Hello again Novark citizens, with the alpha coming closer, many of us are already dreaming about our virtual lives in Dual Universe. And with the alpha in mind, many of us are also trying to come up with some designs for building our own space ships. Some people are very good at drawing and some people are very good at 3D modelling. While we don’t have the game yet to test our ships, some logic and a bit of dev diary information gets us a long way ahead. In this article, I want to demonstrate how I go from an idea in my head to the final space ship you see at the top of this page.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional artist, neither do I have professional drawing or modelling skills. This article is only meant to demonstrate one of many ways to develop an idea into a concept you can share with your friends.
Step 1: Figuring out the ship’s purpose.
When I start a new project, the first thing I like to do is think about what niche my ship will occupy. Is it intended to haul cargo? Perhaps it’s a fast one shot interceptor that can hit hard. Maybe it’s intended use is for transporting troops. The logic behind this step is the same as it is in the real world. Most of the time, a construct’s function determines its shape. Just as it is in nature, form follows function. For the purpose of this article, I decided I wanted to build a singe seater fighter. Your organization may have other needs. Or perhaps you are trying to come up with some designs for yourself to hit it big on the market. Whatever your motivation, deciding on the purpose of your ship is a good first step.
Step 2: Creating some sketches.
A great software package to create your sketches in is Krita. It is open source, free to download and it has all the features you could ever want to make digital drawings or 2D art. Although it is not required for the software to run, a Wacom tablet or similar is highly recommended. Don’t worry though, pen and paper work just as good. There is also GIMP, the open source alternative to Photoshop though I use it less in my process.
Now that we have a rough idea of what the ship is for we can start thinking about some shapes. I think one of the most important things to get right are the front and side views. Just think of the iconic ships we all know. The Starship Enterprise, a Klingon bird of prey, the Millennium Falcon or how about the Normandy from Mass Effect? Each of these ships has a silhouette that is instantly recognized. If you need some inspiration, a quick search on Google will provide you with an amazing amount of space ships or other vehicles with interesting curves and angles. We have only seen a few ship elements in the developer diaries, so while creating this ship I decided not to concern myself too much with the individual parts. I decided to focus on constructing a shape that I knew would be achievable in Dual Universe from what we have seen so far. To illustrate this step, I made a collage of a few sketches I made in designing this ship.
When I’m sketching a ship one of the important things I do is to try out all sorts of shapes to get something that grabs my attention. The beauty of drawing digitally is that you have access to a variety of useful tools. One of my favourite tools for a project like this is the symmetry tool and I use it abundantly. But like I mentioned before, pen and paper work just as well. It only means you might need to use different tools. Like a ruler for instance.
My advice for this step is to experiment and don’t concern yourself too much with the small details. As long as you keep the purpose of your ship in mind you will end up with one or more sketches that grab your attention. I like to work in 2 or 3 tones to block out my designs. Because my intention is to model this ship in 3D I try to create profile views that are clear enough for me to model. I’ve seen people create the most stunning ships freestyle but I like to have an idea of what I’m making before I start a modelling project. If you feel inspired by your sketch(es) at the end of this step, you are on the right track.
Step 3: Pick a design and run with it.
After exploring all sorts of shapes, I pick the sketch that inspires me the most and try to develop it with a bit more detail. I wanted to create a ship that reminded me of the fighter jets I often saw in the Japanese animations I watched as a kid. There will be a lot of different spaceships in Dual Universe so ideally, you would want to come up with a shape people will recognize and remember. The trick, however, will be to balance your personal style and flavour with the physics of the game. I’m quite sure a lot of people will want to look good while they are saving the universe.
The engines in Dual Universe will have real force. So in developing this ship, I decided I wanted to concentrate the majority of the weight as close as possible to the engines. I think you will want 2 engines and a few directional thrusters on key locations.
Depending on the scope or goal of your project, you can add as much detail to your design as you want. Add descriptive annotations if you are sharing your designs with your friends, this will help in explaining your idea. My end goal for this article is producing a 3D model so I drew in a few details that would help me along the way without spending too much time on developing the drawing. Another useful trick is to draw an orthographic view of your design. This way you have an easier time reproducing the model in 3D. What I like to do is break up my ships in basic lines so that when I go into my 3D modelling software I already have a good idea of how to build it. The idea behind this is very easy. If you were to draw a can of coke you would start with a cylinder. The same rules apply in 3D modelling.
Step 4: Creating the 3D model
While some people will be perfectly able to go from a 2D concept drawing to a fully functioning ship in Dual Universe, I’m not one of them. And because I’m not one of them I like to model my ships in a 3D modelling software. My software of choice for this task is Blender. Just like the previously mentioned software, it is open source, free and supported by a very big community with plenty of beginner friendly tutorials. If you always wanted to create 3D models but didn’t know where to start, Blender is your answer. It is a light weight program that will run on any potato. All you need is the software and a mouse to start building your perfect ship.
I didn’t want to spend too much time creating the model for this article, so I kept the final model as basic as possible. However, you can take your designs as far as you want. Personally, I feel the big advantage in creating a 3D model is that you will know what basic shapes to recreate in Dual Universe. This way you can get a little head start in building your ships when the game becomes available to you.
To illustrate this step I blew up my model. As you can see I broke down my drawing into its most basic shapes and created the individual pieces. For all but one piece, I started with a simple cube and manipulated the individual vertices. You could go ahead and start texturing the model and render it in Blender. But like I said in the beginning of this article, I’m not a professional digital artist and both texturing and rendering are beyond my current abilities. So when I want to show a ship to my friends I use one final program to render the model. The end result will be the image at the top of this page.
Step 5: Rendering the image a.k.a. making it pretty.
The final piece of software I use is called Sketchup. Unfortunately, it is the only piece of software in this article that is not entirely free. However, if you only use it for personal projects you can get a free license. Sketchup allows you to model entire projects just like blender but in a different way. There are many people who model directly in Sketchup. As you can see in this little video.
The benefit from Sketchup, in my opinion, is that it provides the user with an easy way to render and present projects. So when you are done modelling your ship in Blender you can export it to a file type that you can import into Sketchup. In Blender, you go to file/export and click on COLLADA (.dae). When that is done it’s just a matter of opening Sketchbook and importing the COLLADA (.dae) file.
To the right of your screen in Sketchup you have all sorts of options to render your model. When you tweaked the settings to your hearts content it’s just a matter of exporting the project. Once again go to file, export and select 2D graphic. You can import the exported image back into your drawing software and manipulate it further. Just like Dual Universe, the only limit is your imagination.