Thee Worlds, One Image: Star Trek Bridge Cinemagraph

Making Of / 30 June 2022

I’d finally come up with a more-or-less final image and was really happy with the way it came out, but I was then faced with the challenge of figuring out the best way to present it online.

I came up with the idea of an animated “fly-through” to take the viewer into the details of each area of the image but I didn’t want it to simply be a “pan and zoom” approach. I wanted to add some animation and visual effects to each area to bring them alive.

The original image being vector art I’d created in Adobe Illustrator gave me a lot of options in the way I could use the source material in Photoshop, Animate and, especially, After Effects—each background and character were already isolated on their own layers, so getting them ready to use them in After Effects or Animate was as simple as hitting “Import”.

I figured I’d start out with the Star Trek bridge. My initial idea was to create a dissolve between the initial sketch and the final art with some effects to make the transition interesting. Making stuff like glowing energy beams moving at a million miles an hour is right in After Effects’ wheelhouse so I was able to come up with something I liked pretty quickly.

I wanted to give the characters some life by animating their arms and heads with puppet pin animation. I was keeping the idea of doing some full-on animation in Animate in the back of my mind if the puppet pin animation didn’t work out but it turned out to be all I needed. I didn’t want to depart too far from the material in the image because that was still the main thing I wanted to feature.

The next project was to make the Transporter Room actually beam somebody up!

Three Worlds, One Image: The Final Image (Version One)

Making Of / 23 June 2022

All the pieces were done; now it was just a matter of putting them all together.

There is definitely a bias in favor of the original orientation of the perspective grid (with the Star Wars axis being the “ground floor”) but it’s still fun to spin it around and see if it from the viewpoint of the other two horizon lines.

Alien Axis

Star Trek Axis

I was satisfied with the way it had come out but I was now faced with the challenge of the best way to present it. It was always intended as a “portfolio piece”—there was no way I could ever do anything with it commercially so it was limited to only being seen online—but it wasn’t the kind of image I could just post to social media as-is: the level of detail required a lot of zooming in and out to get any idea of what’s really going on.

I decided to create an animated “fly-through” in After Effects to dive into each area. That idea immediately led me to think of the ways the characters could be animated, VFX could be added to elements like Leia’s blaster and the lightsabers, and the preliminary sketches could be combined and morphed into the finished art. 

The final version of the project ended up spawning a multitude of new projects in After Effects. It was time to get started on some animation to bring it to life.

Three Worlds, One Image: Final Star Trek Character Art

Making Of / 16 June 2022

The stylization I was using worked well with the figures up to this point. Since so many of them were almost in silhouette, adding a few isolated patches of light around their edges were all they’d needed to give them some volume. Leia and the stormtrooper had been the only light-on-light figures and they’d given me some clues as to how to approach the characters from Star Trek.

Star Trek’s original production design had essentially solved all my problems for me because the vibrant colors and iconic designs of the uniforms and sets lent themselves to a graphic treatment. As far as the figures were concerned, I was starting out with sketches I liked so I felt confident I could capture passable likenesses of all the characters. The big question I had was how I was going to approach creating the transporter effect in a stylized, graphic way.

My first attempt was to try to reproduce the look of the original effect, which used backlit aluminum powder shot upside down. It completely fizzled—they looked like they were wearing weird leggings.

I decided to try something more emphatically linear—maybe not as accurate or in keeping with the effect of the original show but something that looked better-suited to the image. Some tapering, transparent lines  still seemed to give the impression of “beaming up” while emphasizing the underlying linear perspective. The groovy lava lamp background would be  a nice balance to the Alien egg chamber on the other side of the image once I got everything in place.

The bridge was relatively straightforward, a mass of tiny details and concentric rings in perspective. The most awkward thing about it was giving Chekov enough room to sit at his position, but that seemed to be i keeping with the original show—most of the reference I studied showed his chair barely staying on the platform.

I was in the home stretch! Most of the heavy lifting had been done and it was now a matter of getting everything together and adding the finishing touches.

Three Worlds, One Image: Final Star Wars Character Art

Making Of / 09 June 2022

Creating the final art for the Alien characters really helped to clarify the approach I was going to take for the rest of the figures, especially for Luke and Vader: they were going to be primarily in silhouette, so I knew the same kind of modeling I’d used on the Alien would work on them, the only difference being that the light was going to be orange rather than the green I’d used for the Alien characters. 

There were a number of different ways I could handle the effect for the lightsabers but I wanted to make sure they integrated well with the overall design of the rest of the image. I could easily make a subtle glow effect in Photoshop that looked like it came out fo the film but it would look out of place with the graphic look of the rest of the image. I ended up using Photoshop to create a “hard light” glow (pictured) that I could use as a color reference for the final art in Illustrator. I was able to create a lightsaber effect that fit well in the image using just three or four colors with no need for blends or gradients.

I really wanted to keep everything as dark as possible on Vader, but loved being able to add the lights on all his “machinery”—they keep the figure from flattening out by implying all the underlying stuff without having to actually show it.

Filling in the detail on the tractor beam tower ended up being a challenge because there were a lot of buttons and sci-fi doodads that come off diagonal surfaces that had to be drawn from an extremely low horizon line. I went back into Blender and added some simple cylinders and spheres where they needed to, then brought it back into Illustrator to flesh out.

Ben's robe gave me a great opportunity to use the staggered dash line technique I used to soften the edges of shadows and give some areas a graphic texture.

Leia and the stormtrooper gave me a new thing to think about—they were the first figures I was dealing with that weren’t going to be primarily silhouettes. To make it even more of a challenge, the background they’d be seen against was the most light-saturated area of the image. And they’re both wearing white. Creating the final art for them started to feel like the old joke about a blank sheet of paper really being a drawing of a polar bear in a snowstorm with its eyes closed.

I still had some opportunities to introduce some dark areas like the blasters they’re using, Leia’s hair (seeing her in profile gave me the chance to show more of it than I’d be able to with a more front-facing pose) and the black suit under the stormtrooper’s armor that could be seen at the joints. I tried adding a blaster hit to the stormtrooper in the large image but ended up removing it when I put him in place on the final image—the stylization made it look way too much like fireworks.

The experience visually problem-solving the light-on-light Star Wars characters helped me to start thinking of the way I would handle the Star Trek characters. The “TV lighting” of the Star Trek areas of the image was going to demand a lot more modeling than the predominantly dark-on-light figures I’d used from the movies.

Three Worlds, One Image: Alien Final Character Art

Making Of / 02 June 2022

It had a taken a lot of preliminary work to develop a layout that put everything where it needed to be, so I was excited to get started on creating the final art for the characters.

The sketch phase gave me a clear idea of how I wanted the characters to look but it wasn’t all completely worked out beforehand. I like to leave some room for exploration in every phase of the process when I’m developing an image. When I first started working digitally, I’d tried to have everything completely mapped out in the final sketch but that had turned crating the final image into a tedious, almost “paint by numbers” kind of chore—it seemed like I was just mindlessly tracing over lines and coloring them in.

I’d recently started using dashed lines with uneven dashes and gaps to give areas some stylized texture or softened edges in assignments I was creating in Illustrator and I was looking forward to seeing how I could apply that technique to modeling the characters for this piece. I figured the best character to start on was the Alien—since it was going to be primarily in silhouette, a little modeling was going to go a long way and I could get an immediate impression of how well the technique would work without investing too much time and effort (in case it crashed and burned!)

After an hour, I knew I was going in the right direction—organizing the darks and lights into areas of relatively close tonal value helped to give the character volume and dimension while also maintaining the graphic, stylized look I was going for. I was able to quickly finish the Alien and get on to Kane in the egg chamber.

I was particularly looking forward to creating the final art for the egg chamber itself because I thought the uneven dashed lines could create some nice organic surface texture to the floor while still only needing to use 2 or 3 colors to do it. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to approach the interaction between the beam of Kane’s flashlight and the laser light surface above the eggs but I figured I would just figure that out while I was drawing it. Adding some transparency to the shapes creating the beam was all it ended up needing to feel like it integrated with the overall look of the image.

Ripley was the first “completely human” character I was going to work on—Kane was so obscured by his suit that I just had to add a hint of his face, but Ripley was going to be completely visible, though I still wanted to keep the overall tonal values dark. I’ve always thought of Alien as a horror movie so I wanted to keep the lighting on her as foreboding as possible. While Luke climbing the stairs is the figure I think leads your eye into the image, Ripley is the central figure and the point of greatest dark on light contrast, so it seemed to demand I add a lot of detail even though a lot of it might be “lost in the shadows”.

I worked on the characters at 4 times the size they would actually appear in the image which gave me a lot of room to add as much detail as was needed. I added each one to the final layout as I finished them, then got started on the Star Wars characters.

BlenderNation's Best of Blender Artists

News / 27 May 2022

Alientrekwars was featured in BlenderNation's Best of Blender Artists this week!

BlenderNation's Best of Blender Artists

Three Worlds, One Image: Final Layout With Figures

Making Of / 26 May 2022

Now that I had a full set of character sketches, it was time to add them to the final layout to make sure everything was working together.

This was fairly straightforward—the first attempt at the layout gave me a clear idea of the way everything was going to fit together this time around so adding the figures was just a matter of scaling and rotating them into their final positions.

Comparing the first attempt with the final layout made me feel like it had finally turned into a workable image. I liked the way the architecture and elements like the Alien’s tail led the eye around the composition. It had a nice visual rhythm and balance.

First Layout

Final Layout

Now I could get on to creating the final art for the characters.

Three Worlds, One Image: Revised Star Wars Character Sketches

Making Of / 19 May 2022

With the exception of a minor scale problem, I already liked the sketch I had for Luke—Luke going up the stairs had been the initial image that had popped into my mind when I was first thinking about making this image and it was still the foundation that the rest of it seemed to be built on. While I liked Vader’s placement, I had second thoughts about the pose I originally drew him in—it was a bit too active and aggressive for the moment I was trying to capture from Empire Strikes Back. I needed him to be a bit more passive. Having him advance with his lightsaber lowered would not only serve the story better; it would also make it a bit easier to integrate this Star Wars part of the image with the Alien stuff that was going on behind it.

The character that gave me the most problems with coming up with the right pose was Leia. I knew I wanted her shooting a blaster, but the layout necessitated that she had to be firing upward at an extreme angle at a target that required her to almost be facing away from the viewer. I tried a number of different variations and ended up deciding that a profile was going to be the best pose I could put her in and still have her firing in the direction she needed to be firing.

I was really hoping to include a stormtrooper falling off a ledge and into the Death Star chasm but unfortunately, the layout change left him on the cutting room floor!

The remaining stormtrooper ended up in a pose that reminded me a lot of a still they used in the original Star Wars trading cards so it had a kind of iconic look.

I ended up being really happy with the layout change when it came to re-posing Ben. He’d originally been show straight from the back and with the extremely low eye line, it made it hard to draw him as anything other than a relatively shapeless robe with a couple of hands coming out of the sleeves. The new layout enabled me to turn him slightly toward the viewer so some of his face could be visible.

I had a new, (hopefully) improved set of character sketches. Now it was time to add them to the new layout to make sure everything was working together. 

Three Worlds, One Image: Revised Star Trek Character Sketches

Work In Progress / 12 May 2022

My first pass through drawing the Star Trek characters gave me a chance to work out likenesses and costume details on an individual basis. The layout revision necessitated thinking about them as a group and, more than any of the Star Wars or Alien characters, how they were going to interact with their environment.

The Star Wars and Alien characters were all basically perched on a surface within their respective worlds so interaction with the rest of the environment was minimal. The Star Trek characters occupying the bridge were all going to be sitting in captain’s chairs or behind helm consoles while the characters in the transporter room were going to be in various stages of being “beamed down”, requiring them to be drawn in the actual environment.

Using fSpy with Blender helped greatly in getting everybody where they were supposed to go, but retrofitting the renders coming out of Blender to the perspective grid in Adobe Illustrator still required some extra work. This was especially apparent with putting Sulu and Chekov at the helm—while being extremely rectilinear, just about all the surfaces on the helm console were cut to non-right angles so the more photorealistic perspective coming out of Blender needed some significant reinterpretation in order to get it to line up with the underlying Illustrator grid. Only then could the figures be seated behind it correctly.

Kirk’s pose in the captain’s chair was important to get right for me—the casual way Shatner always had of crossing his legs and leaning one elbow on an arm rest was something I really wanted to get right because it was such an archetypal Shatner pose but before I could get him in the chair, I had to get the chair in the right place in the composition.

The chair design itself ended up being way more complex than I’d ever realized. I had never noticed the sloping wooden armrests on the inside of the instrument panels. Thankfully the internet provided some great reference material to get the structure right but it amazed me to see how the whole thing was put together.

With the figures in the transporter room, I decided to draw them straight ahead and save trying to figure out how to create the transporter effect for when I was creating the vector art. All I had to do with them was adjust for the slight change in direction that putting them in a different location in the image required.

Next up were the Star Wars characters. Luke and Vader already seemed to be where they needed to be, but I still wasn’t too sure where I wanted to put Leia. 

Three Worlds, One Image: Revised Alien Character Sketches

Making Of / 05 May 2022

The change in layout necessitated that all the character sketches needed to be redone but my previous work didn’t feel wasted. The first drafts gave me an opportunity to hash out how I’d deal with the costumes and accessories so I felt I was working in familiar territory.

The Alien had been the first character I’d drawn for the first batch of sketches so I figured it would be as good a place to start as any. It was the character whose pose I wanted to change the most—the relatively static pose of the first draft gave me an opportunity to suss out what went where with the anatomy but I now wanted to add some drama and menace to the pose (as well as depart from making it look too much like a guy in a suit.)

Having the Alien in the midst of climbing on to the walkway Ripley is attempting to walk across felt like a good, dramatic confrontation, as well as giving me the opportunity to use its tail to close off the top left corner compositionally. The tail could also serve as a frame around the Star Trek bridge, so things were starting to flow together.

Ripley’s overall pose didn’t need much of a change, but I wanted to go back in and try to get a better likeness than I’d been able to get with the first draft.

Kane and the various elements of the egg chamber still had some proportional issues that cleared up as soon as I drew him in context. 

That was a lesson I was going to apply to redrawing the Star Trek characters: drawing them in individual isolation helped to get all the details where they needed to go, but getting the characters themselves in the right places necessitated drawing them (and thinking about them) as a group.