Loads of space

There appears to be a little space theme building up here. Coming rapidly on the back of the Space Poop Challenge is yet another space-based competition, the Cube Sat Challenge which Hugo Shelley roped me into once again.

Shameless plug warning. Go and vote for him here: https://herox.com/cubesat-challenge/entry/16321

I’m not sure which of the two are cooler, but it was yet another fast-paced job with lashings of Blender goodness.

Hugo delivered a CAD model with some pretty instructions. “Make it fly….in space….over a blue glowing planet…..animated unfolding….” yada yada yada. All very well and good, but it was quite a fiddly process figuring out exactly how the blasted thing was supposed to work.

The wonders of the interwebs meant that he was able to furnish me with a video of a paper model doing its thing, so in no time at all I was deep into a rigging sessions. Blender being what it is, there is no “proper” way of doing anything, it really boils down to whichever work flow you are comfortable with.

It’s a pretty neat concept, one of the key features being the antenna “legs” that unfold in flight in a really simple yet incredibly clever way. Think of it as engineering origami.

My initial reaction was “simples” until I realised there will have to be some synchronised shape-key skullduggery and then there was much gnashing and wailing of teeth as I attempted to wire up everything using drivers and one empty. In theory, this was a great idea. In practice, when literally every second counts, complexity is you enemy. Especially when Blender still has some rough edges when it comes to instancing and requires some rather humorous if pretty annoying work-arounds.

It does not help the the NLA editor is clearly smoking the dope sheet, and the dope sheet is fighting the action editor and everything is a giant, messy spaghetti when it comes to animation. This is Blender’s strength and achille’s heels. The software has tremendous flexibility once you have gone through its insane learning curve. There are so many wrinkles you have to learn, but they make perfect sense once you have all of that under your belt.

Fortunately there was not that much that had to be modelled this time, and the texturing was quite simple. Lighting was a bit of a pain, and some stuff had to be composited, and rendering a lot of frames takes absolutely ages so we resorted to render.st who are pretty good, both price-wise and support-wise.

Compositing in Blender is really advanced, and there are no end of tricks that can be employed to get the result you want; in this case I went easy and really did the bare minimum in order to save time and reduce the sheer amount of grief a complex node-tree can cause.

The satellite was rendered on one layer, composited over the sky haze which was blurred with a gaussian node, and all of that was dumped over the earth. Some very simple sky glare was blended over the whole mix.

As with such projects, time was really of essence, so I couldn’t get all the special effects in that I or Hugo wanted, but the end result seems to do the design justice nonetheless.

You got this far? Well done. Now go and vote here: https://herox.com/cubesat-challenge/entry/16321 and make some very strange people very happy.