with other postings. Fortunately, this is just an informational piece designed to answer a few questions.

11 November 2004, 05:08 AM

Great detail-building technique. Thanks for sharing. Mind if I steal the idea? ha ha.

Have you tried any renders with shadows yet? I'd be interested to know how all of those blocky extrusions cast and receive shadows. To my eyes, intricate details always look best when you can see them casting shadows. It's like it adds more natural texture or something.

Thanks again for sharing.


11 November 2004, 07:49 AM (

Okay, the picture on the right is pretty rough, and completely lacking the little details (pipes, wires, plating ... and the right lighting) that will help meld the more abstract and colorful "techno" with the fairly subdued cone-like structures. I anticipate that it'll take another couple of days to get the melding ironed out ... and there's always the chance (um, strong possibility?) that the final composition I do for the contest will position the camera so differently as to completely obscure these particular details. Nonetheless, I can always use these for portfolio -- and learning -- purposes, so I don't think the effort will wind up wasted.

11 November 2004, 09:35 AM
Keep modeling man! Your work is incredible! I love it! :eek:

11 November 2004, 04:52 PM
I'm picking up some great pointers watching you, your work is also helping me find better direction to pursue. Love your presentation.

11 November 2004, 06:12 PM
One of the things I'm most happy about this whole challenge is to have this thread bookmarked since the very beginning.

What to say? Thanks for all the info. Fab work.



11 November 2004, 09:21 PM
hi Michael..
your making really fantastic stuff.. thanks for very clear and nice explanation.. and i agree with WyattHarris.. very nice presentation..
i'm pretty sure you'll end up with an outstanding image..
untill later and cheers my fiend.. :beer:

11 November 2004, 05:33 AM
Vance: You're *more* than welcome to use -- and refine -- the technique. I haven't actually tested the technique under conditions designed to generate shadows (eg, suspended above another object), since the technique was simply intended to provide a more flexible way of suggesting the kind of complexity you might see if you removed an exterior panel on a spaceship, or had a transparent hull (ala the General Products hulls in Larry Niven's "Known Space" series). I'll test it out tonight; right now I'm taking a break from trying to develop an efficient workflow for producting Fuller Domes. Using the icosahedron primitive and then working with the "inset polygon" command seems faster than attempts to extract edge loops as curves (just too many edges). Anyway, I'll post some "shadow tests" tomorrow. Thanks for the suggestion! :-)

Borro: Thanks! Will keep at it, since there's still a looooong way to go.

Wyatt: Glad to hear the presentation is helpful. I figure a lot of these techniques are so simple they should be applicable across a whole range of apps.

Stefano: Thanks again! I've seen the gallery with your Maya work, so I have no doubt you will shortly be doing some beautiful work in XSI. (BTW, that lake scene is lovely!)

Paul: Thanks! This is the first time I've worked on a hugely complex scene -- it will clearly require multiple renders and extensive compositing, since mental ray has a two million triangle limit, and each one of the cones takes up about 200K -- but it's sort of a "dry run" for the centerpiece animation in my multimedia novel: a flyover of a Malthusean "Afterlife," with several billion souls crammed into a space not much larger than Mexico City.

Peter C.
11 November 2004, 03:41 PM
Truelly impressive progresse there Michael. The procedural build-up you have there is looking excellent. Its a joy to follow! :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 03:40 AM (

A bit of a slowdown in getting stuff posted, but hope to get caught up in the next few days.

11 November 2004, 04:24 AM
hi Michael..
yeah this is the problem we always have to consider.. but i may suggest you to make all test renders in the production resolution.. it seems obvious but i myself often forget to follow this rule.. it's very important for such high resolution images have the scene prepared with nearly end layout so you can always render small areas to check for aliasing and Moire..
but i'm sure you'll solve this prob.. :)
untill later and cheers..

11 November 2004, 05:00 AM
Hi, Paul,

That's an excellent suggestion, and one I'll definitely adopt *now,* while I still have plenty of nights for long render sessions. (You'd think I would've learned from the Alienware contest, where I ran into all sorts of problems with the full-size renders, but I really appreciate you rapping on my noggin and reminding me to "work smart.")

I *did* manage to find a way of doing the dome that keeps the spacing tight but manages to get around the Moire problems, and will post those images in just a few minutes. The real test, though, is how the dome will look when it actually has the generator facility inside and internal lighting. (Cripes, that's going to be no fun at all -- trying to make sure it has the right look will probably mean avoiding "physically accurate" at all costs. I've already given up on using HiperGlass because the diffraction was just plain annoying.)

Oh: like you anticipated, I didn't have a lot of luck with using fine displacement as a substitute for the non-functional DarkTree bump functions in XSI. Haven't exhausted the possible workarounds, but will have to put off a more complete testing until I've completed more of the space station. Anyway, you *did* warn me. :-)

11 November 2004, 05:03 AM
:) Very nice design:)
Keep it up! want to see more updates
........................:thumbsup: ......................

11 November 2004, 05:06 AM
Are u some kind of Rocket scientist? :buttrock:

11 November 2004, 05:26 AM
if in some case you'll need bump maps from the DarkTree shaders you can post them to me.. i'll render them out and post you back bitmaps (i have ftp up to 100Mb)..

as for "physically accurate" renders your right.. it's better forget about them in this project..
i personally almost never use neither advanced lighting nor fancy renderers (if it's needed i preffer FRender (for it colorfulness) to other renderers including mental ray.. but sure mental ray is extremely powerful (and the best i think) renderer).. they are very time consuming and images look somehow soulless..

11 November 2004, 05:39 AM (

Refinements to the dome, which will be located beneath the jump gate itself. In a sketch I previously posted to show the placement of the cone details, the generator dome appears as a squished spheroid, though I'm thinking now of going with a regular sphere and just lowering the dome's placement relative to the main slab of Waterhole Alpha. (I can always add more mechanical detail to the underside of the space station to balance the look.) There are other possibilities which I will also explore, since I now have the method of generating Fuller domes down to a science and can turn even a highly-faceted one out in under thirty minutes.

11 November 2004, 06:50 AM
hehe.. it looks like i'm gettig older.. posting some stupid messages.. hehe.. very smart to offer you render out bitmaps.. :D damn.. i think i'm really working too much :buttrock:.. need some rest from any activities including challenge.. :)

don't pay attention mate..
cheers.. :)

P.S. i'm dealling with the same Moire problem as you.. i'm sure you saw it in my thread.. but have to wait until i'll prepare main layout to check it again.. in high resolution meny artefacts will render fine..

11 November 2004, 05:15 PM
Your tests for the generator dome is really interesting ( I'm not surprised :-))
Are you going to use all geometry for the stuff inside or just bitmaps?
Very cool to use actual geometry for the lattice - I'm sure it will payoff in the final rendering.

I'm applauding every step in this ;)

11 November 2004, 05:36 PM
Gunilla, I'll be using geometry for the contents of the generator dome -- I just went with a texture on one of the tests to get an overall sense of whether a slightly opaque look wouldn't improve the dome. (With a dense lattice, a lot of internal detail starts to become just a bunch of visual noise, so I really would prefer to "hint" at a lot going on inside without have one detail piled on another.) Anyway, a slightly opaque dome, solid geometry, and a couple of low-illumination point lights within the dome should give the right effect. Hope to have a "final" draft of the dome posted by tonight.

11 November 2004, 09:09 AM
Hello there Michael! Really curious on how you imagine the dome's internal. :)
Trying to follow all those hints you keep mentioning in every post but it's kind of hard for me to manage all this info.

Keep us updated :wavey:

11 November 2004, 01:09 PM
Stefano: Thanks again! I've seen the gallery with your Maya work, so I have no doubt you will shortly be doing some beautiful work in XSI. (BTW, that lake scene is lovely!)

Thanks a lot, Michael. Coming from you, it's a great boost and encouragement! :)

I keep on memorizing everything you post in this thread, the workouts and the explanations. Still waiting for my Foundation to arrive (hope it will be in tomorrow). Apart for the useful bits you're putting in this thread, I like a whole lot the way it's coming out. The details and the attention you're putting in it will make it a great entry.

I didn't know about the 2,000,000 triangle limit in MR, can you tell me more about it? (if you have time, of course).


11 November 2004, 01:54 PM
Man I'll keep an eye on this thread.
Great models and full rating

11 November 2004, 02:46 PM
Hi Michael, you've got a wonderful entry here:thumbsup: U use XSI? It's becoming more popular, isn't it? I see u make awesome things with it....
...especially the details are amazing...and i love your presentation to show the stuff:applause:

Keep on doing this way...Bravo!

11 November 2004, 12:10 AM
hi Michael..
updates !!! folk is waiting for updates !!! :)
and btw why did you remove the link to your thread from signature???
cheers mate..

11 November 2004, 01:51 AM
Hi, Paul,

Updates are coming. :-) Got slowed down on things because of some slow test renders, a couple of texture problems that had to be ironed out, a bit of experimentation with the generator itself, and a separate layout project that I was doing for a friend. Also, I spent most of yesterday downloading planet textures from the best site in the solar system for that sort of thing:

Really, really great stuff for building convincing planets with, since the textures are often of extremely high resolution.

Anyway, like I said, I'll get some updates posted soon -- probably either late tonight or midday tomorrow.

Oh, and concerning the link to my thread: I'm afraid I never had one attached to my signature in the first place. :-) I'm sure there are instructions for how to do this somewhere on the site, since so many people have managed to do this, but I haven't gone searching for it and will probably wait until I get more updates posted before searching for this. Anyway, thanks for your concern -- I assure you this isn't an indication that I'm bowing out. Far from it. :-)

11 November 2004, 02:25 AM
Sascha: Thanks! Yes, this is all done in XSI, though I make liberal use of some modeling tools that are "addons" for the package. It's becoming more popular thanks largely to the price reductions over the past few years. Back in 1999, Softimage 3D/Extreme was retailing for around $18,000 US, and XSI 1.0 was introduced in the summer of 2000 with a price tag of about $12,000. Suffice to say, when XSI Foundation came on the market at $495 US -- roughly what Softimage was selling standalone mental ray licenses up till then -- the number of XSI users has skyrocketed.

Michal: Thanks! Your thread is looking pretty sharp, too!

Stefano: Now that your package has arrived, I'm sure you're going to have a great time unlocking the potential of the program. Like I've said before, the manuals just scratch the surface of what can be done. And if you ever feel like you've exhausted the capabilities of the program ... well, there's always Houdini if you want to *really* blow your mind. :-)

Mike: How do I imagine the interior of the dome? Mmmm ... I think the safest answer is: differently than I did when you wrote that question! :-) Seriously, Mike, I've tried out a number of different generators and lighting schemes and still haven't found any approach I really like. The big problem is the "visual noise" factor -- what happens when you view something through the latticework. So I *may* have to opt for an opaque dome and some internal lights to imply there's something interesting inside, because every "solid" attempt thus far has just looked way too busy.

Anyway ... I'm working on it! :-)

11 November 2004, 02:36 AM
Hello Michael, I had many troubles trying to find your thread, Until I realized you are Michael Crawford, (i remember naming you Rav4) lol, sorry about that, you can add your thread's addresse in your signature the same way you did with that awsome site from NASA, so it would be easier to see your work and share comments!

I used softimage 3.2 a lot of time ago, and it was cool, haven't tryed XSI but it seems is always an excellent choice

Well Michael, i appreciate your visits to my thread, I've got very usefull comments from you, and promise u to keep a closer eye on yours, i really like your idea of the travel portal and your models and texturing are also superb!

Waiting to see your updates pal! and keep going

11 November 2004, 02:58 AM
I assure you this isn't an indication that I'm bowing out. Far from it. :-)
hehe.. i'm also far from such thoughts..
simply when you were posting your updates often there was no probs to find your thread :-) but now when i tried to check whats new here and didn't find link in your signature i was forced to open my subscriptions and search your nick through a lot of others.. no probs for me but i'm sure many ppl won't do that..

11 November 2004, 07:02 AM
Finally some activity in this thread!
Just want to agree with greenteks request - the people want some updates here!
:) ... just kidding, don't rush it - I'm sure it will be worth waiting for, good luck!

11 November 2004, 12:25 PM
Stefano: Now that your package has arrived, I'm sure you're going to have a great time unlocking the potential of the program. Like I've said before, the manuals just scratch the surface of what can be done. And if you ever feel like you've exhausted the capabilities of the program ... well, there's always Houdini if you want to *really* blow your mind. :-)
LOL, no way I'm going to blow my mind more than it already is... :-)

Jokes aside, I'm really, really impressed by the sheer quantity of learning materials. I'm halfway thru the Fundamentals, and I've already discovered at least 1,000 better ways to approach the Grand Space project. I guess I'll stay behind for another week or so, watching DVDs and reading Docs and trying Tuts, then maybe I'll have some clearer idea.

Following your thread from the beginning, I was really impressed by the vastness of the RenderTree, and (as you already know), your explanations were (and are) really useful to say the least. I already started to explore the possible connections, I'm only trying to not get overwhelmed by the range of possibilities...

Then, I join the chorus for updates... :beer:


11 November 2004, 03:29 PM
hey man, u got some amazing ideas goin on... keep it up.. i'll b droppin by later for updates

11 November 2004, 07:19 PM
Man you work in the contest is really amazing sorry about not be here in your progress , but im back and i see your last updates . the material aproach is excelent and is great that you are putting a lot of information about the subject .

You are doing a great job Nuclear.:thumbsup: :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 11:51 PM (

Hi, folks! Sorry for the delay in getting new work posted. Unfortunately, this feels more like a step backward than forward progress: having never done a Fuller Dome before, I was unprepared for the complex interplay of the latticework, diffraction, reflection, and other things which complicate the issue of what does -- and doesn't -- work when placed inside the dome. Early drafts of the generator didn't look particularly interesting, so I finally opted to try a magnetically-contained plasma fireball as the centerpiece and "sketch" in the surrounding details with simple geometry and complex textures, as I've done with other parts of the scene. *Sigh.* Doesn't work in this particular case, so it's back to the drawing board.

11 November 2004, 12:33 AM
Hi Michael, Just a thought and please excuse me if you've already thought of it. Or if it's a dumb idea as from the skilled level of your modeling I'm just still crawling!!! I was wondering if you reduced the small geometry of your dome lattice as in the smaller trianglular sections within th emain lattice work. Maybe that would help in reducing the visual noise. As I said just a thought and to be honest I'm overwhelmed by your skill and level of detail that your putting into your models.
Keep up the fantastic work and I look forward to future updates.


11 November 2004, 12:50 AM
Alex, thanks a bundle for the input! I sometimes bang my head against the wall of a problem when what I should really do is go back a step and test out modifications at an earlier point. Although I wanted to go with the additional layer of latticework for engineering reasons (if we assume the dome to be several hundred feet across, you're not likely to get such wide spacings as the outer portion), it's certainly not helping the look -- and, ultimately, visual elegance has to win out in the end. I've already had to abandoned any attempt to use physically-accurate glass shaders because I was getting almost prismatic diffraction, so it's probably no big thing to fudge the lattice spacing.

Anyway, many thanks for the suggestion; I'll import an earlier version of the dome into the scene and see if that doesn't prove to be the solution. :-)

11 November 2004, 08:18 AM
Michael - Perhaps you already tried this, but how would it look if you had only parts of the dome as see through? You could use the latice for some defined areas where the details would come through and the other parts could be either blurred or covered with another geometry.
I understand your concearns - right now it seems to have to much details to make the individual parts visible.
I really like the edge of the dome- the circuitboard geometry turning up here and there will be a great way to keep the final image together. Keep up that amazing work you do!

11 November 2004, 11:52 AM
Hi, folks! Sorry for the delay in getting new work posted. Unfortunately, this feels more like a step backward than forward progress: having never done a Fuller Dome before, I was unprepared for the complex interplay of the latticework, diffraction, reflection, and other things which complicate the issue of what does -- and doesn't -- work when placed inside the dome. Early drafts of the generator didn't look particularly interesting, so I finally opted to try a magnetically-contained plasma fireball as the centerpiece and "sketch" in the surrounding details with simple geometry and complex textures, as I've done with other parts of the scene. *Sigh.* Doesn't work in this particular case, so it's back to the drawing board.
I see what you mean, but nonetheless the sheer quantity of details one can imagine when viewing the picture is fantastic. I can't be of no technical help here, but, as a simple onlooker, I'd say that the fireball solution is quite good and dramatic enough. Much depends on where the Dome will be in the final composition. If it will be a center piece, I agree that you have to find another way to depict the complexity, but if it's middle-ground you already have something worth in your hands.


11 November 2004, 12:51 PM
hi Michael..
somehow i missed your last post with generator dome :shrug:
well i think it's pity to do not show all this beautiful small parts of dome on the foreground..
if you somehow can find a way to place it so it's partially visible on very close up and rest part goes further and deeper in the scene would be great.. though i have no idea how to make it and can't suggest anything..

11 November 2004, 03:52 AM
I allways when comming to your thread want to make a helpfull crit, but I just can't find what to crit! :shrug: you are doing an outstanding job here, :)

11 November 2004, 06:48 AM (

It's been awhile since I've worked with particles in XSI, and this is really my first time working with them in 4.0. A couple changes I've noticed: while there are now particle goals, and a lot of upgrades in the ability to tweak simulations, one thing seems to be missing (!) -- the ability to just freeze a particle cloud and then perform deformations on the frozen cloud. If that control is still there, I'm not sure where it's hiding; I couldn't find it mentioned in the manual.

I also got a nasty shock with some renders which placed a light inside the particle cloud to simulate the light coming from the plasma ball: horrendous red blotches on the "containment cage." I'll have to experiment with turning the shadow-casting feature off, but at the moment I'm a bit dismayed to have no way to boost the light coming from the plasma ball that doesn't produce artifacts. I must be missing some key bit of information, as this seems like the kind of bug that would be caught in beta.

Anyway, I'm headed for another long night of rendering, and will no doubt try out some different containment devices, as this one was repurposed from an early experiment in designing components for the Waterhole station.

11 November 2004, 09:28 AM
Nice imrovements since I last visited your thread. I can also see that there is a problem with the dense latticed dome. The fusion core is shaping up great, I wish I had a suggestion on your illumination problem! One thing I could do in Max is up the illumination of the plasma sphere material and make the sphere react in only one light source (excluding it from all the others both receiving and casting shadows), without any visual impact because the sphere already is a light source.... (Perhaps it's not what you want!!)

Keep it up! Always inspiring and eye-candy! :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 11:52 AM
Excellent work you did here!! :bounce:
Nice modeling, and texture.
And the test with the particule, is very amazing!!
Waiting to see more.

Keep going!! You make very nice work!!:buttrock:

11 November 2004, 12:23 PM
that looks really promising!
Can't wait to see the core in context!

good luck with that particle lighting problem!

11 November 2004, 01:54 PM
The blotches are the light filtered through the particles so they act as a gel? Turning the shadows off wouldn't fix that, right? Can you lower the refraction of the particles to zero and increase their transparency? That might make the blotches at least smaller.

OTOH, it might easily be that I have no idea what I'm talking about. :D

But it still looks good. :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 07:26 PM
hi Michael..
i don't know how it's in XSI but in max you can use feature called Snapshot.. it converts your particles to the mesh.. but i may suggest you to use object shap as particles emiter and set particles speed to zero.. by changing the shape of the object you'll change actual shape of particles system.. but i think to simulate plasma ball it's better to use few spheres containing each other and texture them properly.. also you'll need to make some post glow effects (kind of electric and gaseous) for each sphere.. unfortunately i don't know how to explane it more clear and exactly how it works in XSI..
for lighting you should remove shadow casting from the light illuminating plasma ball from inside and exclude illumination of other objects except plasma ball.. and you need another light inside ball simulating illumination of the ball but in this case you have to exclude plasma ball itself from illumination.. for proper shadows just map light..
hop you can understand through my horrible english what i'm trying to explane.. :D

11 November 2004, 07:57 PM
Paul, you're absolutely right: although I'd been using the sphere with the sun texture as the emitter, I can certainly use a separate texture-mapped sphere for that, set the visibility of the sphere itself to zero, and use shape jitter to get the variation in the particle depth ... but I'm still at a loss as to why Softimage would remove the "freeze cloud" control! When I was using particles to do some Saturn-type rings a couple of years back, I was able to build up some really dense, finely-grained rings by running a simulation to the pointed where I was happy with a layer, freezing the simulation at that point, and then simply duplicating and rotating the frozen particle cloud to get the effect I was after. To not be able to do that in 4.0 strikes me as very odd, so I'm sure I'm just missing something in how they've modified the workflow in the simulation module. (The "freeze cloud" control was at the very top of the particle controls in previous versions of XSI.)

I'm only using frame 13 of the simulation, but it's still bothersome to have to crank through the calculations to get to that frame each time I load the scene. Maybe I should look in the operator stack for a solution.

Anyway, I can try the "multiple sphere" approach, since that avoids the problem with using more than one light in the scene, and I can always try incorporating a layer of the "cigarette smoke shader" to get a translucent gaseous effect on the outside of the nested spheres, but I was trying to use particles because I was going to incorporate some addition tendril-like emitters so that the plasma seemed to swirl up towards the ball. It's all doable with transparency and textures, but it's very cool to run simulations 'cause then you can actually see the effect in action. *Sigh.* Anyway, I'll go ahead and post the render that has the artifacts in it just so everyone can see what I mean.

Thanks again for the suggestions -- it's extraordinarily helpful to get this kind of input when I'm having problems like this. Thumbs up! :-)

11 November 2004, 08:11 PM
Vlatko, that was my first thought: when the light was filtering through the particles it wasn't picking up the alpha in the billboards and was thus treating them like gel sheets casting sharply angular colored shadows. The thing is, they -- the particles -- are only supposed to cast shadows on each other with the way things are set up. The self-shadowing is needed because otherwise there's no illusion of depth or delineation between the particles, resulting in a look that's even flatter than what you get when you simply texture the sphere with no bump, no transparency, etc. So ... I tried moving the second light outside the cloud, but *still* got the artifacts appearing all over the glass -- even on the side that technically shouldn't have been affected! I'll try using a Lambert shader for the containment cage and see whether this bizarre problem is simply a byproduct of the glass shader / particle interaction, or whether it's definitely a mental ray bug.

BTW, I don't have control over the refraction level because this isn't using the "blob" shader, which is used for fluids (I *could* try the fluid simulator, but the render times for the fluid shaders, which work similarly to metaballs, used to be horrendously long -- I'm not sure about how it is with mental ray 3.3 though).

11 November 2004, 08:25 PM
Mike: Thanks! I'll test out changing what can receive shadows and see if that solves the problem. Ideally, I'd like to simply have the particles all give off illumination and simply dispense with additional sources, but I suspect that kind of simulation would bring the supercomputers at Los Alamos to their knees! :-)

Lombardo: Thanks again! I'll trade you my particle and illumination problems for your color adjustment troubles. :-)

Lehmi: Many thanks for the support! I'm dying to see this work properly, since I've seen internally-lit latticework models in films and the effect can be really beautiful. The catch is that those models were made of "real" components: thousands of custom-molded platic and resin bits and pieces, with real lights, hundreds of yards of wiring, and a team of technicians all working to get things to come out just right. You wouldn't happen to have a spare fx team you could loan me? ;-)

11 November 2004, 08:52 PM
The regular Freeze button (the one you use for everything else) works for particles too. Just go to the frame you want to freeze and Edit->Freeze.

11 November 2004, 09:11 PM
You wouldn't happen to have a spare fx team you could loan me? ;-)
damn, there was one ringing my doorbell this afternoon... If I had known that you're in need of it... now I have send them home :(

well, it's against the contest rules anyway... but next time i'll probably give them your adress ;)

11 November 2004, 09:45 PM
gent_k: Thanks! Much appreciated!

11 November 2004, 06:39 AM
The plasmaball is comin nicely - I really like the "cage" for it. With 30.000 particles it sounds like you're beginning to get into trouble with render times, right? :)

I'm beginning to loose touch with where you are in the final composition - have you got any updated renders for the final image?

excellent work as ususal, just keep going!

11 November 2004, 06:50 AM
:eek: Man! now I know where your avatar comes From!! :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 02:41 AM (

Gunilla: In answer to your question, I *have* been playing around with layouts and how to present the scene, but so much is dependent upon how the pieces actually look together. (Yes, I realize that careful planning would probably help me avoid wasted effort, but I've found that it's one thing to have a clear vision in your mind, and another to make the renders come out the way you want them to.) I have a LOT more experience doing ad copy and advertising layout than designing complex 3D scenes, so when push comes to shove and I find that final deadline fast approaching, I'm liable to jetison those things that aren't working and go for a more pared-down look -- which will probably bring me closer to "iconic" but will surely represent pragmatism winning out over ambition. I'm experimenting with techniques and stylistic effects and just getting more familiar with aspects of XSI to learn how to use, rather than being "linear" and directed towards a set goal.

Anyway, your remarks got me to actually try out a few simple layouts with the pieces at hand, and what I quickly learned was that the more I left out, the more I liked what was on screen. That's not going to stop me from trying to complete a useable model of the Waterhole Alpha space station, but it does remind me of the old adage that sometimes "less is more." :-)

So until I get more of the details whipped into shape, here's my "best guess" of how I'll be lining up the pieces. Earlier today I rendered one of the drafts of the Kahir Scout Ship pointing towards the jump gate and the camera positioned so it was close to the hull and sighting down the "body" of the ship towards the gate. Unfortunately, I didn't get the lighting adjusted right; as a result, the ship looked a bit washed out, so I dropped it from this image in favor of a "movie poster" approach.

11 November 2004, 02:48 AM
Omar, if I recall correctly, the avatar is a picture of one of the Johnson Island hydrogen bomb tests from the late 1950s. I used the picture for a t-shirt design about a decade ago -- hence the handle, "Nuclearman." You might be amused to learn there was actually an atomic bomb test as the Nevada Test Site that was code-named "Climax." Lots of great pictures of that one available on the internet. :-)

11 November 2004, 03:02 AM
hi Michael..
and how to get it?
are you going to use poster style?

11 November 2004, 03:14 AM
Paul: Quite possibly ... but another possibility would be to change the dimensions of the space station slightly so it better accomodates a horizontal format. Again, I'm more concerned at the moment with trying to complete the fusion core. Did some experiments with using fluid simulation rather than the standard particles, and discovered a few tricks that I'll be putting to use on the borealis-effect for the jump gate. I will post those discoveries this evening, as I just have to throw together an explanation of what I was trying to do and the screen caps are good to go. :-) However, I got completely sidetracked by the new effects and didn't push through a solution on the fusion core. Aaargh! I'm so easily distracted.

11 November 2004, 03:48 AM
well horizontal format is not prob.. in some cases it has advantage.. probably i'll be forced to use protret layout as well.. but i'm asking about general style..
sorry mate but i didn't think poster style is right choise to follow..
i think you have to rethink your compositional tasks and invent more expressive way to represent your idea..
but sure i'm getting properly what you meant..

11 November 2004, 04:09 AM
Paul, if you look at the original concept "sketches" everything was horizontal, and if I get the space station done to where I'm satisfied with it, I'll certainly position the camera where I can take full advantage of the effort that's been invested. It's just that I haven't tested the fluid-simulation "solution" for the gate effect any other way but straight on -- it was 2 a.m. when I started getting some really interesting results with the fluid approach, and all I was concerned with then was see which textures worked best -- and so any layouts incorporating a draft of the gate effect would have to be straight on. The problem was, none of the horizontal layouts looked particularly interesting because I'm still missing too much of the Waterhole Alpha space station, so vertical was the only viable option. And who knows? Maybe by the time I have to put together a set of final renders I'll opt for "diagonal" rather than either horizontal or vertical!

11 November 2004, 04:21 AM
ok.. ok.. i see.. two times i was wrong.. first i didn't understand properly what you were talking about.. and the second is when i accidentally wrote "horizontal format is not a prob" instead of "vertical".. so i get it loud now.. :)
sorry for confusing you.. :)

11 November 2004, 04:44 AM
Wow - great stuff! I just wanted to post so I can add another congratulatory post and more easily keep an eye on this thread! Very inspiring!


11 November 2004, 04:58 AM
rare textures, i like em... i like em a lot :)

11 November 2004, 05:31 AM
Omar, if I recall correctly, the avatar is a picture of one of the Johnson Island hydrogen bomb tests from the late 1950s. I used the picture for a t-shirt design about a decade ago -- hence the handle, "Nuclearman." You might be amused to learn there was actually an atomic bomb test as the Nevada Test Site that was code-named "Climax." Lots of great pictures of that one available on the internet. :-)
Very interesting, So you see, there is some kind of interconection around, LOL, good job anyway, but you forgot the phrase:


11 November 2004, 06:01 AM
Very interesting, So you see, there is some kind of interconection around, LOL, good job anyway, but you forgot the phrase:


<-- removed dead links -->

11 November 2004, 07:01 AM
Ahh, nice Movie Poster!
<kidding> But since we're all eager for details may I suggest you add a bunch of closeups in filmstrips so you can fit absolutely everything in? </kidding>
"Less is more" can be a very useful thing to remember, even if it can be painful... "kill your darlings" can be even more so :-)
So you're an ad man? I would never had guessed.

Your approach is certainly the best when it comes to learn and discover new things - and a good thing this challenge is set over enough time so you can make it. Can't imagine how many hours you and others might have spent on this so far. This is one of the best schools I've attended in a long time.

I've found that it's one thing to have a clear vision in your mind, and another to make the renders come out the way you want them to

Amen to that. And then there is all the things that doesn't come out the way you want but still are interesting enough to follow .... Looking forward to the next chapter - you're doing great!

11 November 2004, 09:34 AM (

Had to shut down for a couple of hours due to a very unusual snow storm / thunderstorm (first came the snow, then some very close lightning strikes, forcing me to unplug the workstation), but wanted to get this posted tonight -- another piece of the endless experimentation that's been going on as I try to figure out how to achieve the effects I'm after.

Now that I've got a better idea of what the blob shader can do (the breakthrough came when I checked the tutorials for 4.0 and came across an explanation of how to substitute the blob shader for the regular particle shader, enabling the user to utilize the advantages of that particular shader while having all the emitter control that comes with regular particle simulations), I'm thinking of using it to produce a spaceship by streaming the blobs along the curves that make up a NURBS hull. I suspect I can produce something that way that will look unlike anything else in the competition ('course, I'm waaaaay behind on checking out what everyone is up to, so I could be wrong). Anyway, that's what I've been up to: downloading more deep space NASA image files to try out as textures for the "gate effect," and dreaming up new ways to use the pretty sweet blending of UV texture maps that is part and parcel of the blob shaders. (I've already tried using a fluid simulation to produce a cliffside, and it's a pretty quick and effective way of doing it -- who'd have thought that???)

11 November 2004, 06:21 PM
You have some prety good stuff going on here
I like them, I like them a lot:bounce:

11 November 2004, 06:32 PM
Lombardo: Thanks again! I'll trade you my particle and illumination problems for your color adjustment troubles. :-)
Hehe lol!:)
A lot of problem in this challenge, and i like that!! We can learn lot of thing and "win in experiences"... and your work is amazing, i like too the last test with the gate effect... very cool. :cool:
Keep working on your particule... but i can't help you, friend, i never used XSI :cry: but you work is very cool, i'm sure you'll make a very impressive final image!!

Waiting to update!!! :bounce:

11 November 2004, 08:55 PM
dam i love detail like this. nucking futs.

11 November 2004, 08:55 PM
hi Michael..
the gate effect looks good mate but ithink you choose the most complex way to create it..
i may suggest you to try to use few mesh objects containing each other.. and play with materials incadescant (i'm sure i wrote it wrong but i hope you understand what i mean.. in max it's fall-off) and additive transparency.. believe me you can get amazing results.. just try it.. unfortunately i have no examples but when start making my fireballs (very soon btw) you can see what i'm talking about.. but i'll try to find something to show you..

11 November 2004, 06:19 AM
ok Michael.. i found one example of what i was talking about..

here is very simple scene but i hope you can get idea how good results you can get just using additive transparency and fall-off maps.. unfortunately i don't have a XSI file.. but if you like it i can in few words explane how it works.. but first please take a look at this and tell me what you think.. no particles or post effects used.. just few mesh objects ( more exactly three) nested in each other and standart materials with an additive transparency and fall-off maps..

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11 November 2004, 06:23 AM
now THAT is something I'd like to learn more about!!


11 November 2004, 07:05 AM
Paul, I wouldn't have thought that possible without using particles and then running it through post, or relying on something like Particle Illusion. Very impressive -- and many. many thanks for sharing that with me.

With respect to the "gate effect," the primary reason for posting that test was because the method was actually EXTREMELY fast. There are probably only something like 50 or 60 particles being generated by the circle, and I found that by setting up a floating control panel beside the render region I could try things out in pretty close to real time. Now, that speed slows down considerably if you start pushing up the number of particles utilizing the "blob" (default fluid) shader into the thousands, and throw in a lot of static blur and falloff -- but what got me really excited was that this particle method was a quick alternative to setting up textures in Photoshop and then bouncing back and forth between apps to fine-tune the effects. (Yes, I could've used the procedural shaders in XSI -- marble or vein as the base -- and work up a shader network, but I like the color schemes from the Hubble images so much that I felt inclined to just use those rather than try to recreate them.)

Anyway, I'm currently working on the plasma ball again and finding it much slower going -- not because the method isn't working, but because the number of particles required to get that beautiful falloff makes the render time closer to 30 minutes -- hardly "real time."

I'd love to hear a more complete explanation of how you achieved the "cosmic winds" effect, so I'll post now, get my plasma ball experiments uploaded to my thread, and then check back in.

11 November 2004, 08:00 AM
no probs Michael.. i'm very glad if can somehow help.. this "cosmic clouds" isn't my work.. unfortunately i don't know the name and i don't have a link to this guy who made it (edited: his name is George Polevoy but I still don't have the link) but setup is not complex and i'll prepare one sample file (cos i need it in any way for my plasma fireballs) and will try to show how it works..
btw can you tell me exactly what kind of effect you're trying to achieve? some gaseous or turbulent? from your previous post i noticed pic of supernova or some dying star.. something similar to that?

11 November 2004, 08:05 AM
Paul, I'll send you the reference pics and sample renders from my Hotmail account. The CG Networks server is having problems tonight; Adrian wasn't able to post anything, either.

11 November 2004, 08:42 AM
Hello Michael, the effect is looking good, is like solid and aetheral at the same time. Definetelly your last discussion with Paul made me wanna try out some particle effects for my entry!
I also have the same question as Paul regarding the effect you have in mind, i'll be waiting for updates (gotta run and try some particles...)


11 November 2004, 04:12 PM
It looks interesting

Maybe too too organic but maybe you wanted to do that like it is
I would add some strikes towards or outwards the gate
Just an idea

11 November 2004, 04:19 PM
WOW :eek: Can't believe it! Those are some great FX :)... I wish I could make something like that for my image... but anyway keep it up!!!

11 November 2004, 05:47 PM
hi Michael..
i got your idea about effect..
here are few examples of seamless sun animations i made for one game.. videos are very low quality but i hope you can get a general idea from them.. i think your trying to do something similar.. cos they were made to simulate dense suns i didn't use any fall-off in the textures.. also no particles used.. three spheres inside each other and transparency maps.. curls and glows are 'video post' effects in max.. original files are very high quality.. also using fall-off for sphere's transparency maps will make them look exactly like plasma matter..

i want to finish modeling and texturing my Frigate model first.. i hope to finish them within 3-4 days.. and after that i'll immediatly start making 'Temptation' fireballs..i have absolutely similar task as you so we can try to develop them helping each other.. :)

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11 November 2004, 09:35 PM
Hey Paul - those samples looks great, sorry for hijacking Michaels thread but could you elaborate on how you did the videopost part?

11 November 2004, 01:39 AM
i'm sorry Gunilla, but i can't post original max files cos the game, i made this animations for, is still in development.. but believe me the technique used is very simple.. and i don't want to spend a time for elaborating it cos for sure i'll post a lot of screen shots of WIPs of my plasma fireballs.. some kind of tutorial.. and for them i'm going to use much more advanced and complex technique, including all tips i used for sun animations as well.. just give me a time.. i hope to start making them next week.. i just have to finish Frigate ship..
thank you for your interest and sorry again.. :)

11 November 2004, 03:18 AM (

Yippee! We're back in business! :-) Today I made some huge strides on getting the plasma effect to work properly, but thought I'd go ahead and post the "first steps" in this experiment, so you can see just how much progress I've made today. Getting closer to being happy with it ... and you'll see why shortly.

11 November 2004, 03:35 AM
Wow man this fireball looks really awesome and the way that you explain your experience and your test is great. When this challenge is over , you need to gather all the images that you put in the contest and make some kind of booklet with all your exp, about it .

Keep the hard work and thanks for the support , more updates coming soon in my thread

11 November 2004, 03:53 AM
Paul, I downloaded the Quicktime animations and took a look. They're quite good, and similar to some test animations I made using the "cigartte smoke" and a similar nested-sphere approach a couple of years ago, so I agree completely that your suggestion would be the way to go for an animated sequence -- it would render so much faster than the dense particle version as to make the choice a no-brainer.

I need to go into Photoshop and put together a sample of today's renders, but the really good news is I was able to figure out the right settings to reduce the render time to just a few minutes per image *and* get the swirling particles into the mix. (I also did one rather interesting render with my "Techno HiperGlass" shader network that took about four hours to render due to all the shaders involved, but makes for a rather interesting approach nonetheless.)

Again, many many thanks for all the help and input on figuring out how to make this kind of thing work. I'm sure that once you get around to working on your own plasma fireballs that I'll be able to pick up some invaluable pointers!

11 November 2004, 03:54 AM
Super Mega Cool! Getting there uh?
Getting closer to being happy with it ... and you'll see why shortly. Man! that sounds scary! :scream: :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 03:59 AM
Adrian, I was pretty happy with the edges of the one on the right, but had the "static blur" setting so high that the render time was about thirty minutes (!), and the yellow was almost completely lost. :-( However, I figured out that by generating a LOT of much smaller particles and keeping the blur low -- less blur needed because the particles were smaller -- and the falloff very high (in the 50-60 range) I could get a satisfactorily "diffuse" band along the edges while maintaining better color in the interior portion. Will post those renders in just a few minutes.

11 November 2004, 04:24 AM (

Here are some of today's refinements, working in a particle swirl and testing settings in order to achieve a lower render time.

11 November 2004, 04:53 AM
It was worth waiting your 30 rendering minutes Michael, looks heat! It may be also a good idea to put some outcoming rays
Maybe also "deforming" its shape, I mean maybe more irregular just a bit to give a boiling plasma feeling

This effects looks great, i wonder why i didn't thought in incorporating something like this in my own pic! :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 05:00 AM
looking really great Michael , need to find some spare time to work with particles and see how powerful are in XSI. :thumbsup:

keep rockin my friend

11 November 2004, 05:16 AM
Omar: I will definitely test out some volumic lighting to improve the sense of radiant energy, just haven't gotten around to incorporating that part. And if that doesn't work to my satisfaction, I'll take it into Combustion and massage the image with Trapcode's "Shine" plugin, which is just about the best plugin investment I've ever made. And that's an excellent point about modifying the shape to give it more irregularity; I'll test that out tonight. Thanks!

Adrian: The particles in XSI are sort of a "good news, bad news" thing. The "good news" is that there's a lot you can do with them once you start thinking "outside the box"; the "bad news" is that they're nowhere near as flexible as you'd like them to be as far as connecting other shaders to their nodes. If Softimage can correct that, then they'll be a step closer to having the same kind of procedural flexibility as Houdini's particles. The "blob" shader -- the default shader for fluids -- comes the closest to being able to give really amazing results, as when you combine particles with metaball principles, and then add in the ability to blend textures (this was the thing that impressed me the most), you get something that can be used for constructing really amazing organic shapes in a fraction of the time it would take to model them using conventional means. The one thing that would make this approach tremendously powerful is if you could do something like "convert fluids to mesh." Now *that* would be just awesome!

11 November 2004, 05:47 AM (

More of today's work. I'm now in the process of seeing how the plasma ball looks in the context of various containment vessels. This image is the wireframe for the next render I'll be posting.

11 November 2004, 06:04 AM (

Back to testing containment fields. While I really like this effect, and feel it's probably closer to a "realistic" approach (in that it cuts down enough of the luminous output of the plasma ball that working around it wouldn't be an impossible situation), it does rather defeat the purpose of this exercise by masking what should make for an interesting visual touch. *Sigh.* Perhaps by cutting a "peephole" in the container ...? Well, still time to try out various approaches, now that I've settled on how I'm going to make the rest of Waterhole Alpha make better visual sense. (Yes! I have a plan!) :-)

11 November 2004, 06:13 AM
thanks michael for the explanation about particles .

the last update is perfect , nice colors , textures and shaders. Keep the hard work :thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 07:09 AM
Oh my! Your last updates looks stunning! The plasma ball is spectacular and the containment vessel....Hope you find a way to use it! Perhaps you could make it as wide bars - leaving wide gaps empty?

Really, really good so far - keep it up!

11 November 2004, 02:21 PM
Hi Michael,

Your results are as always very impressive. The mixture between textures and polygons are great. I cant reply often because unfortunatley I cant participate in this work in progress because the content goes to deep into 3d knowledge which I dont have. I just watch wondering.


11 November 2004, 02:29 PM
Michael! I am so in awe at the knowledge and skill you posess in regards to shaders and particles. I especially like the format that you present your work to the rest of us, very informative and inciteful. It's all coming along nicely and thanks again for sharing your thoughts as that's a big help for the rest of us in learning the art that you already master so well.
Keep up the excellent work!

11 November 2004, 10:56 AM
Hey great work so far. The last render looks really good. Keep up the good work.

btw... since you use Darktree ... check this out;action=display;threadid=15579

11 November 2004, 09:32 PM
As expected Michael! :applause:

11 November 2004, 08:34 PM
Adrian: Just found out an unexpected problem with particles last night, as I was testing out a variation of Gunilla's suggestion, and have spent the better part of the last six hours trying to get to the root of what was causing it. In short: once you get past a certain number of particles -- 10,000 perhaps? -- and have more than one light in the scene, with at least one light set to cast shadows, the scene will crash. And not just the normal "XSI has attempted to save your scene" kind of crash; no, the whole program just abruptly vanishes from the screen -- "poof!" Now whether this constant crashing is due to the particular shader I've got applied to the particles (the blob shader) or is a limitation due to the shadow calculations with so many particles, I'm not sure yet. But I thought I should warn you before you try out something like this and end up with a problem.

Gunilla: Will be posting some variations on what you suggested. Thanks for the input; it's always greatly appreciated!

Fahrija: I'm sorry my thread has become more of an app-specific recitation of technical problems rather than artistic exploration, but I'm trying to hone these techniques prior to getting into December, as I will be away from my workstation from December 15 to January 10 (a trip to visit family in Seattle, and also do some more background shoots for my multimedia novel). Hopefully I will be back to the artistic side of things between December 1 and when I take off, for otherwise I'm going to have a terrible time getting a final render in before the deadline. Hope to catch up on what is going on in your thread shortly, and be a better contributer to other discussions once I'm up in Seattle and not so wrapped up in this race against time. :-)

11 November 2004, 08:38 PM
Don't understand a lot with these particule... so i can't help you :cry: ... but i can say one thing : Good work!! It's coming very very nice... keep going!!! :beer:

11 November 2004, 08:52 PM
Alex: Thanks for the words of encouragement! I wish my knowledge of XSI extended well beyond those two areas (shaders and particles), but it's fair to say I've spent a disproportionate amount of time exploring those two aspects of the program. It's a real shame that Phoenix Tools hasn't kept pace with Mental Images, as it would be nice to be able to utilize some of the shaders they wrote for earlier versions of mental ray (oh, the things you could do with the "thin film" and "volume wire" shaders!), but it's certainly wonderful news that there's now a better way of implementing DarkTree in XSI. :-)

Gent_k: Many thanks for the link, but I'd already had a chance to download the new simbiont and spend a few hours testing it by the time you'd posted. :-) My first impressions: it's a HUGE improvement over Felix Gebhart's implementation (nice to finally see working bump maps!), though there's still room for both in the pipeline, as the new version gains bump but loses displacement. Ah, well, it's an early draft, I gather.

Omar: Yes, I am the one-man "infinite number of monkeys"! :-) (Which is to say, if I spend enough time testing out things, I will eventually come up with something interesting.)

11 November 2004, 08:55 PM
Hi, Lombardo! Yeah, you and me both! (Aaaargh!) At least I was able to confirm that the problem wasn't with setting a light in amongst the particles, so I can still fake radiance coming from the blob shaders. Will post the new tests in just a minute, then get back to the larger issue of placing the generator under the dome.

11 November 2004, 09:34 PM
hey Michael! what does that mean mate?
as I will be away from my workstation from December 15 to January 10 you won't be able to work for almost one month??? :eek:
how can you get your project finished in time?! although nothing is more important then family..
but it's very sad to hear you won't be posting your wonderful stuff for a month..
but anyway i think it's better to stop testing stuff all around and start posting some work my friend... :D
keep it up bro and cheers.. :beer:

11 November 2004, 09:58 PM
Yeah, Paul, it's a real disadvantage, but I can still run DarkTree and Photoshop on the little Windows Me system up there so it's not like I can't do *anything* while I'm gone. As long as I get done with most of the modeling before I leave I'll have a fighting chance to put everything together once I get back in January -- even if the final image isn't quite as refined as it would otherwise have been (there's always AFTER the contest for that). The thing is, the ticket was purchased back in September, before the contest was announced, so I had no way of knowing I'd be right in the middle of a project. More importantly, my goal was always to complete the contest and do as well as possible -- ie., produce something I could add to my portfolio -- and I'm on track for that. I'll leave it to the real veterans and outrageously talented students to battle it out for the prizes. (I mean, cripes, I already have a fully-loaded dual-Xeon workstation running XSI Advanced, so unless there's a copy of Houdini 7 up for grabs it's not like I'm going to improve my situation dramatically if I somehow managed to produce a show-stopping piece of work.) :-)

11 November 2004, 10:16 PM
sure Michael.. your right but i think the challenge is the best place to check your skills.. compare it with other very talented guys.. and get most important.. feedback and judgment from public.. so i think you may try to take your beautiful workstation :love:with you.. few years ago i spent 3 months travelling all over europe with my desktop.. :D it was neccessary.. so you may try it as well.. :)
though working only with DarkTrees for a month will give you a huge experience.. you may get back from Seatlle DarkTree guru.. :)
i like Seatlle.. very quiet city.. though a bit rainy.. good place for family.. btw i've never been there.. :D but i think i'm right in my conclusions..

11 November 2004, 10:22 PM (

Yes, I'm still working on the innerworkings of the dome. Since deciding to go with a more symmetrical approach to Waterhole Alpha, it's more important than every to get the details right on the dome (since I'm going to be using three generator domes, not just one). Two more versions to post on this round of renders, then back to dealing with the floor plan of the dome.

11 November 2004, 10:33 PM
Very nice work! I can only advice to add some very small motion blur to those particles under the plasma ball. It would give a nice effect of the flow. Now I don't feel in what direction they are comeing.

Good work, keep it up man:thumbsup:

11 November 2004, 10:35 PM (

It was shortly after completing this render that I encountered problems. I had modeled a "source" for the plasma swirling up into the containment field and had moved a second light into the sources to give a greater sense of the luminance of the plasma ... but every attempt to render resulted in a crash. As a result, I had to strip the scene down and run a series of tests to determine where the problem was. Best guess at this point: some bug involving the calculation of shadows in a scene with a high number of particles. I was VERY concerned that I wouldn't be able to illuminate the plasma stream, which would basically require me to go back to a fully-enclosed container, but it seems the limitations all revolve around the shadow settings on the second light. Turn off "cast shadows" and it renders fine.

Once I determined this, the next thing I tested was adding actual thickness to the "Techno HiperGlass," since I wanted to bump up the illumination to justify the lack of shadows. I will post that test render momentarily.

11 November 2004, 10:57 PM (

Last one in the series, so you can all breathe a sigh of relief. ;-) Yeah, I finally worked out the kinks and feel reasonably satisfied with this compromise approach that doesn't completely cover up the plasma but avoids some of the other render headaches. More importantly, this design should enable me to get the glow I want for the inside of the domes without any unfortunate "side effects." Whew!

11 November 2004, 02:30 AM
read some good advice you gave the guy building the powerplant on the sun -then i saw the tentacles...

last time i looked at your thread, you just had some concept sketches up; happy to see all your hard work, planning and attention to detail is beginning to pay off -such careful lighting, modeling, textures, etc. your work is beautiful -superb quality!

even though i'm not planning on going anywhere near maya, i do appreciate your write ups and step by step progress notes -they really are a big part of the whole 'we're here to learn' concept.

thanks nman,

11 November 2004, 10:23 AM
The last particled render looks good, but I still thing it lucks some luminance and glow on the incoming swirling particles :D , I think it can be easily added in post work. Anyway, keep it up and try to keep that desktop with you in Seattle as Paul adviced! It's quite a time with no workstation...I'll do the same too during christmas holidays!!

Always waiting for more!


11 November 2004, 01:25 PM
Love your latest updates! If any of my comments set you off in this direction, I'm happy. It really looks good.
You're going away without your workstation!?? For almost a month? :banghead: That's really to bad - I hope you still be around here anyway, and that you find enough time to complete when you get back.
Multimedia novel sounds cool, what's that?

11 November 2004, 10:20 PM
Oh, Man! I'm back online and... what a treat for my eyes (and for my struggling XSI learning). I'm liking a whole lot what I'm seeing, and specially all the explanations you're giving out as usual.

I believe you've found a great way to depict the plasma, that last one is really cool and the "tentacles" are adding lot of drama (that, sincerely, I didn't find in the "cylinder-container" previous version).

Your was the first thread I took a look upon as soon as I got my connection back. I've spent this week overloading my synapses with all the learning material that came with 4. Result: I think I'll re-model a couple of things in my entry. :eek:

You just please keep up posting ... :beer:


11 November 2004, 12:43 AM
I think it is a very avantgarde concept... good work!

11 November 2004, 02:10 AM
hi Michael..
i was thinking, thinking and finally decided to post..
well.. honestly i'm not impressed my friend.. :sad: sorry..
i'm sure mate you don't need particles in this case.. they do nothing except raping your wonderful workstation.. no look or feel of plasma.. your loosing details on the great model (sphere).. lighting is loosed as well in my opinion..
maybe i'm not getting a main idea or other something important stuff..
but as i look at it now (honestly) i don't like it my friend.. :sad:
and i'm telling this so unpleasant words cos i'm 100% sure you can make it looking great.. not simply looking good but great!
i may suggest you once again.. try to use simple spheres with complex transparency and fall-off materials.. trust me you'll get much more impressive results then this.. but if you still preffer to use particles you have to use face mapping.. again with complex transparency and noise (in this case your imitating fall-off)..
sorry again mate for harsh crit but i can't and don't want to lie you.. :beer:

11 November 2004, 04:17 AM
Fair enough, Paul; I appreciate your honesty. Since it's not *precisely* the effect I envisioned when I started down this road I'll take a break to catch up on sleep, investigate alternative approaches, and basically decompress. I'd rather take the time to figure out how to do good work than rush and continue to turn out crap. See you back here in a few days!

12 December 2004, 05:27 AM
Hello nuclearman, you've done some excelent models and experiences back there, but I don't see then here! why?... am I blind?

12 December 2004, 09:31 AM
way to go dood:buttrock:

12 December 2004, 09:39 PM
hey Michael..
how are things friend?
you may post your updates later but don't be away for a long time.. we, your fans and friends, are missing your presence..:) your good observations and crits.. and simply you..:)
the best of luck in your XSI researches and cheers my friend.. :beer:

12 December 2004, 03:34 AM
Hi, Paul,

Slowly catching up on sleep, my friend, and undoing the damage to my eyes from too many nights of rendering until 3 or 4 a.m. My eyes were so bloodshot a couple of days ago that I was afraid I might have some kind of eye infection, but the vessels are gradually returning to normal so that's good news.

It's pretty clear by now that I have very little chance of making the deadline, since shipping the workstation to Seattle really isn't an option. (Too expensive, since I'd have to ship the monitor, too, and just not worth putting the system at risk.) Still, once I've had a little more time to recuperate I will probably start posting new progress and checking in on other threads, though not as regularly as before -- my 80-200mm Nikkor lens has arrived and I need to get used to it before heading north. (The thing is an absolute monster, but fortunately I'll be taking a sturdy Manfrotto tripod with it and should get some great shots of Mt. Rainier.)

What else? Oh: I've been studying diagrams of the Princeton tokamak reactor, and have decided *that's* what I really should've been building for the center of the reactor dome. May take some time to get it constructed, but it will give the domes a functional look that's been sadly lacking from my previous attempts. Anyway, that's what is going on here.


Claudio: No, you're most certainly *not* blind -- it's just that I had to break the scene up into several different tasks to make it easier to work with the pieces. All of the earlier modeled stuff is still *there* (elsewhere on the hard drive, if you want to be specific), and will eventually be pulled together in a series of render passes ... oh, probably in April or May, at this rate. (Aaaaagh!)

Ashishdantu: Thanks, dood! (And what's with all this "buttrock" stuff? I thought "buttrock" was what becomes of your gluteals after you sit at the computer too long!)

Penumbrae: Thanks, but I'm afraid any "new" techniques are strictly in the service of some pretty shopworn ideas: the Fuller domes were popular in the SF films of the 1970s, and this "jump gate" stuff is really a mishmash of BABYLON 5 and STARGATE (not to mention a few hundred SF novels of the past forty years).

Stefano: Glad to see you back online! :-) I'm afraid, though, that the "plasma" is a poor substitute for the genuine article. :-( When I did a more thorough investigation -- try Googling "plasma" and "fusion" -- it was clear I wasn't even in the same *time-zone* as the real stuff produced in prototype fusion reactors! Now, on the one hand, this doesn't really matter: no final render is going to carry a caption which reads "fusion reactor" with an arrow pointed to the device. Besides, it's questionable how much of the "reactor" is actually going to be visible in the image.

On the other hand, as Paul has pointed out, it absolutely *does* matter from the standpoint of simulating real-world phenomena. If I try to produce, say, a waterfall, and it doesn't *look* like a waterfall ... well, I've got a problem, right? And right now, after having investigated this further, I'm inclined to say you're not going to get anything approximating "real" plasma with a particle system unless you're in the millions -- if not billions -- of particles, as you get with "Doc" Baily's Spore rendering system. (Perhaps there's a solution involving custom sprites, but I haven't tried *that* approach yet.) So ... that's where things stand. If I build a good tokamak reactor, then it won't really matter *what* the plasma looks like inside, right? ;-)

12 December 2004, 06:05 AM
Would like to see a composition test of all your models in a scene.
Are you going to have some ships entering the jumpgate? I think the
composition/perspective of this scene would be interesting. I think that
could be made with the city/jumpgate closer to the front with a huge ship(s)
emerging. I think you'd get lots of comments/ideas then. Cool work.
I won't read the tiny lettering within the images though. Don't want the
eyestrain. I'd keep the writing outside the image.

My 3D entry (

12 December 2004, 09:16 AM
Michael, glad to hear news from you!:thumbsup:
Speaking of your new camera, I had this idea concerning health and this competition...when I'm about to start texturing I'll spent a WHOLE day wondering around the town I sit in (Patras) taking photos of various staff, drinking some coffee in the morning, taking some lunch at noon, in order to use as'll be a nice break chance...
Just popping some ideas...have fun with the camera anyway!! :bounce:

As for the plasma matter, I think speaking of an extraterrestial civilization with really advanced technology leaves quite a threshold for developing different approaches to generators and mechanics of any type, so the realistic part (always my opinion) is only a WYSIWYG matter....I don't think that you need some human interpretation and technological approach on the plasma reactor.....Maybe that strange civilization uses some "grsdwefsv technology" which produces some amazingly different effect on plasma... (it's fiction all the way)....
Sorry for the extended descriptions on my thoughts of plasma generator......just opinions :shrug:

Hoping to here news and updates as soon as you feel you're ready! :)

12 December 2004, 04:26 AM
Hello Michael! you have done cool but weird updates, i hope you bring all pieces together soon to see how it's going in the whole :bounce:


12 December 2004, 07:19 PM
So ... that's where things stand. If I build a good tokamak reactor, then it won't really matter *what* the plasma looks like inside, right? ;-)
absolutely right statement..! :thumbsup: i can only agree..
cheers my friend.. :beer:

oh.. and congrats with new camera..!!! good news! :thumbsup:

12 December 2004, 02:28 AM
Quote 1: It's pretty clear by now that I have very little chance of making the deadline, [...]

Quote 2: Stefano: Glad to see you back online! :-) I'm afraid, though, that the "plasma" is a poor substitute for the genuine article. :-( When I did a more thorough investigation -- try Googling "plasma" and "fusion" -- it was clear I wasn't even in the same *time-zone* as the real stuff produced in prototype fusion reactors! Now, on the one hand, this doesn't really matter: no final render is going to carry a caption which reads "fusion reactor" with an arrow pointed to the device. Besides, it's questionable how much of the "reactor" is actually going to be visible in the image.


Quote 3: On the other hand, as Paul has pointed out, it absolutely *does* matter from the standpoint of simulating real-world phenomena.
Answer 1: Oh, man, don't say this! Not only your postings are really precious for all the XSI beginners out there like me, but I consider yours one of the most interesting entries of the many I'm following closely. So I'm asking you... if you won't meet the deadline, will you finish the image all the same? I really hope so.

Answer 2: I could agree with you. But (and this involves Answer 3 below) we're talking 3D art here... so, if it's sure that phisical accuracy is really important, on the other hand you just don't *have* to stick to it. My opinion, from a mere aesthetic point of view, was that the particle-plasma you put together was really cool looking. Simple as that. Personally, I tend to give more importance to visual impact, specially in a context (with x or s, it's really the same) like this.

Answer 3: Yes, from that standpoint, I can't but agree with Paul.


12 December 2004, 03:31 AM
Stefano: Hey, just because I'm not likely to make the deadline and not spending as much time on this *doesn't* mean I'm not going to complete my scene. It just means I'm going to take the time and do things *right* -- a better long-term strategy for me -- rather than cut corners just to make a deadline. There are quite a few fairly basic tasks I'm still trying to get the hang of, particularly with NURBS, and a few extra days invested now means weeks saved later down the line, when I'm trying to get complex things put together for my novel.

Besides, I can always use my own site to host a detailed step-by-step on some of the more exhaustive explorations once the Challenge is over. (I just did a comprehensive test this weekend of the various glass shaders and how they interact with HDRI light probes, so if you ever want to see the subtle variations from one shader to the next I can send you the pics.)

Getting back to the issue of "plasma" versus "eye candy": Okay, here's the thing: the "gold standard" for plasma-type effects is "Doc" Baily's work with the Spore rendering system, as demonstrated in Steven Soderbergh's remake of SOLARIS. Spore uses *billions* of particles to produce dancing, billowing, diaphanous effects, and it's really quite breathtaking to behold. Houdini can also do some pretty amazing particle effects (see the opening sequence for CONTACT if you have any doubts), but XSI has never been known for having particularly robust particle tools. That, of course, hasn't stopped me from testing out what can -- and can't -- be done with them. :-) With a powerful enough system, you can generate in the neighborhood of a half-million or more particles without crashing mental ray, but even using the "burn" controls and static blur it's not enough to reproduce anything like the Spore output. The "blob" shader does somewhat better, from the perspective of "eye candy," but I still have to agree with Paul that faking the effects with layers of procedurals and/or texture maps will produce a more convincing result for stills and some animation work. Anyway, I'd love to take the time to explore what you can achieve by mixing the two approaches, but that will simply have to wait until I've got more time. :-)

12 December 2004, 06:57 AM
hi Michael..
soon i'll start making this plasma fireball so i can show some stuff faking plasma and similar things..
untill later and cheers..

P.S. i still hope you can arrange something and keep your work my friend..

12 December 2004, 09:55 PM
C'mon Michael...POST! you are doing a real great job, don't let us down!

I wish u had a merry Chistmas and that you will have a very Happy new year, Greentek is also lost in Space...You are really missed in the challenge

Come on friends!,....FIGHT!!

12 December 2004, 09:51 AM
Hey Nucleaaaaar maaaaaan where are youuuuuu? :bounce:

12 December 2004, 12:03 AM
The most important thing is meeting the deadline. In professional work. Luckily
I can paint in PS on my Wacom anything I need in post. While working at an NBC
studio I once did 100 cartoons overnight! They picked me up in a Limo.
So I'd say get fast and finish. Don't worry about perfection.

my 3d entry (

01 January 2005, 03:48 PM
Happy new year, Michael Best wishes for the new year:beer::beer::beer:

01 January 2005, 11:57 PM
Happy new year Mike! Wishing the best on your efforts! :)

01 January 2005, 05:19 PM
Hey Michael! I believe we all want to see this one get finished sometimes, so keep us posted, right?
Good luck for your ongoing project, I just wanted to stop by and thank you for all the help with this challenge, and see you in a future one :thumbsup:

01 January 2005, 09:51 PM
Gunilla: Sorry I wasn't able to post while in Seattle, but between an extraordinarily slow internet connection -- text would load, but images seemed to stall out, making it unfeasible to follow the contest -- and some construction work I had to do for my grandparents, it just wasn't in the cards. :-(

I'm very to glad to see that you've continued to make progress on your scene. I'd hoped to get back to work on "The Waterhole" and post some comments when I got back here on the 10th, but within 36 hours of my arrival I was hit with a severe workstation malfunction -- namely, the computer inexplicably ran "checkdisk" on startup, found and "corrected" a series of "problems" ... and then wouldn't recognize the CD-ROM drive, the modem, and the communications port my dongle is attached to! I spent three days working with the technical support folks at HP, trying to hunt down the problem, but in the end the only solution they could come up with was to completely wipe the hard drive and then reload every last bit of my software! Aaaaaargh!

As a result, I spent most of last night backing up everything to the Seagate external drive, and just completed reloading the operating system within the past hour. The good news: the modem works, the CD-ROM drive works, and (fingers crossed!) I should have XSI up and running again by this evening. I'm just really, really glad I decided to reassess my chances of making the contest deadline back at the end of November, because otherwise I would've been tearing my hair out over this setback!

Anyway ... I'm back, and I *will* take the time to get this scene finished, even though there's no way to make the contest deadline. :-) I'll keep you posted, and hope to see you in the next "Challenge"! Best of luck getting your final image completed!

Mike: Hope you had a great New Year! Lots of luck wrapping up your project; I was able to take a look at the progress you've made over the past month and you've done some amazing work!

Sascha: Awesome final image! Glad to see you got everything pulled together in impressive fashion, and a belated Happy New Year to you, too! :-)

Brian: Yes, I realize that meeting the deadline is the most important thing in professional work. Unfortunately, it was clear by late November that I could either spend the time before I had to take off for Seattle working on the Challenge ... or getting the rest of my work (3000+ photographs from a month-long shoot in Washington State) backed up and protected. I chose the latter. It was, I assure you, a professional decision: I could not afford to risk having anything happen to those pictures.

Claudio: I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! :-)

Omar: Great to see you're still in the hunt, my friend! :-) I'm sorry to have been among the "casualties" in this contest, but a cursory examination of the attrition rate indicates that some 80-90 percent of the contestants have dropped out. In my own case, previous travel plans made it clear I had to be close to finishing by late November if I were to have any chance of completing the contest, since I wouldn't have access to my workstation for almost a third of the contest's running time (!). Hope to see you in the NEXT contest, and best of luck in the judging stages!

Paul: See you next time, I hope!

01 January 2005, 10:43 PM
Hi Michael,

good to see you back. :)

Im looking forward to see further development and Ill watch out for new incredible output in case you post it here somewhere.

best regards

01 January 2005, 07:28 AM
Hey nuclearman - you're back! Good to see you - you've been greatly missed around here :)
Thanks for stopping by my thread, your advices have always been really good. Again, a big thanks for all feedback since the challenge started. I'm sorry abot your computer troubles - thoise things can really be a nightmare. Good thing your photographs wheren't damaged!

Good luck for your project, keep me posted on your updates, ok?

01 January 2005, 07:36 AM
The special effects you are using add a very nice look to things - plenty of variety.

01 January 2005, 05:31 AM
It's good to see you are all right Michael! I wish U the best and hopefully we meet again in the next Challenge ;) :beer:

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