• Thread Spotlight - Fractalsponge's Star Wars Projects

    "So I'm going to try and condense 3d my stuff into 1 thread - easier to keep track of." So begins one of the most popular and enduring Work in Progress threads on the SFM forums. That was back in June 2006. Five years, 2,740 posts and almost four and a half hundred thousand thread views later and SFM's resident greeble addict Ansel "fractalsponge" Hsiao shows no signs of slowing down as he pumps out one incredibly detailed Star Wars model after another.

    Not content with creating what is almost certainly the most accurate and detailed Imperial Star Destroyer CG model in existence right now, Anesl's Star Wars projects thread features various models of imperial fighters, shuttles, ground combat walkers and massive capital ships, the biggest of which being the formidable, 15km long behemoth - the Assertor-class Star Dreadnought, "Wrath".

    The sense of scale in Ansel's models is clearly evident due to his exquisite detailing and extensive greebles

    The level of detail present on Ansel's models borders on overwhelming. Turbolaser emplacements, sensor globes, hull paneling, pipes, vents and antennas cover the hulls of his creations. You would imagine this process of modeling all this detail would be incredibly long and cumbersome - but surprisingly - according to Ansel - this is not the case...

    One of my main strategies in greebling is to make things as modular as possible. Put the time in early to create a library of clean greebles in the style and density necessary for the project, and then clone, vary, and assemble. Something whose feasibility is directly related to how much you're willing to depart from fixed references. Interpret, and move quickly, or follow a reference, and move slowly."

    Detailing from a starting library is amazingly fast once you know the style and density you want. I've been amazed at the speed I can throw together capital ship detailing now; I should make a video of it. - fractalsponge
    Yes Ansel, you really should.

    A collection of some of the pre-made weapons emplacements used in Ansel's models

    In achieving such levels of what can only be described as "hyper-detailing", part of the challenge becomes balancing what should be modeled and what can safely be left out to ensure the model remains practical to work with. These decisions are directly linked to the intended physical size of your model and how close you will realistically be placing a camera to it. In the case of a ship the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer, it is unlikely that you'll be zooming in to see individual windows on the surface, making carefully chamfered edges on windows a time - and polygon - consuming luxury best avoided.

    The paneling is a compromise between something that's actually visible and keeping everything approximately within polygon budget. Obviously there is a final level of grid detail, even on the ISD, that would never be modeled because it's simply not efficient to do so. Part of what makes this project feasible (certainly within 2 months) is a trade off between detail resolution and size.

    A ship 30x the volume of an ISD done at the same resolution is going to be something like 60mil polygons. Obviously my efficiency of modeling has improved, but still, unreasonable. This file already takes 3.3GB of ram to load, and 4-5 to render depending on the resolution. - fractalsponge (on modeling the Bellator)

    Ansel kindly shares (after some convincing) an example of his sketching - an example of the careful planning that goes into his work

    With Ansel's skills at pixel pushing - and his uncanny speed at churning out new models - you'd be forgiven for assuming he's a professional artist. This however, is not the case. In fact, in Ansel's own words, his working hours are spent "studying bacterial pathogenesis and interactions between enteropathogens and gut commensal bacteria". While my own knowledge of bacterial pathogenesis is a little hazy - a quick Google search assures me that he's not just blatantly making things up. And even if he were, he has reasonable credentials for doing so - You see, Ansel has a PhD in Microbiology and now works as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Washington University in Saint Louis.

    That he is a student of science will probably not surprise anyone who has taken the time to read Anel's posts. The amount of thought and consideration that goes into his designs is impressive. From a tiny starfighter to the massive Imperial capital ships, Ansel has considered factors in his designs such as mass, energy requirements, crew and fighter compliments, etc.

    Ansel's rendition of the TIE Defender - a heavy fighter from LucasArt's "TIE Fighter" (1994)

    That's one reason I try to have some consistent in-universe design principles behind the visual products I make. Some might say it's technobabble, but I say it's putting some "science" back into science fiction. Even if audiences, or movies or my own art, don't consciously think about such things, there's value and elegance in consistency and plausibility in fictional worlds and designs, especially scifi ones. Mark Gabbana once said of SW design: "reality with a slight twist"; I don't expect many people to look at the turrets of a big star destroyer I make and think about how power requirements and fire tactics might dictate the layout, but putting some thought into it adds a little (and I think important) grounding in reality that I believe is important. Plus, it appeals to my inner anorak ...Every ship and component can have a backstory that makes it richer than the sum of its pixels. Coolhand's universe and creations has been an inspiration in this regard.
    - fractalsponge
    Never before has the Assault Gunboat, from LucasArt's "X-Wing" (1993), been seen in such detail

    Scifi-Meshes wishes to thank Ansel for his time in answering our questions and, more importantly, for sharing his work with the SFM community. When asked if he had anything he'd like to share with the members of SFM, Ansel had this to say.

    I have to say that being able to share my work and get feedback, support, and inspiration from a community of like-minded artists has been hugely important in both me developing as an artist and in my enjoyment of my favorite past time. - fractalsponge

    The Imperial Star Dreadnought Wrath, Assertor-class - one of Ansel's own original designs

    Comments 14 Comments
    1. kenny's Avatar
      kenny -
      Brilliant Work

      Love It!!

      I'll take 300 please
    1. Aresius's Avatar
      Aresius -
      The work of a master.... Lovely.
    1. Armondikov's Avatar
      Armondikov -
      Even with all the time-saving efficiencies, it's impressive to hold down a research position and do that sort of thing.

    1. Rycon's Avatar
      Rycon -
    1. Maverick Eagle's Avatar
      Maverick Eagle -
      Truly his work is art. Its almost hard to believe that such vast amounts of work of this detail can be done by one man.
    1. Brandenberg's Avatar
      Brandenberg -
      "Its almost hard to believe that such vast amounts of work of this detail can be done by one man." --- Maverick Eagle

      One man with a job, no less!!

      You left out what software package Ansel uses.
    1. Comco's Avatar
      Comco -
      So I did. My apologies. I'll update the article to reflect that when a have a few spare minutes. For the record, he uses 3ds Max.
    1. Ftat's Avatar
      Ftat -
      Awesome work. I'm speachless.
    1. stoli's Avatar
      stoli -
      This is the benchmark to set for noobs like me, I just need to find some way of transfering his skills to me lol, absolutely fantastic does not even come close.
    1. timelord10's Avatar
      timelord10 -
      Incredible work. Somebody needs to work for Lucas and design ships for the upcoming TV show.
    1. mittermeyer's Avatar
      mittermeyer -
      Love your work
    1. Emperor2.0's Avatar
      Emperor2.0 -
      How long did you teach to do these things???
    1. Chief_Chainsaw's Avatar
      Chief_Chainsaw -
      As always just amazing pieces!
    1. Tanz's Avatar
      Tanz -
      Outstanding work