Rick "Flatness" Grossenbacher
pace and science fiction has been (and probably will always be -- at least for quite a while) a dominant theme for video games. Back in the 70ís and early 80ís when games like Space Invaders and Defender came out, the space scenes werenít much more than black backgrounds with a few white or colored pixels here and there. Now that we have the ability to make hi-res, photo-quality graphics, itís possible to come up with some pretty convincing looking scenes, so I decided to show the way that I go about creating images of outer space.
Since this is a pretty large subject, Iím dividing this tutorial up into two parts (or more if necessary). The first part is going to be how to come up with a convincing looking planet. To demonstrate this, Iíll be using Photoshop 5 and 3-D Studio MAX 2.5, however, you can get away with earlier versions of either of these programs. In fact, with some slight modifications to fit the program you are using, there should be no reason that you cannot do the 3-D part of the tutorial with a program other than 3-D Studio MAX 2.5. Iím only using image mapping (putting a bitmap on a sphere), bump mapping (not required but highly recommended), and spherical mapping coordinates (not a real stretch there). Itís the Photoshop part of the tutorial where the magic will happen, so thatís essential (even though we wonít get to the majority of that until the next tutorial).
Hereís the rundown. I have it broken down into 6 steps:
1. We need to create a bitmap image in Photoshop of what the flattened out surface of the planet will look like (ie. clouds, oceans, lands, etc.).
2. A 3-D object for a planet needs to be created in MAX (a sphere primitive will do fine).
3. Lights need to be placed in the scene.
4. The bitmap needs to be imported into MAX and made into a material.
5. Mapping coordinates need to be set/tweaked.
6. The planet needs to be rendered.
That doesnít sound too hard, does it? Good, Ďcause it isnít.
STEP 1: Create a bitmap image in Photoshop of the flattened out surface of the planet.
This is by far the most time-consuming part of the whole deal. We need an image map for the surface of our planet, and there are several ways to go about this. You could manually create one by drawing one in Photoshop -- but what a pain! Iím going to come up with something easier and something that will look much more realistic than if we tried to draw it ourselves.
I decided to head over to NASAís sight and see what a real planet looks like, and while Iím there, heck, Iím going to get something to use for my image map (after I alter it considerably, of course). In case you donít know, NASAís URL is www.nasa.gov. Itís got lotís of interesting reading material and pictures. If you havenít been there, I highly recommend it.
Now, when I say that Iím going to grab a picture from NASAís site to use as my map, you are probably freaking out about copyrights and stuff. Well, for starters, Iím not going to be selling the image Iím making; this is a tutorial for learning purposes only. Second, through the Freedom of Information Act dealing with NASAís site, I believe that you can legally use them for your own personal use. If you plan on selling anything, youíre on your own and should contact them to find out what steps are necessary. Thirdly (and most importantly), Iím going to be manipulating the image so drastically, that youíll barley be able to connect it to the original photograph.
Working from photographs is nothing new. Particularly in the gaming industry -- itís used all the time. There are two main reasons for this. One, you can make an image look much more realistic by using a photo as a resource, and two, it can save you time since a lot of the map is already done for you. And, a major rule of virtually all game companies is that time is money. Unfortunately as a video game artist, you donít have the luxury of sitting down and taking your time on every little detail and spending weeks on a single graphic.
With that out of the way, here is a bitmap of the clouds of Jupiter. Perfect for a map to be used on the planet.
Oh, one quick note. The graphics in this tutorial have been resized down about 50% for speed of downloading on this page. Originally, I was using a bigger map on my model for more detail (500 x 500 pixels). There was absolutely no grandiose reason for using 500 x 500. It just worked out well for me. Use any size that you like.
Now that Iíve found a bitmap to use, Iím going to go into Photoshop and start tweaking out the colors to something very different from what they are. Since this is suppose to be deep space in some other galaxy, we donít very well want our planet to look exactly like Jupiter, do we?
Iím using the Replace Color and Selective Color menus to do most of my color correcting.
That looks pretty cool like that. Now, apply the Offset Filter in Photoshop and offset it half way horizontally and vertically.
Yikes! Weíre getting some massive seams in there so those need to be smoothed over a bit. I really donít have any golden rule to follow when I do this; I use many different tools. Most of the time the Rubber Stamp tool gets the job done, but many times I Lasso parts and copy them over top of the seam, or Burn and Dodge parts to get them to look good. Basically, whatever works.
Hereís what it looks like with the seams basically phased out.
Actually, if you look closely you can still see where the seams were a bit. In this case, itís not a big deal. Itís not perfect, but remember, itís not going to be mapped on a planar surface either! Itís going to be mapped on a sphere, so there will be plenty of distortion and youíll never see where the seam used to be. Why work your butt off to get it perfect when youíll never even see the part you worked your butt off on in the first place?
Credits: Painting on Polygons is © 1999 Rick Grossenbacher. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it, or we'll paint you white against a white background.