Monthly Archives: July 2011

Seña Eye Detail

Seña Eye DetailI think that this will be the basic eye design that I go with for Seña.  She’ll have a single camera lens style eye with a traditional looking aperture that has protective coverings which allow it to open or shut.  I’ll assume that when shut, the lens cleans itself somehow.  I’ve also added four sunshade petals which will be independently posable.  These are really not functional in my opinion, but they aught to add some level of expression.The entire eye assembly itself moves vertically along a covered track not unlike the telescopes at large observatories.

At first I wanted to detail out the entire internals of the assembly like I did with the skeleton, but then I remembered, I’m not actually designing something to build… I’m simply sketching out what something looks like to model.  The actual machine, while it needs to suspend disbelief doesn’t actually have to function in real life.  Oh the joys of make believe!

With this bit done, I should be able to start some initial models of this robot.  As the model comes together, I’m sure edits will take place.  It’ll be interesting to see just how closely my finished product resembles the actual concepts.

Just give me a Seña!

Seña Skeletal designThe design for the robot, Seña is influenced largely by the Turret from Portal 2.  While it may not be obvious from this basic skeletal image… you’ll see.  When the white shell drops on over the rounded body, the relationship will become more clear.

If you notice the front legs are on a hinge giving her the ability to extend or contract the front legs independently.  I’m hoping that this will help give the robot some form of expressiveness in anotherwise static design.  The rear wheel can’t really contract, but can rotate giving Seña’s tadpole design steering capabilities.

The only other piece of Seña that I definitely have to model out is her eyepiece.  Seña will be a cyclops design with a single camera mounted much like the old observatories were.  The eyepiece will be able to rotate upward and downward along a fixed track.  An important aspect of the eyepiece will be it’s ability to express emotion.  In both Wall-E and in the two robots from Portal 2, we see a remarkable amount of expressiveness in the eyes, not just through aperture movement and focus, but through lens coverings and general eye motion.

Hopefully I’ll come up with a good design.

Heightmap woes

I started toying with converting some of the mars bitmaps into height maps.

Here is my first render… This is that crazy canyon formation (called the Valles Marineris) that I mentioned in the previous post… and I believe that’s Olympus Mons in the distance.

You can see right off the bat that there are a ton of random issues with this image.  The most troubling for me, though was the very prominent aliasing.  Now, I’m working from a 24-bit png… so i had assumed that aliasing wouldn’t be such a huge problem.   For those of you not familiar with Aliasing, click on the thumbnail to the left and look for what look like ugly topology lines in the flat surfaces.  Those should in fact be smooth.  It’ll take a little more monkeying with the settings to get a satisfactory image…

Here is a section of the height map that’s visible in the rendering:

If you click on this image, you’ll totally see the color change lines that cause my aliasing issue.  I’ll probably need to dip into higher resolution images… those will have “rougher” grain and should alias a lot less…

Renders from Mars

I’ve started to put some thought into where the martian city is to be located.  To do that, I need to study a little bit on martian martian topology.  It turns out that we have some raw data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter.  Yeah, I know it’s really not raw data… who knows what the MOLA instrumentation spits out, but it’s raw for me.

The data is available in a number of resolutions and is packed neatly enough in files containing signed 16-bit integers… Well, I just needed to put the data into an image format. Easy peasy right? It took me a few tries…

My first attempt was with PHP through its libgd .  Unfortunately, i found no easy way to produce a 24-bit greyscale image… so I ended up with something that looked pretty blah.  My next stab at it was through Java… the thing about this was… I was too lazy to read up on exactly how to read a signed short from a file, so I tried this:

int msb =;
int lsb =;
int value = msb * 256 + lsb;

As it turned out, this process doesn’t retain the signedness of the 16-bit value…  So after digging a little I came up with the right solution:

DataInputStream dataStream = new DataInputStream(inputStream);
int value = dataStream.readShort();

I had to mess with the contrast a little, but in the end I got what i wanted… topology of mars rendered as images… check it out:

This image is some kind of ridge.  There’s clearly a drop off in altitude into smoother, less cratered terrain.

This image reminds me a lot of the moon.  It’s pretty amazing that the martian atmosphere really doesn’t protect it much from the pocking of meteorite impacts… or at the very least it doesn’t cover it up over time like here on Earth.

This looks like some kind of insane canyon system.  It starts out pretty solid on the right side of the image, but turns into a complex spiderweb of cracks and crevices as it moves to the left.

Having the actual raw data will enable me to create cool height maps in Blender.  Looking forward to creating little flight videos through there.  I bet it’ll be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home!

Project: Mars

Project: Mars is the more generic name for a podcast concept that I came up with which is loosely modeled on This American Life.  Essentially, what I would like to do is explore the every day life of the lower to middle class person living in a city on Mars.   To do this successfully, I feel as though I need to start with a realistic setting.  For that reason, I plan on modeling out an entire martian city of 2.9 million people.  The city was originally a colony designed to house about 10,000 settlers, but over time had grown beyond the capacity of its original colony plan.  What compromises did the settlers make to allow for added population?  How do you plan cities on Mars? What are the civil engineering challenges?  These are all questions that I hope to find answers to as I explore the topic.

Of course, none of this has started yet… what you see here is a very humble beginning… and I decided to start with this image of Mars at sunset.

Project MarsWhat I imagine a sunset on Mars to look like from orbit. Sorry about the lens flare.

It’s been a while since I create an image exclusively in the GIMP.  There’s something satisfying about taking a bunch of 2D tools on a 2D canvas and ending up with something 3D.   The image to the left extensively uses the Plasma Cloud render filter, Lens Distortion Filter, some creative use of layer modes (additive, multiply, screen, etc), and of course the Lens Flare.

A change in focus

So I gave Drupal a try but found that I had no patience for actually writing HTML or messing with the hundreds of little plugins… blah. How things have changed… so.. hello WordPress!

A couple weeks ago, I had decided to enter the Exile Villify video contest. I started down the road of modeling out the various elements that I wanted in the video … but a combination of lazyness and Rock Band 3 got in the way.

I did learn an awful lot about the subdivision surfaces in blender, though… so I can’t say that it was a complete waste of time…  I found that the objects in this scene, though they look primitive, are actually pretty complex… The turret in particular, with its rounded shape yet sharp edges.  I definitely had to get competent in cinching edges and marking seems.

Since acknowledging that I won’t make the deadline for the music video, I’ve decided to morph the entry in my In-Flight Projects page to a more general non-Aperture Science branded set of robots making music.  It’ll be a good excuse for me to mess with the Structured Audio bits of MPEG4.