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David cgc 24th Jan 2016 01:02 PM

"Seekers" Title Sequence (Animation)
I didn't mention it in my forum post, but the impetus for making a model of the Sagittarius was the announcement of the "Seekers" book series, and how it was inspired by Rob Caswell's fan-art. The books are adventures in the Original Series era of Star Trek, with each novel alternating between the small scout ship, Sagittarius, and the large Constitution-class ship Endeavour. Some combination of elements started swirling in my head, and I started to see the beginnings of an opening credits take shape, but I'd need a model of the Sagittarius to even start. So, here we are, two and a half years later.

I usually don't post WIPs this early, but I've also never attempted a project like this, and I think it'll be helpful to document my progress. Plus, my reach is bound to exceed my grasp from time to time, and it'll help to have access to the F3D braintrust.

My concept was basically a faster and more intense version of the Star Trek: Voyager opening sequence: alternating between both ships flying by, through, and around weird outer space stuff. Luckily, we're in a golden age of weird outer space stuff art (I'm looking at the new "Cosmos" and the series-ending montage in the final episode of "Defiance" as particular inspirations). I was able to lock down some ideas pretty quickly, and they've been more or less solid (I think it's been a year since I decided on a shot that needed to be included). I have some more ideas for shots, but I've pushed those aside for a possible TMP-era version of the opening (which will require my designing and modeling a TMP-era version of the Sagittarius, so look for that around 2025). Another element I wanted to have was have it be a very "connected" sequence, as is the style of the time. I can't exactly do it all in one long take, but I wanted motivated transitions between shots.

An artifact of the timing of my conceiving the project is the opening theme I chose, "New Cap City" from the Caprica soundtrack, by Bear McCreary. Since I wanted to have every shot lead from one to the next, the music was important for setting a pace and tone.

This is a video of layout previews which I've knocked together to test out shot composition and timing. Most of the scenery is placeholders, and some is absent entirely, with just the ships flying over the layout grid. The sequence is ten shots which total about 90 seconds. I thought about posting a version with my "idea board" in the corner, where I cut in existing images and animations as placeholders to work out a rough timing for each shot, but I'm afraid my influences are already obvious enough as it is.

I've already got some work to do on this before I start working on individual shots, so here are my notes, one by one.

1. This is probably the one I'm happiest with. I will have to do something about the shuttlecraft's path or speed (it passes through the Endeavour's warp engine just before the cut), and I want some more stuff in the background. IIRC, the "Seekers" books mention the ships' new home port is Starbase 12, a newer facility that's having a Watchtower-class space station being built in orbit, so I'm thinking a half-constructed station, plus more box docks, and maybe an Orbital Office to tie it all together. For the look of the planet, I'm thinking of riffing off this Tobias Richter image of the Titan visiting a planet-based Watchtower, since the fun of having a shared universe is making things as tied-together as possible. I definitely want to have some sort of stellar landmark, be it rings, a moon, or nebula, because...

2. The Sagittarius is taking off from the same planet the Endeavour is orbiting. For the ground facility, I'm thinking something like a half-built Starbase 11 from TOS, but I'm not 100% on this. This is set in the tail end of the TOS era, only a couple years before TMP, so I may decide to incorporate more of that design language into the scenery. The animation of the ship taking off is awful, but I've already figured out how I'm going to get around it. My plan is for the ship to flip over and roll around as it flies off, motivating a cross of the 180-line for the rest of the sequence. By the way, if anyone knows any tutorials about animating swoopy, acrobatic flying sequences without everything falling apart due to gimbal lock and tweening errors, I'd love to see them.

3. I'm thinking I'm going to try a different camera move for the Endeavour pulling out of drydock, I'm not happy with this one. Same scenery in the background as the first shot, of course, though I'm not sure how much of it will read since it's behind the drydock.

4. For this shot, we're tracking over a planet's rings, which the Sagittarius rises through and over. I'm not married to the timing of the titles coming in, I'll need to finesse that. I'm also going to speed up the animation of the ship slightly, so that it's risen out of frame entirely when the cut occurs.

5. For the real space station, I'm thinking some grungy frontier outpost, owned by no one and frequented by the most disreputable people in space. A floating Mos Eisley, in other words. It'll probably be the Dark Range Platform from the novel "The Ashes of Eden" unless I can think of something that'd look more interesting.

6. There's going to be an ancient city which the Sagittarius is flying over in this shot. I'm hoping the transition between the warp nacelle dome in the prior shot and a golden sky in this shot will be, you know, possible. I think I'm going to eliminate the turn up and away at the end and just have the ship continue forwards.

7. This one is also a shot I'm fairly happy with as-is. For the background, I'm planning to do a planet with a scaffolding or structure around it, inspired by this image.

8. In this shot, the Sagittarius will be flying over dense clouds in a gas giant, with lightning storms going on, and electrical arcs following the ship as it passes by.

9. This one is going to require some cheating at render-time to get the shadows to line up the way I want, but the big issue right now is slowing down the ship so it isn't so far past the moon when the shot ends.

10. The beginning of the big finale seems fine to me, but something feels mechanical about the way the camera pans to follow the ships. I don't like how they both appear to come to a dead stop before going to warp, and there's a little wiggle thanks to an "align to path" error.

So, that's what I've got so far. First, I'll be doubling back to adjust the animation on some of the shots. Once I'm completely happy with this animatic, I'll start tackling the project one shot at a time, building whatever models are necessary and getting the scenes render-ready.

David cgc 22nd Feb 2016 11:56 PM

I've adjusted the timing of most of the shots so that I'm happy enough with it to proceed. I'm sure I'll continue to fiddle with the animation as I lay in more scenery, but it serves its purpose as-is.

I think I'll start off with working on shot 7, with the Endeavour surrounded by shuttlecraft while orbiting... something. Let's see what that "something" could be.

Rigel 23rd Feb 2016 09:40 AM

The animatic looks good. Movements are nice smooth, pacing is decent.

It's good to see your little ship in action and that your solution for the folding gear worked out for you.

But I must say, I don't care for the hex pattern on the nacelles.

David cgc 23rd Feb 2016 07:20 PM

So, funny story about that hex pattern. The short version is, it only seems that obvious because it's in the diffusion channel, and it's actually very subtle in the renders.

I like the concept of having subtle variations between sister ships, so I got it in my head to mod Prologic9's Constitution. The as-is version represents the Enterprise, and the first variation I made was for the Endeavour, inspired by the way the Defiant appeared in "In a Mirror, Darkly" (since they're both higher-numbered ships, so it makes sense they'd both have more modern detailing). The big changes were symmetrical windows on the saucer, an aztec pattern, adding the mythical brass ring on the front of the engineering hull behind the deflector and, yes, a hex pattern on the warp engines.

I haven't needed to go through with it, yet, but I've figured I can make two more variants, based on TOS-R. The Enterprise model used for most of the run was missing several windows on the neck, which I figured would work for the ships numbered lower than 1700 (since I fanwank they were initially appropriated as older ship designs and used existing parts in construction which, I don't know, didn't have the hull strength to cope with so many windows? I haven't written it all down, yet), and a variation from the TOS-R version of "The Ultimate Computer" where two of the Constitutions seen had a bunch of extra windows, which I'd use for 1702 through 1717. Maybe the two pilot versions, too.

My source for all of this, including the screen cap I linked to, was this excellent blog post from a site talking about modeling the TOS Enterprise in all it's forms.

Kongazilla 24th Feb 2016 02:36 AM

Great work and really nice dynamic shot design. Looking foreword to the finished work!

ronaldheld 24th Feb 2016 06:15 AM

I think it was done well: highlighting the size differences between the ships, and smoothly moving ships.

Rigel 24th Feb 2016 10:30 AM

Of course, people do know that Kirk stated emphatically that there were 13 Constitution Class Heavy Cruisers in the fleet, not 64.


After my last post I got to wondering if the texture being so obvious was because you were rendering in preview mode.

David cgc 5th Mar 2016 07:59 PM

Teeny-tiny update, a test render of my planet with it's broken shell to check the texturing. The nebula is by Matt Tarling, the planet and shell interior textures were made using the tutorial here.

I'm thinking about some debris and clouds around the planet using particles and hypervoxels, I'll have to do more experimenting. I'm also interested in rendering out some 3D nebulas for this project. I don't need them to be in 3D at the moment, but I haven't had much luck hand-painting them in Photoshop, and the results I've seen in a couple threads on the Newtek forums are very promising. No details about what they actually did to get those results, so it'll be back to experimenting for me.

ETA: Early volumetric light nebula experiments are promising at thumbnail sizes, less so at HD resolution.

David cgc 8th Mar 2016 11:37 PM

My second attempt at a volumetric nebula was a bit more successful. I think I'm getting the hang of how to use the technique (and that VIPER viewport mode is an absolute godsend). The only wrinkle is that it can be tough to figure out how the fine details are going to come out before doing a large render, but I think judicious tests using the limited-region camera will solve that. I think this technique has legs.

So I took the animation I did earlier, the shield world, and this new nebula and put them together into a thumbnail-sized test render. For the record, I rendered an image of the nebula as a large EXR image and mapped it to a sphere in the background.

I'm satisfied enough to jump to working on another shot. Still on the to-do list for this one:

I'm going to change the flight path of the shuttlecraft going over the top of the ship's saucer. I expect it's right around where the viewer's eye will be left by the previous shot, and it doesn't draw you anywhere interesting, so you'll miss the ship and the environment. I think the new flight path will have to have it pass over the ship's neck, which should serve as a jumping-off point to scan the rest of the frame. Maybe I should look up more about visual paths and composition. It's possible I'm framing a still when I need to frame an animation.

More volumetrics! I want to have dust clouds around the various chunks of the shell, as well as a ring of dust and debris.

More complex lighting.

I've decided I'm not going to settle on a color scheme for the shots yet. Color theory isn't a language I'm comfortable speaking yet, but I know that just doing whatever feels right for each shot without regard for the whole is a terrible idea, especially for shots like this where there's no motivation for any color over any other in the set-up. Once I have more rendered tests with some environment in them, I'll start playing with colors.

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