An easier way to make Trekkish ship hull "Aztec" patterns

I'm always on the hunt for cheaper and easier ways to do things. If you're a Trek nut, you've probably given the special effects of the various movies a good hard look and noticed some exquisite texturing of the ship's hull. A fine example of a fan's work can be seen here. The thing to note is the repeating pattern of light and dark areas on the primary hull. Man, what a lot of work.

I found this site which had a pretty good tutorial on how to achieve the effect with fairly low effort. Low effort? Yah, right. It still was more than I wanted to invest. For starters, I haven't got enough experience with Illustrator to get the lines all lined up, and curved, and properly radial. Blek. I decided to come up with a trick that exploited the power of Lightwave (well, any 3D rendering app should be able to achieve the same results) and avoid even more work.

  • Lightwave can make cones.
  • Lightwave can project bitmaps onto surfaces using "cylindrical" mapping.
  • Lightwave can render orthographic projections.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? I can make a pattern in just a few minutes. As in, perhaps five whole minutes.

Start up your favorite paint program (that can paint individual pixels) and make a very small bitmap. Black and white, 7 pixels across and 6 pixels down. I used Windows Paint. Paint a pattern of black and white pixels that has no intrinsic pattern to it and has a roughly 50-50 distribution of black and white. Something like this (It's zoomed in for clarity - those are really just single pixels):

Now, make a new bitmap that's twice as tall and four times as wide. Copy your base image into the upper-left corner. Then paste your base image again into the lower left corner. In the lower left, invert the black and the white (Windows Paint has no automatic feature to do this):

Now, Copy those pixels and drop them adjacent, and flip them left/right (Windows Paint does provide a method to do this automatically):

Now copy the pattern from the lower left to the upper right, and vice-versa:

We're now ready to exploit Lightwave. Save this image. Start up modeller and create a cone, on the Y axis, 500mm radius for all dimensions. Initially, give it a low number of sides, but we'll change that later. For the default texture, make an image map, cylindrical mapping on the Y axis, and use the little bitmap we've prepped. Turn off pixel blending and mipmapping. Click Auto Size. For the scale, set Y to 1/N, where N is how many concentric "stripes" you want (X and Z scale should already be set automatically). Set the Width Wrap Amount to how many radial repetitions you want. Save the object and start up Layout.

Load the cone into a new default scene. Change the default light to point straight down, and move the camera so it also points straight down, and then aim it over the cone. You may need to increase the light's intensity to get black and white results, as opposed to black and grey. Set your camera resolution to something square. If you're using Lightwave 9, set the camera type to Orthographic, and set the image height to 1m. If you're using an older version, set your camera very high up, and then zoom in so the cone occupies the whole image view. Render!

You may notice that yours doesn't quite look "round." This is because the cone isn't quite round. Go back to modeller and recreate it, only this time give it 1000 sides. That will make the base of the cone round enough that you won't end up with a pointy edge and an angular feel throughout the pattern.

I don't know about you, but I say that's a whole lot easier than playing for an hour in Illustrator. Of course, you might want a bit more control over exactly where things fall, and you may want a different pattern closer in to the center. This will take a bit more work, but you can easily figure that out on your own (slice the cone and define more surfaces).

Comments (2) -

  • Hey! Thanks for the great technique! I've been playing with it, as well as a variation on the same theme for making 'deflector grid' lines for my models. I'm checking out the rest of your site, and hoping for more gems.

    Again, nice ideas -- thanks!
  • Wow, great job. You could pull this off using this material in any package, not just lightwave. Great ideas!

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