Shuttle, the compact PC folks, have posted a step-by-step walkthrough demonstrating how artists model the Viper fighter craft for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. (That might seem like odd timing, but Sci Fi Channel — now SyFy — continues to crank out spinoffs of the show, so there’s plenty of modeling work to be done.)
What’s nice about the video is seeing how much of the workflow is now becoming real-time. That illustrates how the long-awaited convergence between traditional modeling and effects and live visuals is finally coming to pass. As three-dimensional design becomes more about “right now” and less about “tinker, tinker, wait, wait, wait, render, render,” the notion of visuals as live instrument is no longer so strange. It means that the VJ and visual performance community has growing common ground, even with elements like special effects.
Also remarkable: all of this is done on a compact, small form-factor Shuttle PC. Usually, compact PCs have been associated with significant performance trade-offs, but that’s changing, as well. The Core i7 is showing up in laptops, and smaller size, lower heat, and lower power consumption are the order of the day.
The animators behind the show are interesting, too. Effects consultants Tim Albee and Kelly Lee Myers are the ones contributing here, and to the Galactica universe in general; Tim is a superstar independent artist with his own production company, and Kelly aka “Kat” moonlights as a trance DJ. (Hey, you have to listen to something to keep you awake during long visual effects production sessions!)
The software appears to be NewTek LightWave, continuing a long-standing tradition between NewTek and sci-fi. The ground-breaking Babylon 5 was made quick and on-the-cheap using NewTek’s Video Toaster on the Commodore Amiga. (See a 1994 making-of story, for starters.) That show heralded the future of science fiction effects, producing loads of ship shots that would have otherwise been impossible on a budget with traditional real-for-real models.