Catching a few lobsters...
/ Deep Dive: Overview of the GES Honu

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Concept

Conceptual design for our ship began during July 2016. While the story of our animation had not been finalized, the general idea of ‘a spaceship on a journey’ had been. The team began sketching designs for the ship as we finalized the plot of the animation. Several important details were figured out at this point in development. The biggest was whether or not we wanted the ship to be manned. Though there were compelling reasons for the ship to be some sort of automated probe, we felt that viewers could possibly interpret it as being abandoned or lost, rather than the positive sense of exploration that we wanted. There was also a desire amongst the team to have silhouetted live action characters in some of the shots. However, we wanted the focus (both visually and emotionally) to be on the entity of the ship itself, which pushed us towards a more organic design. Eventually, Brendan drew a design that looked reminiscent of a turtle.

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Why a turtle?

Though it started as something of a joke, there were several reasons why we eventually centered on a turtle-shaped silhouette for the ship. The turtle’s story of migration parallels the ship’s journey of discovery. The silhouette is distinctive from almost every angle owing to details such as the shell and the larger ‘flippers’; in addition to being organic, it also is reminiscent of a person when viewed from the top. The, in my words, ‘doofy’ appearance also makes the viewer emphasize with this small ship crossing the great unknown of space.

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Design

While a very broad, general shape had been decided early on, we still had to finalize the design down to the details. Me and Brendan set about figuring out the particulars, beginning with a list of everything we felt the ship would need, and deciding what it could do without. For example, we decided immediately not to include any weaponry on the ship, as we felt that did not match the tone of the animation. We did include things such as radiators, fuel, and made sure there was sufficient room for the crew to live and work during their extended voyage. In an off the cuff fashion, we decided to allocate space for things like a small hydroponics facility for growing food, and storage for cargo or even buggies for exploration. Eventually we decided that the ship would be approximately 70 meters long, just large enough to provide Spartan accommodations for the 8 person crew. Wherever possible, we used real world science to inform our decisions on the design of the ship. However, we chose to gloss over details where realism became inconvenient. An example would be a centrifuge – we wanted one to provide artificial gravity, but having one on the ship would make it less compatible with atmospheric flight.

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Modeling

Modeling responsibilities were split between myself and Brendan at first. After he created a rough model based on our sketch in The Foundry Modo, it was brought into Autodesk Maya to be detailed by myself. We passed the model back and forth several times, each reviewing the other’s work and making changes as we saw fit. The ship was also brought to our weekly meetings for review by the entire team. This flexible approach allowed us to iterate quickly on the design, making changes to the ship based on the team’s input.

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UV Unwrapping

Once the model was cleaned up, it was brought into Headus UV Layout to be unwrapped. The process was lengthy, owing to the detail of the object. One thing we made use of was splitting the ship across multiple UDIMs, allowing us to work from multiple UV maps on a single object. The Honu was eventually split into 4 UDIMs, which use 4096×4096 texture maps at the highest Level of Detail – certain shots will use more compressed textures to speed rendering times.

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Texturing

After the ship was UV unwrapped, it was brought into The Foundry’s Mari to begin the ongoing process of texturing the ship. Mari has a sharp learning curve, and diving into it with a complicated object would have been a nightmare. As I laid out the UVs, I also worked in parallel in Mari, learning the basics on more primitive objects. Once the ship was brought into Mari, the first step was to lay out the base colors. We had developed the basic color scheme through a number experiments, painting colors onto still screenshots of the model in photoshop. We eventually settled on a neutral monochrome color scheme that would integrate and reflect the various color compositions of the shots. After that, it was time to add grunge to the ship, especially wear and tear from the numerous atmospheric reentries the ship has endured. We also acquired a copy of the Mari Extension Pack, which allows us to procedurally add detailed wear and weathering to the ship.

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Conclusion

The design and execution of the GES Honu has been one of the prime focuses of the team during our fall work cycle. As the centerpiece of the animation, it serves as the viewer’s guide and companion to the amazing sights and locations the ship visits. Our goal is to have photorealistic textures for it completed by the end of our winter development cycle.

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Lobster Fact

Turtles are the only species of lobster to have their young on dry land. Approximately 75% of the ones that skydive don’t make it to the ground.

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