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Points of Departure CG Recreation

David of MacDavid of Mac Elite RangerCa
So, something I've talked about more than once is the pie-in-the-sky idea of an HD transfer of Babylon 5 which, by necessity, would require all-new visual effects, not unlike what was recently done with the original Star Trek series. A couple weeks ago, after school died down, I decided to relax with some nice, simple spaceship layouts, and begin attacking an episode of B5, possibly eventually doing the entire thing. For the moment, though, I've just done two visual effects shots in the teaser.

The episode I picked was the season two premiere, and the sequence is the very beginning, the introduction of Captain Sheridan aboard his soon-to-be-former command, the Agamemnon. I never seriously considered trying to be exceedingly faithful to the original shots, mostly because that'd be no fun. I mocked up a couple of images to show what such a recreation might look like, and, who knows, if someone was paying me I'd certainly be open to trying to match the originals as close as possible. But since it's just me, I figure, why not indulge myself?

I'm not sure if I'm going to move forward on this anytime soon (I certainly haven't ever completed a long-term solo production yet), but I prefer to live in hope.

Without further adieu, [url=]here's the shot.[/url] Sorry about the YouTube weaksauce.

Omega Destroyer by Rhys Salcombe
Freighter by Dave Hribarm
Jumppoint by Yuri A. Parovin
Planet and Rings by Björn Jónsson


  • SanfamSanfam I like clocks.
    this may be short, it it is fantastic! You've preserved the mood of the original shots, but added enough detail to make them feel modern.

    I think the modern Jump point and interior engine textures make for the biggest improvements I most immediately noticed,
  • BigglesBiggles <font color=#AAFFAA>The Man Without a Face</font>
    That looks absolutely fantastic.

    Perhaps a good place to start, if you want to do this, would be to pick a good episode that's relatively CG-light, and begin with the interstitial shots that get reused a lot?
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    Yeah, if I'm going to make a bigger thing of this, I'll probably be more comprehensive, starting earlier in the show and logging all the stock footage and such. I've already started making some notes from the perspective that I'll do the entire show, mostly stuff on consistency (I'd like to do all the Battle of the Line flashbacks together, for instance, and Babylon Squares/War Without End.) and detail-stuff like which Starfuries go with which squadrons.

    I'm going to put that one off, though, because the thing about doing it like this is that I can't save the live action stuff that has effects over it, which is the real reason anyone would ever do this for real. If it were just the spaceship stuff that were blurry, it'd be livable. It's the loss of live-action stuff with PPG shots or greenscreen or (amazingly) transitions that are anything other than a straight cut or fade to black that makes B5 so weak from an HD perspective. Also, being one guy, it'd take me weeks or months to do one episode, even using other people's existing models.

    There is one thing I noticed while splitting out the shots for this episode which amused me. The last establishing shot before the rogue Minbari ship arrives is the sun going down behind B5 and the lights coming on. The first one after the Minbari are taken care of is the sun coming up. So, I have three choices, near as I can tell.

    I can ignore it, like the did in the episode. I can keep the establishing shots and redo all the scenes with the Minbari ships to be in local night, which will look cool and/or be an enormous pain in the butt, or flip the establishing shots so it's morning when Lennier explains Season One to Sheridan and Ivanova and evening when everyone meets up at the officer's club and Sheridan gives his speech to an empty C'n'C. I'm leaning towards the last one as making the most logical sense.
  • croxiscroxis I am the walrus
    I too echo my jaw dropping amazement and appreciation.

    Oh to have the pre sfx shots....
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    So, I've still been fiddling with this in the background, conducting some research and prep-stuff. Just to make myself happy, I found an on-line calculator for centrifugal artificial gravity and got a spin-rate for B5 that I could use with authority (once every 90 seconds). I added more of a self-lighting rig on the Minbari Warcruiser based on Sheridan's ship in "The Lost Tales," with lights in the recesses between the ribs, and one of B5 Scrolls' interviews mentioned how the high deffy Epsilon 3 map was made for TLT (a recolored Mars with a bunch of gouges added from topographical surveys of the Grand Canyon so there's somewhere for the Great Machine to go) so I shamelessly ripped off that tactic because I don't trust my own painting ability and it looked fine in the movie.

    Yesterday I cranked out the next shot in the episode, an establisher of Babylon 5. When I was looking at it, I realized that, as nice and proportional as Ed Giddings' B5 is (the benefit of being the first one released after plan drawings of the original were released, IIRC), it's really '90s in terms of detailing. Since I'd want to replace it as soon as I could with a HD-level version anyway, I decided to phone it in a little and not do a proper shot breakout for this one yet, and just use it as a placeholder for now. Since I didn't go through all that work, it meant I wasn't really that upset when I looked at the finished product and found that I'd forgotten to reset my fake nebula radiosity from 30 fps to 24 fps, so the fill light is flickering, and that the red light in the center docking bay has shadow casting on, so the bay flickers off then back on when the little shuttle flies through it.

    Oh, and there's a keming problem with the "y" in "Babylon" and the "J" in "January" overlapping on the chyron (which I looked up to get the spelling, and has a completely different etymology than I'd guessed). I'll get that, too.

    Also, since amazing people frequent this form, if anyone knows of where I could find a plan view of the Observation Dome/C'n'C set, that'd be awesome. I'm considering building a low-detail version of the set, which I'll need because I'm insane, but it'll only be really useful if it's pretty close to perfect in terms of proportions. Actually, I suppose I only really need to get the window perfect...

    Babylon 5: Ed Giddings
    "Epsilon 3": Starbase1
    Epsilon Nebula: Amras
    Starfury: Mark Kane
    Starfury Wingart: Chris Guinn
    Freighter: Dave Hribarm
    Shuttle: Alexander Shareef

    [url=]Again, sorry, YouTube doesn't believe in 480p video, it's either HD or nothing.[/url]
  • WORFWORF The Burninator
    I just found this. Very impressive!

    Having to replace CGI with characters in is going to be tricky. As Croxis said, if only the original unedited footage was available.
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    Well, in most of the cases, it'll be flat-out impossible. The only things I expect I'll be able to do are greenscreen shots with people looking out of windows, or set-expanding matte paintings (in this episode, the Gray Council in their viewing room is the only example). And even that'll be odd, since the CG will be of conspicuously higher quality than the live-action stuff on top of it.

    Other stuff, like Keffer and his sexy hologram in this episode, or PPG fights or (grrrr) crossfades, nonstandard shot transitions, and the occasional "cropped from the SD version just because we felt like it" shot that has nothing that could be remotely construed to be a visual effect, I'll just have to live with for this project.
  • A2597A2597 Fanboy
    This is amazing.

    I do know of an incredibly detailed Babylon 5 model being worked on at SciFi meshes, at least as detailed as the Lost Tales version. What program are you doing all of this in? I'd wager we can find a couple people to assist at SciFi Meshes. :D
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    Still a Lightwave man at home. I just did a search for B5 at SciFi Meshes- were you talking about [url=]this one?[/url]

    I'm actually tempted to take a shot at doing it myself. Fabio put up enough shots to get a good sense of how the whole thing goes together and it'd let me do it to my exact needs and specifications. Besides, modelers get all the geek cred. But is that enough to counteract how little I enjoy modeling? We shall see...
  • BigglesBiggles <font color=#AAFFAA>The Man Without a Face</font>
    Funny, I've always much preferred modeling over layout. I always put it down to my secret life as a plastic model builder. :p
  • MessiahMessiah Failed Experiment
    To be honest, I dont remember the original shots. Damn fine work you did though.
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    [url=]Here's the latest, and it's the part where I get really ambitious.[/url]

    A bit too ambitious, honestly. The shot with Ivanova walking towards the window is probably tied for the hardest shot to do in the whole episode. Which is why it's just a placeholder for now. After I did it, I remembered that I still have access to a matchmoving program that'll be able to automate the camera tracking for it, so that'll solve one problem, but the matting is going to be a beast no matter how you slice it. So I decided to punt it until later in the project, after I've done a few more observation dome composites and gotten the hang of all of the different things I'll have to do to it one at a time, rather than jumping into the deep end by doing this one first.

    The shot of Corwin was really easy, though. So, small favors. Also, I got tired of YouTube mercilessly compressing my videos, so I upconverted it to 720p. It's a bit bigger than my rendered images, and way bigger than the live-action stuff from the DVD, but it was the only way I could see to keep it from crushing it down to a measly 320 pixel height and piddling data-rate, so we come out ahead.
  • ShadowDancerShadowDancer When I say, "Why aye, gadgie," in my heart I say, "Och aye, laddie." London, UK
    Wow! That looks amazing! So when can we expect the first whole episode? ;)
  • FreejackFreejack Jake the Not-so-Wise
    Cool stuff, hey if you can just make the stars rotate in all the C&C shots I'd be happy...

  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    [QUOTE=ShadowDancer;193013]Wow! That looks amazing! So when can we expect the first whole episode? ;)[/QUOTE]

    Well, I'm through with the first pass on the Teaser and Act 1 now. Act two just has one station establishing shot and two quick-and-east Observation Domes. I'll probably stall out a bit on Act three, since that has the Battle of the Line flashback, and I want to choreograph the whole thing so I can be sure it's all consistent if I carry the project forward. (Incidentally, we only see new footage of the Battle of the Line in "Sky Full of Stars", "Points of Departure", "A Late Delivery From Avalon", and "In the Beginning", right? I'm not forgetting anything?)

    Act 4 is all the stuff with the rogue Minbari ship. Quite a few Observation Dome shots, and I'm also going to have to make a Cobra Bay and Starfury cockpit. I also want to scuff up the renegade Minbari ship, so it's distinguishable from the friendly one, and since it's been going around for ten years without making port. That'll be some more prep, too.

    The tag just has a station establisher, an establishing shot of Earhart's (good thing I've been collecting reference on the station core, too...), and the other really painfully complicated Observation Dome shot.

    Eh. Could be worse.

    [QUOTE=Freejack;193014]Cool stuff, hey if you can just make the stars rotate in all the C&C shots I'd be happy...[/QUOTE]

    I'm taking it as a consolation prize to make up for the fact that I can't fix the PPG shots and other live-action stuff. I'll barely be able to work with matte paintings and blue screens (I am not looking forward to the scene in the Grey Council's God Room later in the episode. It doesn't [i]look[/i] like it'll be that hard to key out Delenn and Coplann/Hedronn and put them on top of my own CG, but I'm expecting to be disappointed).
  • It took me awhile to notice, but the Corwin shot, with Epsilon III, got me hard.
  • A2597A2597 Fanboy

    The bit with Epsilon 3 is when it hit me what you had done. :D
    (Clicking link before reading text, LOL)
  • ShadowDancerShadowDancer When I say, "Why aye, gadgie," in my heart I say, "Och aye, laddie." London, UK
    [QUOTE=Seafroggys;193016]It took me awhile to notice, but the Corwin shot, with Epsilon III, got me hard.[/QUOTE]
    You really need to get out more :p
  • BigglesBiggles <font color=#AAFFAA>The Man Without a Face</font>
    Seeing Epsilon 3 spinning in the background is really awesome.
  • Cool stuff, hey if you can just make the stars rotate in all the C&C shots I'd be happy...

  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    So, after I mentioned it in the ITF Demo thread, I decided to start back up on this project. I haven't done any new shots, but I've done a good amount of R&D, which is almost as much fun.

    I did end up trying Autodesk MatchMover. It handled the shot of Ivanova and Corwin from the last update with aplomb, but choked on the closing shot of the episode, which I expected to be the sharp, pointy crown jewel of difficulty on this project, containing both a lengthy camera move and a focal-length change.

    I used a spare computer in the office to re-render the second shot of the Agamemnon from the episode's teaser, removing the odd tweening error I'd hoped no one would notice but which someone did. I then re-rendered it again when I got frustrated with the jump point opening effect. Yuri's "A Call to Arms" jump point used a pre-made animated image map to accomplish the sparking that occurs before the point opens. Unfortunately, it was set for 30 frames per second, and I'm rendering the shots for this episode at 24 FPS. Lightwave appears to make an odd choice when it comes to splitting the difference in this case, keeping the timing correct by holding on the nearest frame, rather than making the transition within frames. The upshot was that the texture would hold for two frames, then skip a frame, then proceed normally for a time, giving the effect a noticeable stutter.

    I asked around at the office, and figured out a plan of attack to recreate the effect procedurally. In Lightwave, it's using "Previous Layer" as the input to a gradient shader, and in Maya, it's called a Ramp Shader. Whatever it's named, the way it works is to take a source image and redefine what its colors output as. In this case, grey becomes white, and both black and white become black.

    I'd seen this technique described before, in []a presentation by Bungie Studios[/url] ("Blowing S#!t Up the Bungie Way") describing how they were able to get everything from flaming explosions to electrical arcing from one or two grayscale textures, and recognized it as how that jump point texture had to have been done, but I hadn't realized how to translate that technique into the programs I use.

    I tried a purely procedural solution, but it didn't quite look right. The "energy ring" was too even, and it didn't crinkle up at the center of the cone object the way the image map did. I eventually created a map in Photoshop to use as a baseline, and animated the "Previous layer" gradient instead. I threw in a semi-transparent layer of fractal turbulence in Lightwave which was gradually animated just so the energy effect wouldn't repeat precisely every time. This was also the most contact I've had with Lightwave's node-based surfacing, and I finally used some of the features that set it apart from the traditional surfacing options. The ability to directly feed one texture into multiple channels was a revelation, compared to the old way of having to copy-and-paste texture layers from color to specularity to glow to transparency and so on.

    The upshot is, the new jump point now looks smooth opening up even at 24 FPS. Here's the updated version of the shot.


    I took another pass at the lighting rig for Rhys Salcombe's Minbari Warcruiser, brightening it considerably and switching the lights between the bottom ribs to single points rather than pairs of spots. I experimented with doing the effect with a luminance map, but it didn't quite achieve the goal, so I stuck with doing it with lights. I also created a beaten-up version of the ship to represent the Trigati, to give some visual credence to the idea that the ship had been square in the middle of the biggest battle of the Earth-Minbari War when it deserted and hadn't been able to make port for repairs in the twelve years since, and to differentiate it from the second Warcruiser that shows up at the end. It's the first time I've done modeled damage on a spaceship, so that was fun.

    The top fin has a blast mark on both sides, inspired by one of the shots of the Battle of the Line in "In the Beginning," where a Starfury crashes into that section of a Minbari ship and blows out through the other side. I chewed away the lower left fin, and added a fairly large hole on the right side of the main hull, as if the right forward gun on the ship had misfired. I put a layer of procedural dirt over the whole ship, as well. I'm sure some people will think I'm overdoing it, given how much the Minbari outmatched Earth during the war, but there were a fair few shots of damaged Minbari ships in ITB, and I figured a Warrior Caste ship would be more likely than most to wade into the middle of the fight where they might take a few blows.

    [url=][img][/img][/url] [url=][img][/img][/url]

    [url=][img][/img][/url] [url=][img][/img][/url]


    Next up, I believe, are a couple of easy Observation Dome window shots, a couple of Babylon 5 establishing shots, and then the Battle of the Line flashback. I'm planning to do a thread here when I get to that part, because it's my intention to plan out the whole battle, so I can have iron-clad shot continuity between this episode, "And The Sky Full of Stars" and "In the Beginning," and I want to get input and have a chance to bounce around my ideas.
  • BigglesBiggles <font color=#AAFFAA>The Man Without a Face</font>
    That jump point looks damn nice. It's very smooth.

    The damage effects are impressive, too. I bet modelling all those rooms was fun... :)

    I'm curious to see how the shot with Ivanova and Corwin turned out.
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    I haven't actually done it yet, I just ran it through the tracker to see if it would handle it better than the ending shot with Sheridan.
  • WORFWORF The Burninator
    I'm glad to see you're starting this project up again :)
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    [url=]Here's a quick little update. [/url]Consider it a preview, since I think I'll hold off on the blog post until I do the next shot after this one so I can write them all up together.

    It's the B5 establishing shot at the top of Act 2. It's one of the common season one shots. I really liked how it turned out, though as with the other B5 shot, I didn't bother doing a full breakout and comp since I intend to replace virtually everything in the scene with an updated model as soon as there are updated models to replace them with.

    I put in the audio for the shot, but there's no live-action context like I had before, because Premiere is being weird. I'll have it sorted for the next one.
  • C_MonC_Mon A Genuine Sucker
    Looks awesome!
  • croxiscroxis I am the walrus
    /me sighs
  • A2597A2597 Fanboy
    Great work man. Making Season one look GOOD. :)
  • DarthCaligulaDarthCaligula Elite Ranger
    Isn't the view from C&C wrong though? I mean, shouldn't the stars be moving differently? I'm not trying to insult you, I actually think this is really cool, but that view just seems off to me. It kind of looks like C&C would be in the center of the station from how they're moving. Does anyone know this stuff better?
  • David of MacDavid of Mac Elite Ranger Ca
    The way I've got it set up, the rough C&C model I did is sitting on top of the C&C on the Babylon 5 model I'm using, rotating just as it does in exterior shots. I'm matching the angles as best I can to the set, but the shot directly out the window is a lousy example because of the hand-matched camera move. However...

    This is a bit difficult to explain, since I know it's physically accurate because of how it's set up, but I didn't actually have to work out all the perspective theory, so I'm have trouble explaining it. As near as I can figure, since the stars and nebula are effectively infinitely far away, the point along the station's axis that they're rotating will be [url=]the vanishing point[/url], which is more or less on the horizon. It'd be easier to tell C&C isn't rotating on its own axis if there was something closer to it visible in the window, like a ship, or if you could see the forked, sticky-out section of the station's spine rotate past (which you probably will in one of the shots closer to the end of the episode. There will also be an upside-down Minbari cruiser, but it'll be too far away for the perspective to make much difference).

    I actually just rendered the star fields for the next two observation dome shots, and they should be better examples. I'm hoping to do the compositing for them over the weekend and get them posted in the next few days. IIRC, the axis for the star field is slightly, but noticeably, above the horizon of the camera.
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