sci-ficandy: BSG by Apple (aka radiosity renders)


So I was digging though the BSG CGI archives and ran across some early renders that used a process called radiosity.  In most cases, renders like this are only used for tests and are never seen by the general public but I’ve always thought they looked pretty nifty so I thought I’d share a few.  After all, it’s Christmas and I can’t think of anything Galactica  fans would like more than never-before-seen pictures of the Galactica!   Click ahead for more images and an explanation of what this wacky radio-city-thingamajig is all about…

 In the wild and wooly world of 3D animation, radiosity is essentially bounce lighting; in the real world, it’s a simple fact of life – light naturally bounces off whatever surface it hits and scatters to its neighbors (walk into your bathroom and shine a flashlight against the wall.  Light doesn’t just stick to that one wall, it bounces all over the place and lights up the room – that’s radiosity).  In 3D animation, however, there is no such natural luxury – if you build a CGI bathroom and shine a light against the virtual wall, it willstick to only that surface… unless you click the radiosity button!  Then you can bounce your light all over the place, as shown in these simple examples of before and after turning on the radiosity feature:


The render on the left shows a normal spotlight aimed at a corner of the room.  It hits the top of the box and a few walls, but since radiosity is off, that’s where the life of the light ends.  On the right, we see what happens when radiosity is turned on – light reflects off the walls and the box and now surfaces that were not in the direct path of the spotlight have also been lit up!  Note the corner of the room, where the two lit walls bounce light onto each other, causing the crease between the walls to get so much light it’s now overexposed – just as it would be in real life.

So, naturally, now you’re wondering why anyone would ever bother to turn off radiosity – it looks so much more realistic!  Yes, it does, but that sort of realism comes at a cost.  That simple render on the left only took two seconds for the computer to draw.  But the one on the right took almost thirty  seconds.  Calculating all that bounce light takes time!   Now, thirty seconds may not seem like a lot of time to create a frame of your favorite TV show, and if it were only thirty seconds we were talking about here, sure, every frame of Battlestar Galactica  would be rendered that way.  But the scene up above is only 12 polygons (two six-sided cubes).  The model of the Galactica is nearly two million.   One frame of that ship with all the bells and whistles of radiosity would take many, many hours per frame (it has been used, but it’s generally on a case-by-case basis, depending on how noticeable the artist thinks the effect would be).



However, there is another aspect of radiosity that is used more frequently, and that is called backdrop radiosity.  This is a form of radiosity that forgoes all that directional bouncing in favor of a method that simply fires light evenly from an omnidirectional source (generally a backdrop color or image, hence the name backdrop radiosity).  Basically, what it means is if you simply make a blue backdrop for your scene and turn it on, it will cast a very smooth, even light on your object.  This ends up looking very much like sunlight on a cloudy day, where you have no distinct, hard shadows and no obvious light direction.  So, what use is that?  Well, one thing it’s useful for is mimicking the soft lighting in a photo studio, typically used for “product shots” where you want something lit very evenly and very tastefully, with no harsh shadows to get in the way of what you’re trying to sell.  Car commercials like to use this, but it’s also very handy when you want to get a good look at your 3D model with real-world lighting from all sides.  Kind of like this:



This is a test render of the unfinished “Flattop” model (one of the ships of the Rag Tag Fleet) from 2003, created during production of the original BSG miniseries.  The backdrop radiosity (in this case, a backdrop of all-white) lights the model very smoothly and evenly, but still shades nooks and corners realistically (note how the top part of the engine under the main hull is darker, since the light coming from above can’t reach it).  It almost looks like a real, unpainted plastic model!   This is why model makers love doing these backdrop radiosity renders – it’s an easy way to show off every last detail of your hard work and  make your model look very realistic (it’s also a great way to look at your work-in-progress to spot geometry errors or just figure out what to do next).   Here’s another shot of some close-up detail on the Flattop model:



Traditionally, these images are rarely seen outside of the visual effects studios because, really, who wants to see a boring old test render?  Well, if you’re a big nerd like me who loves to see all the details on your favorite spaceship, renderings like the one below really make your pulse race:


Notice how you can clearly see every last bit of detail in the model?  That’s partly due to the fact that that the standard “realistic” lighting isn’t used here, which traditionally casts large portions of the ship in shadow.  Another big difference is that you are seeing the model here -for the first time- with no texture maps.  This is the geometry-only, folks.  Essentially, the “paint job” that adds color, decals, burn marks and finer detail has yet to be added.


As you can see, even without final textures, the Galactica (built by VFX veteran Lee Stringer) is a very detailed model.  Very often, fine details are “faked” by simply drawing them on with the texture maps, but modeled (or “built-in”) detail work always looks better.  Since the Galactica was clearly one of the most important models in the series, the time was taken to hardwire a fine level of detail into the model itself (uber fans of the original BSG may notice some of the fine details are exactly duplicated from the original 1978 Galactica miniature).  Here are a few close-up shots, with the flightpod out and retracted:



 These images (which you can click to make bigger) would help not only the model makers see how their work was progressing, but are often shown to producers and studio heads to get final approval of the basic design before the painstaking work of adding the final paint job is finished.  Also, to let you in on a little secret, most often these renders are done so the model maker can bask in the glory of how awesome his work looks fully rendered :-)   [Don’t deny it, Lee!]

On the left, we see the launch tube as pure geometry and with backdrop radiosity providing the only illumination.  On the right, we’ve added a few texture maps and some of the launch tube lighting:



The Gemini Freighter:



And, last but not least, here is an early radiosity render of everyone’s favorite mechanical bad-guy: 



Ok, class, that about wraps it up for this behind-the-scenes look at the world of 3D visual effects.  Since this is the first time anyone has seen these radiosity renders, I’m very curious what people think of them, so please leave comments with your opinions!  Are they ho-hum boring or are you bouncing off the walls, ready to see more?  Heh heh, bouncing off walls, radiosity, get it? 

Nerd humor.

Oh, and remember, Battlestar Galactica  returns to Sci-Fi channel on January 16th at 10pm, so be sure to tune in.  Like I even have to tell you.

55 Responses to “sci-ficandy: BSG by Apple (aka radiosity renders)”

  1. 1 Sandor Sklar
    December 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    I want to be you. Wanna trade lives? Mine isn’t that bad, but to be honest, compared to yours, its nothing.

  2. December 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Hells Yeah! This is the kind of detail-examining-enabling illustrations that we geeks crave!

  3. 3 dssstrkl
    December 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    What kind of hardware were those renders done on and how long did it take? I think a full radiosity render at 1920×1080 would take my laptop at least 8 hours. I saved a preview of a >7000 polygon model at 1920×1080 and it was over 100mb and took over an hour. The actual render with radiosity would have taken weeks! I did a single frame with a 95,000+ poly model with full texture maps (and planet model, starfield and lighting) in HD and that one frame took about 10 hours! I think if I was to do that professionally, I would need some serious hardware.

  4. 4 darthmojo
    December 27, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Most of the renderings in this article were done back in 2003, before there were even dual cores. Remember, these are BACKDROP radiosity renders, which are MUCH faster than true radiosity with multiple bounces. Only in the last few years have speedier machines and more efficient software made radiosity something we could use on a daily basis. Even now, most people will still only use it for shots where they know it will make a big difference, because it DOES take so much longer to render. And when we do use it, a lot of time is spent tweaking the settings for maximum efficiency. Perhaps in another 2 or 3 years, rendering speeds will be at a point where radiosity is used by default.

    If you want to get specific, a full HD render like the one of the Galactica here, using backdrop radiosity and full antialising, would take maybe half an hour (on a quad core machine with plenty of ram). Backdrop radisoity is not that bad as far as render times go, and many FX houses routinely use it for a fill light pass.

    Sandor: Be careful what you wish for… never automatically assume someone else’s life is better than yours, no matter HOW cool their job is! Sometimes I think I’d be happier to trade it all in for a wife, 2 kids a house and normal life. SOMETIMES.

  5. 5 Andy
    December 27, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Some cool renders there, thanks for posting them.

  6. 6 Anonymous
    December 27, 2008 at 3:43 am

    Is this all just pure geometry? Any displacement maps?

  7. 7 Master Prudent
    December 27, 2008 at 5:21 am

    Yes, these are awesome. I’ve always thought of Galactica as a little bit boring; particularly when held up against ships like the B-Wing but it is gorgeous here.

  8. December 27, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Long time reader, first time commenter. : ) I really appreciate you taking the time to give us this level of background on the renders, and all the background on the series so far. Please keep it up. Thanks a bunch.

  9. 9 Markhb
    December 27, 2008 at 6:12 am

    Dribble, drool. Out of interest, how long did it take Lee to model the Galactica?

    Gotta admit, when I first saw the new G the very Old Galactica fitting near the name-plate had me laughing hard. Not as hard as Serenity flying past, but still pretty hard :)

  10. December 27, 2008 at 6:41 am

    You say that this BSG rendering is a “full HD render”, but—at least in the provided image—it’s not even 720p. I know that the show only rendered in 720p and upscaled, to save time; but is that really done for the preproduction work too?

    (I’d been rather hoping that getting full 1080p effects on the eventual Blu-Ray disc would just be a matter of letting the render farm work overtime rebuilding everything over vacation(s). But if it was never designed/looked at in 1080p, that just won’t happen!)

  11. December 27, 2008 at 10:19 am

    It’s all pure geometry – no displacement mapping at all. I can’t speak for all the guys that worked on her but I do know that the Engine section that I detailed took me two weeks or so to model. Lee handled all the Texturing and had to optimise all the guys work to ensure that it came down to a reasonable polygon count to allow for efficient rendering.

    We were asked to model in as much detail as possible so that the originals could be used for publicity work – and Lee handled creation of the production versions.

  12. 12 Phaser
    December 27, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    I’ve seen some of these renders on-line. In fact, the first Galactica render has been my desktop for a long time. It’s a beautiful effect! I’d absolutely love to see some samples for Pegasus, if they exist. Thanks also for the explanation. I never really ‘got’ radiosity before.

  13. December 27, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Awesome! I really appreciate your inside looks (and even more the pictures you post). As you may have guessed I absolutely would like to see more!
    If you don’t mind me asking: Now that BG is almost over, what is it you are working on now, or will be working on in the near future?

  14. 14 ScoobieFan
    December 27, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    The way you go above & beyond to show us the whats and whys is outstanding. Thank you so much!!!

  15. 15 darthmojo
    December 28, 2008 at 3:17 am

    ANON: No displacement maps, that is all pure geometry.

    MARK: I’m talking to Lee about putting together some sort of article about building the Galactica and then all will be revealed. As Fabio has reminded me, Lee wasn’t the only one who worked on that behemoth, so we’ll find a way to set the record straight about who did what and the amount of work that went into it.

    ANDREW: If you click on the very first image in this post, it should come up as a full 1080 image. The others aren’t quite so huge, but certainly big enough to examine and enjoy. Besides, if you are a longtime reader of Darth Mojo, you’ll know I’ve always provided PLENTY of very hi-res images. But they can’t ALL be bandwidth hogs!

    THOMAS: What’s next? Good question. My work on BSG has been completed, but there are a few tasty morsels in the pipeline that I’ll share with everyone when the time is right. Stay tuned!

  16. 16 ety3
    December 28, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Very cool stuff. Thanks again, as always.

  17. 17 Scott Andrews
    December 28, 2008 at 9:20 am

    I say, “More, more, more!!!” I’ll take whatever you can give us about visual FX and your career, Mojo.

    Oh, and welcome back! I’ve missed your posts lately. :-(

    Mojo, I have a few questions for you about the design of the “new” Galactica compared to the “old” Galactica. Maybe you will get into this with the future articles you mentioned as being worked on, but maybe not.

    I grew up watching the original series and — despite its many flaws — always considered the Galactica itself to be one of the most beautiful spaceships in all of science fiction, up there with the Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, etc. It’s just an awesome aircraft carrier mixed with a battleship set in space and it looks so incredibly powerful and awe-inspiring. I love it.

    Back when I knew that there was a new “Battlestar Galactica” series in the works, I knew that the concepts and characters from the original series needed updating, but I was PRAYING that the one thing they wouldn’t change was the Galactica itself. And, for the most part, they didn’t. I was relieved when I saw my first still images of the ship… but I wasn’t blown away.

    They had kept the basic look of the ship, but made what I consider to be some odd choices. What was with the four smaller “pod” engines at the rear? And why, oh WHY, did they add the “ribbing” to the ship??????

    My second question, first: I can’t really describe it any other way, other than “ribbing”… the vertical “striping” that runs along the entire hull of the ship, on the primary and secondary hulls (to use Trek terminology), the launching bays and the engines. I just find the ribbing to be an… odd… choice. And when they are rendered in the darkness of space, they add a kind of rubber-y look to the ship that I have never, never liked.

    Even after five years of loving, loving, loving the series and the beyond-amazing special effects (they literally take my breath away), EVERY SINGLE TIME I see the ship I wonder “why did they put that aweful ribbing onto it?”.

    The other choice I found strange was changing the main propulsion engines from one big blocky engine to the four individual rounded pods. I find the pods to be a strange choice. (1) It makes the rear of the ship look more fragile, easier to damage. (2) They have a kind of “Star Trek”-y engine nacelle kind of look which gives the ship more of a Trek feel and less of its own unique Galactica feel. (3) The rear of the ship just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the design any more, in my opinion. I feel like it makes the Galactica look like two different ships soddered together haphazardly.

    Sorry this post was so long. But you are the first (and so far, only!) connection I’ve found online to the origins of the look of the ship. And I’d love to find out why these two design decisions were made. :-)

    Thanks so much for your blog. Linking to it was one of the best things I’ve found on the internet in nearly ten years of “surfing”!

  18. December 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Mojo & Fabio;

    Thank you. I’m breathing a heeYOOJ sigh of relief – two weeks would be difficult for me to produce that engine section in, but *just* difficult – not impossble (I’m flying into LA from the UK in about 3 weeks to blow my life-savings on job-hunting, you see!)

    Scott Andrews – my guess on the engine pods is the same reason an A-10 Warthog has her engines in seperate “trashcans” either side of her tail – so no one hit can destroy all of them. Redunancy and wiggle-room for the least money are hallmarks of the Military, and the Galactica’s a Military Boat. I hear your cries, but I also see the pragmatism that went into the New Galactica – same way the newer and more expensive Pegasus was more wholly armoured than her poorer, older cousin.

  19. 19 Peter von Frosta
    December 29, 2008 at 7:49 am

    >> You say that this BSG rendering is a “full HD render”, but—at least in the provided image—it’s not even 720p. I know that the show only rendered in 720p and upscaled, to save time; but is that really done for the preproduction work too?

    In all honesty I don’t think it wouldn’t make that big a difference if they rendered the shots in 1080p. I’ve got the Season 1 HD-DVD set (by the way, where are the missing seasons, any Blu-ray plans?) and if you compare the show to other shows like LOST or Prison Break for example, our most favorite show looks like shit, really. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s supposed to look like this with all the fake grain, extreme contrasts and what not. I’m pretty sure if you put The Shield on Blu-ray it won’t look any better (although that was done on 16mm I think). If you render all the shots in 1080p the detail will be lost in all that soup anyhow.

    I think it was on the Season 3 DVD where they at least show a little more about the process of filming the show on the algea planet and that actually a lot of the colour distortion is already donew “in camera” but what I’d really really love to see are a few comparison shots between rendering without colour grading and fake grain and the final image. Don’t know if Mojo has some images like this *wink* but I’d like to see something like this for sure.

  20. 20 Peter von Frosta
    December 29, 2008 at 7:54 am

    >> My second question, first: I can’t really describe it any other way, other than “ribbing”… the vertical “striping” that runs along the entire hull of the ship, on the primary and secondary hulls (to use Trek terminology), the launching bays and the engines. I just find the ribbing to be an… odd… choice. And when they are rendered in the darkness of space, they add a kind of rubber-y look to the ship that I have never, never liked.

    If I’m not completely mistaken the ribbons are only visible because they’ve stripped Galactica of her armouor (see mini-series). You can still see the armour plates in other places and Pegasis has most of her hull-plating intact.

  21. 21 Jeffbear
    December 29, 2008 at 8:40 am

    First off let me say WOW! that is very cool, I had no idea the Galactica model was so detailed.

    Can I ask one question, though: Is every single model you have created for the show been this detailed, or are some of them less detailed since they dont get as much screen time?

  22. 22 Richard K
    December 29, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for posting these images, they really show how much effort went in to designing the new Galactica. If you are not sworn to secrecy, can you tell us how FX heavy or intensive the final 10 episodes will be? Are there any real WOW moments or big battle scenes?

    Also, I’ve read the TV movie The Plan will show events from Season 1 and 2 from the Cylon perspective. Will the move show and of the space battles from the original Cylon attack and, if so, did it give you guys a chance in to slip in some new types of Colonial warships [like you were able to do in Razor]?

    As always, thanks for any updates and for sharing these images.

  23. 23 Aram
    December 29, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    @ Scott Andrews; As a fan of just the new BSG and not the original (at the moment anyway) I have to say the ship needed to be drastically updated or people like me who were new to the franchise would think it looked really out dated and out of place. I think they did a great job at updating the old ship with a newer look, just like with the basestars.

    I seem to remember ‘ribbing’ is a real concept to help with when a ship takes damage, to help minimise damage, but dont hold me to that. However its a pretty unique look to give the Battlestar which is probably why they used it.

    As for the engines, i think its to reflect the design of the flight pods. Ties in the design.

    @ Darth: Anything to do with the ships- I love to see!

  24. 24 darthmojo
    December 30, 2008 at 2:54 am

    RE: CGI@720 VS 1080

    I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the fact that the CGI on BSG is rendered “only” at 720 and upscaled to 1080 for the final. Everyone should understand that render time was the LEAST important factor in this decision.

    The fact is, at 1080, the CG just came out WAY too crisp. When intercut with the live action (or even composited), the CG popped off the screen and didn’t match the look and feel of the rest of the show. I’m sure all of you have had the experience of watching computer generated material on a flat panel or other high quality display and noticed just how razor-sharp it can look. It can often appear unaturally crisp.

    This was the case with BSG. In tests, footage rendered at 720 and upscaled later naturally took on a slight softness which made it a much better match with the live action footage. THIS was the most important deciding factor in going with 720 (the break in render time, you could say, was a happy side effect).

    The over-sharpness of CG is actually something I’m always fighting even in my own projects. It’s one of the things that “gives it away” if you’re trying to make a render look photoreal.

    When I was creating images for the “Ships of the Line” Star Trek calendar series, one of the little tricks I came up with was to manually trace the edges of the ships in Photoshop with the blur tool – it made a night and day difference in the overall perception of the ships looking real. In reality, objects in photographs simply do not have those razor-sharp edges, which is what you get “out of the box” with anything in CG. Rendering at 720 and adding a little bit of grain goes a long way towards combating that effect.

    If I were to supervise the visual effects for a movie RIGHT NOW, I would probably do something similar and render at a slightly lower res. Nearly every time I’ve either done or witnessed tests of CG, the results are always the same – you can get away with MUCH lower resolution than you think.

    When I was working on Serenity, there was a lot of arguing between the Lightwave and Maya artists about texture resolution. The Maya folks, who had worked on a lot of big movies, swore up and down that, for a movie, your texture maps had to be AT LEAST 4k or else the models would look like crap.

    The Lightwave artists, who had mostly come from TV projects, said that was bullshit and lower res maps would hold up just fine.

    But something had to be done, because 2 gigs of RAM was the maximum our machines could utilize at the time, and the shots were choking on all those hi-res image maps.

    So, we all agreed to do a test. We rendered 4 versions of identical shots in which the models had image maps of 4k, 2k, 1k and 512 pixels. Then we went to a theater and screened them all to see what differences we could visually perceive.

    My favorite moment was hearing the Maya guys in the back go “wow, I can’t even see the difference between the 4k and 512 versions!”

    Yes, the Lightwave folks walked out of that test screening very smug.

    We deciced to use 1k maps for everything, and if an object got REALLY close to camera, we’d up it to 2k.

    I think we did render everything at 1080, but I’m sure, even for a movie, you could get away with 720 and upres it. No one would know the difference.

    In fact, the upcoming Blu-Ray release of FIREFLY is going to be interesting. All the effects on that show were rendered in standard def only! So it’s going to be a mish-mash of 1080 live action and 480 CGI. Will anyone notice? I bet not.

  25. 25 Peter von Frosta
    December 30, 2008 at 4:26 am

    >> In fact, the upcoming Blu-Ray release of FIREFLY is going to be interesting. All the effects on that show were rendered in standard def only! So it’s going to be a mish-mash of 1080 live action and 480 CGI. Will anyone notice? I bet not.

    I beg to differ. The CGI shots stand out – a little. Nothing I would complain over though, it’s nothing like the Babylon 5 disaster where all the upscaled CGI and composite stuff hits you right in the face. I still wish they would have left everything in fullscreen like Crusade if they have the CGI/composite stuff only in fullscreen anyway.

    >> If I were to supervise the visual effects for a movie RIGHT NOW, I would probably do something similar and render at a slightly lower res. Nearly every time I’ve either done or witnessed tests of CG, the results are always the same – you can get away with MUCH lower resolution than you think.

    Does the fact that a movie is shot on film influence this decision? I’m very curious about that as filmtock doesn’t have a real resolution to start with (digital cinema is projected at 2K and 4K mostly, maybe that’s an indicator) and the use of Digital Intermediates has probably introduced a lot of problems for you folks adjusting the computer generated images to the live action stuff not only in regards of colour grading but also grain, sharpness etc.
    Or maybe go the other way around and filter the live action stuff to death ;)

  26. 26 Biga
    December 30, 2008 at 8:29 am


    I’m currently working with warships of modern navies, from Ticonderoga cruiser to Udaloy destroyers. But it was my dream to see how Galactica looks “naked” :) Thanks, it was a pleasure!

  27. 27 Avidicus
    December 31, 2008 at 12:24 am

    I am bouncing off the walls! “Please sir, can I have some more?” or rather… see more!

    Thanks again for posting and explaining! LOVE IT!

  28. 28 darthmojo
    December 31, 2008 at 3:38 am

    FROSTA: Actually, the problem with the B5 DVDs was twofold – first of all, they cropped all the FX shots to be widescreen, so image information has obviously been chopped off, but the REAL reason it all looks so crappy has to do with the way the discs were mastered.

    For some reason, Warner Brothers decided to master the B5 DVDs in PAL. The visual effects were originally done at 24 frames per second, and then converted to NTSC 30 frames per second. This is a pretty standard procedure, but since the DVDs were done in PAL, it meant the FX shots were then converted from 30 frames per second to 25 for PAL, and then BACK to 24 for the NTSC DVD set. All that frame rate conversion is what REALLY screwed up the FX shots (and live action composites).

    Essentially, the BEST version of B5 that anyone can have are the NTSC laserdiscs, followed by the VHS tapes. These are all 4:3 fullscreen and don’t have anything cropped or turned into scrambled eggs with frame rate conversions. Were all the episodes released on Laserdisc? It would be great for someone to released a DVD set mastered from the Laserdiscs!

    As far as what resolution I would do CGI in for film, I’d probably settle at around 2k. I’ve heard people say you HAVE to render stuff at 4k for film, but in my opinion that’s absurd. First of all, while a HORIZONTAL frame of 35mm film has essentially 4k’s work of information, a movie puts TWO frames on each frame of standard 35mm stock (because the film moves through the gate vertically). So rendering CGI at 4k gives you far more information than the film itself has, plus you run into the aformentioned issue of CGI inherently just being too sharp.

    I guarantee that any composite artist who is mixing CG rendered at 4k with live action elements shot on 35mm film is going to be softening the CG elements to make them match, which tosses out any advantage to rendering at such a high resolution anyway, so why bother?

    There might be select cases where you’d want to render at higher res, as in the case of something aliasing or shimmering badly, but those shots would be few and far between.

    Back on VOYAGER, we would sometimes have to render the Borg cubes at double NTSC and then shrink them down in comp to fix all the shimmering of the fine detail on the cubes. Sometimes that’s STILL the only way to fix an aliasing nightmare but, again, it’s rare.

  29. 29 Joel
    December 31, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Wow! Thanks for sharing, Mojo!

    I’d say that with computing power increasing at the rate it has been in the past few years, radiousity will be Standard Operating Procedure in about 5-10 years, for even the most trivial of quick filler shots.

    And about the same time, you (or someone else) will blog about how is so amazing, but you have to settle for radiousity most of the time because takes fucking forever to render.

  30. 30 Chad N.
    December 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve always loved the amount of detail put into Galactica. It looks amazing even without the texture map! Thanks for sharing the pics. I look forward to a future article with Lee Stringer.

    Great discussion, too! :D

    Thanks, Mojo!

  31. 31 Frank
    December 31, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    re Firefly Blu-ray:

    The effects look pretty good in 1080 to me, (admittedly I wear glasses but, hey, i know what looks cool when I see it!) The show holds up pretty well too, still a shame there isn’t more of it!

  32. 32 darthmojo
    January 1, 2009 at 3:36 am

    JOEL: I think radiosity will be “standard procedure” in much less time than that. In fact, probably about now, even CGI veterans are just realizing they have the horsepower needed to utilize it. It’s funny, because even though radiosity has been an available feature for many years, pretty much no one had used it because of the render times. People have gotten so used to ignoring it, they more or less forgot it was even there! We could have used it for shots on BSG even earlier, but we just hadn’t thought of it. Even now, I would only use it if I thought it would have a noticable impact on a shot (for example, I recently did final lighting for a shot of Colonial One entering the landing bay. There were spotlights zipping back and forth, and as soon as I saw the shot, I knew it would benefit from radiosity – bright spotlights in an enclosed space would bounce light all over the walls and ship and help create a lot of atmosphere). It’s one of those features that doesn’t leap off the screen and make you go “oh, look! Radiosity!” But if you saw the shot with and without it, you’d realize what a huge contribuition it can have under the right circumstances (just look at the simple example pic in this post and you’ll see what I mean).

    On the other hand, I would agree that it may be another five years or so before we start seeing real-time radisoity in things such as video games. Won’t that be sweet!

  33. January 1, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Yeah, it’s amazing how fact radiosity’s going these days – I’ve used it in several projects in the last two years. There are still glitchy bits, but it’s scary realising how out-of-date Veteran Knowledge gets in two or three years.

    Mate of mine works at http://www.geomerics.com/ as a code poet, and their RT Radiosity systems are getting properly scary. And yes, I am trying to nag my mate into a render pipeline for LW ;)

  34. January 1, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    In fact, the upcoming Blu-Ray release of FIREFLY is going to be interesting. All the effects on that show were rendered in standard def only! So it’s going to be a mish-mash of 1080 live action and 480 CGI. Will anyone notice? I bet not.

    Interesting that you should mention this, as I’ve spent the last few days watching the series. I’d just chalked the soft look up to it being six years old. Which, I suppose, could be the bigger part of it.

    On the other hand, the film shots aren’t always exactly exemplar either; there’s a surprising amount of grain in some shots for something shot on 35mm. But then, that also fits in with the desired “old-tyme” style, I suppose (that they also went for with older lenses, in order to create more lens flares, etc.).

  35. 35 mcooney
    January 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Love the radiosity renders, I wasn’t sure that backdrop radiosity was used, the in thing with soft lighting is the ambient occlusion, i found a freebie scene file with a set of distant lights set to rotate in a specific pattern to motion blur out a 360degree fill.

    Is Galactica done in regular color or the linear colorspace? I did some work in linear color, and it’s a pain to texture, i gotta use nodes and tricks to not get 8bit maps to look bad, but the antiailaising is sooo much better and more filmlike, and i can use more procedural textures, they come out much much smoother in linear. Lens flares are a lost cause though, and post effect glows are tricky.

    I still think linear feels more real, i wonder if any big shows render that way.

  36. 36 darthmojo
    January 3, 2009 at 3:06 am

    I have not played with Linear colorspace yet, I’ll have to give it a look. Truth be told, we’ve all monkeyed with various settings and tweaks and professional adjustments and color spaces and bit depths but, in the end, all that matters is making a good shot. For chrissakes, people will happily watch “Blair Witch” quality material as long as there’s a good story being told, so as a rule I would motivate people more to focus on the broad strokes of what they’re doing than worry about small technical details.

    The visual effects in the Star Wars prequels are, from a technical standpoint, heads and shoulders over anything we ever did on Galactica. It was all probably more photoreal, too. But when people tell me they think the FX on BSG are the best they’ve ever seen, you know what I think they’re reacting too? They’re reacting to the story being told with our shots.

    They may not realize it, but audiences pay far more attention to content than to quality. Tell a great story with a dozen mediocre shots and you’ll be far more remembered than the guy who had a handfull of perfect shots in a crappy movie.

  37. 37 seijornec
    January 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I loved this post as well as the followup comments and questions. Thanks for the insight into a world I’ve been mesmerized by since I was a kid holing my first Cinefex magazine.

  38. 38 Peter von Frosta
    January 5, 2009 at 2:38 am

    >> On the other hand, the film shots aren’t always exactly exemplar either; there’s a surprising amount of grain in some shots for something shot on 35mm. But then, that also fits in with the desired “old-tyme” style, I suppose (that they also went for with older lenses, in order to create more lens flares, etc.).

    In one of the featurettes Joss stated that David Boyd (DoP) bought as many old lenses as he could get hold of to get more lens-flares and smearing etc.
    I think the overall look of the show is one of the reasons that the SD VFX don’t stand out as much. If you’d have pristine PQ in every other place people would probably complain about it. Me I don’t care that much, I just love the show.

    For B5, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use a PAL master for the VFX shots but used a bad deinterlacing technique instead. Take a look at this:

  39. January 6, 2009 at 5:49 am

    You’re definitely right about BSG’s effects being preferred for their storytelling. The Star Wars movies might have more photoreal or more detailed shots, but thinking back to the opening battle scene in RotS, they’re damn hard to follow sometimes.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re back to blogging. It’s great to get this kind of insight into how professional effects are made, and the images you post are a wonderful resource for everyone who enjoys recreating bits of Galactica on their PCs. :P

    The image of the launch tube interests me in particular as I made my own model using screenshots as a reference. I never could figure out what those central ceiling things looked like.

  40. 40 mcooney
    January 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Strangely i had intrest in linear color mostly out of render time. the sRGB format does a contrast stretch and to me is more prone to stairstep or hard edges.

    I remembered Babylon 5 as having a problem lookwise since the cg went straght to tape raw and and the film footage was pretty noirish and grainy, but in a good way. I wonder if its eaasy to uprez something like hard unsoftened ntsc res cg to HDTV so B5 might wind up looking pretty nifty if it gets a bluray incarnation.

    And i thought the redesign of Galactica with the ribs had to do with the more realistic battle physics wanted for the show, no lasers and photon torpedoes, ship to ship battles to be entirely tactical nuclear missile combat.

    Putting the ribbing and the plate layers like that means no ablation shock damage from a nuclear missile, the vaporization of hull can push like a rocket impploding it, and it also shields against neutron radiaton, and the panels can be quickly replaced since they would become radioactive from neutron activation.

  41. 41 darthmojo
    January 8, 2009 at 2:39 am

    PEARSE: Nice launch tube (no, that is not a pick-up line). Your example of the opening shot from “Revenge of the Sith” was a good one; yes, it’s a very impressive shot, and absolutely flawless from a technical perspective… but I have no idea what’s going on and there is no emotional connection.

    But when Galactica jumps into low orbit over New Caprica in “Exodus,” the audience is FULLY vested, thus making the shots work so well. People often point to that sequence as the “best” visual effects scene of the series, but – and not to take away credit from all those who made it come to life – what people are REALLY reacting to is the story; the idea behind the scene is awesome and we’re happy to see the cavilry come to the rescue! In reality, praise for that sequence belongs at the feet of the writers.

    On the other hand, when the Pegasus blows up those Baseships in “Ressurection Ship,” the sheer epic scale of the mayhem and technical expertise brought to those shots by the crew at Zoic *is* what makes the audience shit a brick.

    But when you have BOTH – good storytelling AND top-notch FX work – that’s when you knock it out of the ballpark.

    MCOONEY: There are ways to make lower-res footage look better, but it involves more than just upscaling it. One way is to “interpolate” the footage, a time consuming and expensive process in which computers actually calculate the “in between” pixels and create new data to fill in the gaps. Here is the best example I could find after a quick search – the image on the left is simply sized up, but the one on the right is sized up through interpolation:

    Toshiba took a lot of heat when it announced new upscaling DVD players that it claimed would make standard-def DVD look almost as good as HD. A lot of people laughed and sneered that they just didn’t want to take loosing the HD format war gracefully, but there is good tech behind their ideas. As it stands, proper interpolation takes too much horesepower be done in real time, but as the process improves and machines get faster, soon we WILL have DVD players that can make standard def material look much better indeed.

    Presumably this will lead to not just better upscaling DVD players, but to the ability to convert older material to HD with far better results than we have now.

    B5 may one day look decent in HD after all!

  42. 42 Boris
    January 8, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I liked the one of BSG jumping into the atmosphere and falling like a brick (is that the one you’re talking about?). Another one that stood out is Cally’s death in space.

  43. 43 Brndn
    January 11, 2009 at 11:18 am

    ahmahgad, I think I just soiled myself

  44. January 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    That first pic just went into my wallpaper rotation. The big girl is such a beauty isn’t she?

  45. January 14, 2009 at 6:27 am

    It is great that there are useful sites!
    I thank you for your help and support.
    I wish you a great development of the project.

  46. 46 edolnx
    January 17, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Out of curiosity, are these models from a private collection or some on-line repository? I can see myself spending many hours making wallpapers of all sorts with the various models shown here…

  47. 47 darthmojo
    January 18, 2009 at 1:53 am

    EDOLNX – If you hunt around online, you’ll find that fans of the show have made their own CGI models from the show, and many of them are very good. I’ve seen fan-built models from Galactica and other programs that are almost indistinguishable from the originals! Seek and ye shall find.

  48. 48 jpearse
    January 18, 2009 at 7:06 am

    edolnx, check out http://www.scifi-meshes.com for model downloads, and more importantly, lots of very snazzy works in progress in the community forums. There’s one guy on there right now building an insanely detailed Galactica model, which probably rivals the one from the show.

  49. 49 adallahq
    January 25, 2009 at 12:23 pm


    In response to whether we like this type of posts, I cant speak for anyone else, but for a person for whom Battlestar Galactica is the best thing that ever graced the small (or big) screen, and for someone who works with BSG CG as a hobby, this is more precious and and more appreciated than gold.

    Thanx so much for sharing not only the images, but also giving us insight into the world of professional CG. I actually had always wondered about Radiosity. I did try rendering the galactica once with it and I think it had increased the frame render time by like 10 or 20 fold at least. Where I can usually render a frame under 10 minutes, with radiosity it had jumped above an hour and a half by the time I had cancelled the render.

    I know that the “spinning-light trick” is used to fake radiosity, and I have such a rig that I use, but I never rally understood it. If you could explain the spinning light trick to us that’d be fantastic.

    [blockquote]EDOLNX – If you hunt around online, you’ll find that fans of the show have made their own CGI models from the show, and many of them are very good. I’ve seen fan-built models from Galactica and other programs that are almost indistinguishable from the originals! Seek and ye shall find.[/blockquote]

    Here is a Galactica-type Batttlestar modeled by tan.j which I’m using for my animation projects. Here is a compositing test render I had made.

    I think I played around with the lighting too much in this shot and I messed it up. Not enough specularity (I notice in BSG all ships have a ton of specularity, especially the galactica plates) and also the planet is too bright…I cant quite figure out what I did wrong, but it just doesnt look right, not close to the shots on the show.

    Either way, keep them coming Mojo. Your blog posts regarding BSG CG are one of a kind and just very inspirational, especially for aspiring CG artists.


  50. 50 Cylonster
    January 27, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    I just ran across this site today, and thank you so much for it! I do CGI for a living in architecture/engineering, having to create models that are precise down to an eighth of an inch. So let me tell you I envy folks like you who create rusty, war-torn and battle-scarred scenes. Every damn architect, engineer and end-user client I have worked for only wants the pristine, unblemished and “perfect” images/animations for their projects. I’ve even had clients point out to me when I haven’t exactly aligned all the chairs around a conference table. Arggh! I’d really like to virtually blow-up some of my client’s buildings. So bring on more discussion of the blemishes!

  51. 51 James
    April 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Great site, first time post here. Really fascinating to see what goes on in the background of CGI programmes. Love the naked shots of the Galactica, someone get the censors on here!

    Just curious, as a bit of a hobbyist, how do you get the backdrop radiosity to work on internal structures like the launch tube? Whenever I try that, its just black (apart from the ends).

    As for peoples comments about wanting to get their hands on these models, I completely understand copyright laws and the fact that after weeks/months/years of work, you don’t want to see what you’ve made spread around for free. Its just a shame that all these fantastic meshes and scenes will all be put onto backup tape, and left to rot for eternity.

  52. June 3, 2009 at 9:38 am

    This is one of the better explainations of this technique that I have seen – thanks so much for posting and sharing.

    So glad I found this site –

  53. 53 darthbabo
    November 29, 2009 at 9:10 am

    hey wher can i get a hi poly model?

  54. 54 dj
    February 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    It is a pity that they flew most of these fine ships into the sun :>(.

  55. 55 nah
    December 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Sir, I frakin’ envy you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

December 2008

%d bloggers like this: