Sunday, June 26, 2011

Editable models

I've been getting a *lot* of requests for custom schemes for the Interceptor. Unfortunately for most of the folks requesting extra schemes, I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life doing every single police scheme in the entire world for $2.50. Fortunately for these folks, though, I did make it easier for them to do their own schemes.

Editable PSD for Brio

Editable PSD for Interceptor

It wasn't easy, but I managed to figure out how to do editable versions of the Brio and Interceptor that supported a lowest-common-denominator subset of the Photoshop file format that any paint package capable of reading PSD files should handle fine. That means you can open them in free paint apps like the GIMP, or inexpensive paint apps like Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro.

As long as you don't touch the topmost two layers in the PSDs (page frame and texture), you can color all you want or paste logos and stuff into the layers below them. The results won't be exactly the same as if I did it myself because my normal layer setup is a lot more complex than that, but it'll come reasonably close-ish, and you won't have to extract anything from PDFs or do anything more complicated than flood filling or using brush tools. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

2 more Interceptor schemes and new plates

Matt Lyon suggested a Hong Kong Police Force variant of the Battenburg livery, and I threw in a Swedish variant while I was at it.

Accordingly, I've updated the Department of Motor Vehicles page with new license plate sheets for Sweden and Hong Kong.

Finalizing the Interceptor

Getting it ready for final review. I took some time to put together a few images for you guys.

Group shot showing the 4 different police versions and the 4 unmarked colors:

Things of note: there are 8 different unit numbers for the classic and sci-fi blue versions, which each have their own PDF. The European PDF includes the UK version plus 5 versions of the blue-over-silver with police markings in different languages.

The third PDF includes the 4 unmarked schemes. I included a dingy white and a hideous beige for unmarked/retired police vehicles, while the silver is an unmarked detective car, and the black is supposed to be useful for FBI and government types. The unmarked versions don't have the same set of lighting hardware as the marked versions--the areas where the light set is normally installed have been covered up with plug-in panels, and a wigwag headlight/running light setup is used instead. The fleet shop can convert Interceptors from one version to another by popping off the plug-in panels and installing the necessary hardware or vice versa. They don't fool anyone any more than an unmarked Crown Victoria does, either.

Here are some shots of the model frame and instructions:

I'm pleased that it stayed within the 1 page/10 parts budget--I was a little worried because of the unusual geometry.

I still have to do a couple more things, but it'll be ready to zip up and turn in for final review at WWG before I go to bed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Art and programming, part II

I figured out how to abuse the data-driven graphics feature of Photoshop CS5 even further so I could use it to spool out cars with unique shop numbers and roof numbers. This time, more pictures and less boring text.

First, I set up the texture PSD file of the classic Interceptor scheme as a template. This involves just creating variables and assigning them to layers.

No, there's not much to see here, but enjoy the picture anyway.

The next thing I did was set up a comma delimited text file to use as the data set source, in good old Notepad:

Yes, that's it. Just a list of values.

Once both of those things are set up, a few button clicks in Photoshop will change the text layer strings and save each change out as a separate file:

Bridge? Come on, Adobe, gimme back my native file browser from CS1.

A bit of duplicating and re-merging in Ultimate Papercraft 3D gives me an 8-up layout, and all of the materials have been reassigned to the new texture variants:

A whole fleet of cop cars. All different.

I also spent a few minutes tweaking a copy of the OpenOffice layout template to work with the 8-up version:

I love templates. Why do the boring stuff more than once?

Okay, all of that is just a one-time setup thing. I literally only have to do that once. From this point on, I can simply copy the Ultimate Papercraft 3D and OpenOffice 8-up templates to another folder, and after assigning variables to any other scheme, I can painlessly export a different 8-up without tediously editing a lot of layers and saving things out by hand.

The only real limit on how many variations I can include in a single PDF is completely dependent on the amount of video RAM and system RAM on my machine, and the amount of work needed to set up the unique variations is much less than it used to be when I had to do them all individually by hand. Nice. I definitely could get used to this feature.

Note: Don't worry about how odd the texturing looks. The model is currently wearing a baked global illumination lightmap, which is the source of all the shading, and that lightmap is only used to make the Metasequoia work-in-progress screenshots look a bit nicer. I usually crank the lightmap opacity almost all the way down when exporting paper models for real, so the PDF won't be anywhere nearly that harshly shaded.

Friday, June 17, 2011

When art and programming collide

You know what I do on my days off? I work some more. Okay, no, not literally, but I do kind of tend to play around with work-related stuff.

I just discovered something awesome about Photoshop CS5 a couple hours ago when snuffling around in the help files like a truffle pig: data driven graphics. At first, I was a bit puzzled because that really doesn't sound like a very artsy kind of thing, but it piqued my inner programmer's curiosity. Turns out that you can basically turn a PSD file into a template, load variables from a text file, and use those variables to do things like change text layers, replace pixels, and hide/show layers.

Of course, I had to give it a try, and after some brief thought, I hit upon the idea of using this functionality to rapidly generate a large number of unique license plates for the Brio, Interceptor, and other vehicles. So, I saved out copies of the Interceptor textures, then cropped them down to just the license plate frames, deleted all superfluous layers, and turned them into license plate templates.

I set them up so I could change the country code and plate text layers on the UK and European plates, and the North American test plates had 4 configurable layers (month of registration, last 2 digits of registration year, serial, and locality). No real reason, I just wanted to see if I could do it.

With the artistic half completed, it was time for the programming bit. I didn't want to waste my time manually entering license plate data over and over when I could just randomly generate a large amount of data and dump it to a text file that could be loaded in Photoshop. So, I whipped up a rough PHP script and fired up my local install of EasyPHP.

License plates tend to follow a pretty specific format, so it's not like you can just generate random strings and be done with it. I wrote the script to take a formatting template as input, so I could specify a formatting template like "111-aaa" (3 random numbers, hyphen, 3 random letters), "AA11 AAAA" (2 random alphanumeric characters, 2 random numbers, space, 4 random alphanumeric characters), and so forth. That was fun to do.

I realized shortly after a few rounds of testing that I could literally do any license plate in the world in mass quantities with relatively little work, and it would pretty much only require a different template and formatting string. So, pretty soon, I'm going to be setting up my very own Department of Motor Vehicles next door to Uppity Robots and Ebbles Variations, where you guys can download sheets of unique stick-on license plates for that little bit of extra flavor.

Speaking of which, just for grits and shiggles: here's a sheet of 570 (yes, that's not a typo) unique North American-style license plates that I did as a test:

That's just a few minutes of hands-on work! All I did was press a few keys, click a few buttons and all of the grunt work was done by Photoshop, Bridge, and OpenOffice.

I'm gonna be modifying the script a bit to randomize the registration date and locality variables for that little extra touch of uniqueness, and also refactoring the data set generation script so I can quickly modify new copies of it to generate plates for a specific country.

Yeah, this is all a bit silly, but it was fun to do, and I don't often get to exercise both of my core skills at the same time like this.

UPDATE: Here it is! Department of Motor Vehicles

Yet more work on the Interceptor

Update time.

After some discussion with other WWG designers, the classic scheme got a few minor changes and the addition of a police shield behind the door for a splash of color:

It's just a small, indistinct, and generic 7 pointed star with the suggestion of a city seal in the middle, but it adds quite a bit to the overall effect.

The UK version of the Interceptor has had additional work done to it as well. I changed the base color from silver to white, and split up the retroreflective decaling at panel lines and around openings so that it would look more like decals applied to a stock paint finish rather than paint.

The reason for changing the base color back from silver to white was to further differentiate it from the European scheme, which I based upon the blue-over-silver police vehicles in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere:

Also, I threw in a couple of little extra touches. The UK and European versions have a different license plate setup from the blue and classic versions. I even used the correct fonts and stuck with a familiar appearance for the plate backgrounds.

(Ignore the ABC123-ish plate numbers, those are just placeholders for effect.)

Yeah, I know, they're flying cars, they probably should have barcodes or some other spacey looking crap on the back, but I like to ground crazy stuff like flying cars in reality, at least a little bit, by adding some familiar and contemporary touches. It's an extension of my belief that if you want people to recognize some sort of fancy SF contraption as a coffeepot equivalent, it should look a bit like a coffeepot so people get the point straightaway instead of having to waste time with boring and unnatural exposition from characters.

Besides, I don't think number plates are going to go out of style because the old "Did anybody get the plate of the truck that hit me?" thing doesn't really work if pedestrians have to chase after vehicles on foot with barcode scanners or some silly shit like that. I figure the cars have ID transponders in them that police cars and flight control systems can interrogate, and the plates are just a visual convenience or fallback measure. Sometimes the simplest things work best, and that's why they stick around even though you can replace them with something that would make Rube Goldberg golf clap.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More work on the Interceptor

I got some more work done on the police Interceptor. Additional detailing and a start on some other variant color schemes. (Click on the images to see full size versions.)

Default blue/white color scheme:

Classic black/white police scheme, still a work in progress:

UK version with retroreflective Battenburg livery over silver base coat:

I'm also in the early stages of scratching out an European scheme, which will be blue over silver.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A few days' worth of breaktime doodling

Something I've been picking away at during my breaks over the past few days.

I was going for something that was inspired by the Blade Runner spinner, the floating police cars from The Fifth Element, the Carbon Motors E7 police car, a dash of Blue Thunder, and an extra serving of Syd Mead on the side.

A black/white color scheme immediately leapt to mind, naturally, but that sort of bored me a little because...come on, that's too easy. A bit of research and some trawling through photos of police schemes from around the world later, I decided I wanted to do a retroreflective Battenburg scheme. The colors were easy once I settled on the scheme: a blue base color because of the aforementioned Blade Runner/Fifth Element/Blue Thunder influences, and white is a good trim color for this shade of blue. You can't see it from this angle, but there are also yellow/red hazard panels on the back slope.

I wanted the lines to be as clean and sleek as possible, so all of the lights are low profile. That's where the Carbon E7 police car influenced the design--there are lights at each corner of the vehicle, on the top and bottom. That way, they're equally visible from above, from below, to the sides, from the front, and from the back, which you'd kind of want with a flying police car.

Still not done, mind you, but I figured you guys would like to see it anyway.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Off to the races!

It's official. The Brio has been wrapped up and is in final review over at WWG.

Check out the teaser thread on the WorldWorks Games forum for some more tasty promos.

My first WWG product. It sounds kinda cheesy, but it's like a big moment for me.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wash Me

Grunging things up a bit, as that's another WWG signature element that Denny requested I play with.

I wanted to split the difference between the Ebbles and WWG levels of grunge. I thought my first attempt was fine until I parked a Brio in a backdrop created from elements of an upcoming Titan set--to my surprise, the vehicle looked much too clean and a bit out of place, so I went back and dialed up the grunge until it started to harmonize with the environment.



It looks like an old beater that a college kid bought for 500 credits, which works just fine for me because I like the future to look a little bit lived-in.

Pain in the glass

Practicing the newfangled WWG way of doing glass. (Clicking takes you to larger images.)

Not sure what I think of it. I mean, it looks a bit more like real glass now, but it's...different from the cheesy old hand painted non-metallic-metal effect that was part of my artistic style, and that's gonna take some getting used to. Oh, well. You know what they say: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Of automotive colors, job transitions, and so forth

 Continuing the Veloce Brio work-in-progress...

I mentioned in a previous post that I had some rules for this model that I wasn't allowed to deviate from for the sake of verisimilitude, and the biggest one was to try and think like an automotive stylist rather than somebody who designs military/industrial equipment. The second half of that is in choosing colors.

Over the years, I've had a selection of "safe" colors that I used across most of my models. Instead of using those, I decided I needed to change things up and do a manufacturer-specific palette for each vehicle. For the Brio, there are 12 colors--6 of them are bright colors, and 6 of them are more toned-down colors. I even gave the colors cutesy manufacturer catalog names.

The bright colors:

Nebula Blue

Quasar Green

Pulsar Pink

Plasma Purple

Flare Red

Solar Yellow

And the standard colors:



Storm Gray




And there you have it, the manufacturer-specific palette for the Brio. For each vehicle in this series, I'll be doing the same thing, and each palette will be different. That way, when you have a whole bunch of vehicles done and you put them on the tabletop, there will be a pleasingly realistic color variance across all the different makes and models. Not all vehicles will have 12 schemes--each vehicle is going to get whatever selection of colors makes the most sense for it.

I'm also in the process of working out a few details with Denny on the subject of releasing this model. I have to stress something right now--this wasn't originally intended to be an actual release, but it kind of suddenly turned into a full product before I knew it. I pinged him the other night to explain things and asked him what he thought of releasing this model, and he liked the idea. 

He had a few suggestions that I'm still working through, and then there's the matter of transitioning from the old Ebbles branding to the new.

Yes, I even have a picture for that. Well, two.

Model Frame

Instruction Page

I've incorporated the official WWG page key and whatnot into my frame templates, which you can see above. I think that wraps up the transition to my new job.

Now, the reason I emphasized the fact that this was essentially an accidental product is because in the future, when I know something is actually intended to be a WWG product, there's a good chance that I'm going to be posting the Workbench articles for that product on the WWG forum instead of here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Digging stuff out of the Vault

In the comments of the previous post, I was asked what I would do differently today with the 5-year-old unreleased models that I showed. I had already considered that question a couple of days ago, in fact!

The first thing that came to mind was to try and think like an automotive stylist rather than someone who normally sticks with very functional-looking and industrial models. That's harder than it sounds, and I have a newfound respect for the people who design and style cars for a living.

I decided to tackle the Veloce Brio first because it seems like everybody else has already had a poke at it, and I wanted a turn at bat. I already knew, because I designed the geometry years ago, what the Brio was supposed to look like in general terms, which was a cross between an Isetta 600 bubble car, a Volkswagen beetle, and a Smart car. I also started out with a set of rules that I wasn't allowed to deviate from:
  • No superfluous greeblies. Everything on it has to be there for a reason, like on a real vehicle.
  • Put more emphasis on style than function. (You can't sell cars that look like the designer has an erotic fetish for Soviet farm equipment.)
  • Detailing needs to follow real world examples. That means no layered armor panels, rivets, bolts, or ugly access panels.
  • The Coffeepot Rule has to be obeyed. (If you want the audience to recognize something as a coffeepot, it has to look kind of like a coffeepot in order to sell the illusion.)
This was harder than I expected it to be. I ended up ditching the Smart car elements in favor of something that was a little bit more aggressive, like a Honda Fit. I had a hard time resisting the urge to go overboard with layered armor panels and Gratuitous Greeblies, and trying to think more in terms of style than function didn't come easily to me either.

Enough babbling. I present, for your derision, the results (clicking takes you to the full size images):

You can see the most of the Isetta 600 bubble car influence here--the whole front is a canopy that swings upwards, and there are 2 gull-wing doors behind it. The aggressive-looking headlights and grille are the Honda Fit influences I mentioned--the original round Smart car headlamps didn't really flow as well, so they got ditched pretty early on.

In the back view, you can see the Beetle influence in the engine cover and overall shape.

I'm not likely to put Pininfarina out of a job anytime soon, but you know what they say. Practice makes perfect.

Update (Fri June 3 2011)

I took TOPO's advice in the comments section and added more glass to the doors to see how it would look. I like it better now--the glasswork seems to flow better from front to back.