Create a sci-fi night scene in Blender - part 1


In this tutorial, I will include the importance of the theory “Form Follows Function” and talk about the working process from 2D concept to 3D final design. Blender has been used as a tool to try out various compositions and integrate different props into a final scene in Photoshop.

This is the final image of this project that illustrates how different props integrate together.

Research & analyze functions

Before starting to draw thumbnails, it is important to spend time on research and analyze the topic. I searched for spaceship structures and cutaway to understand how it works in reality. There are many structural components of a spaceship and the basic functions that need to be focused when come to design are: fuselage, turbine engine, cabin, sensor, elevator, and air vent.

To understand how things work before designing

Form follows function

Reading Gundam Instruction Manual can help me understand how joints connect with each other and how they rotate and move. Design is not only about looking cool, but also needs to have some purpose and be functional. I think building a model is a very good exercise to review all the basic fundamentals of hard surface design.

To learn how joints work by reading instruction manuals

Start with thumbnails

After studying the basic functions of the spaceship, I started to work on my own, considering functions when doing concept sketches. Writing annotations next to my drawing provided a clearer direction and reminded me of the design purpose as well. I did two thumbnails and tried to explore different shapes. One was more rounded while the other one was an angular shape.

Rough sketches with annotations

Block out in Blender

Sometimes it is challenging to start it from scratch. I firstly used simple geometries like cubes and cylinders to block out major forms and be patient to fix the overall proportion and shape before moving to another step. It is fine to ignore details at this stage.

To block out the main big shapes first and make sure the proportion is on the right track before adding details

Refine details

I looked for more real life references to understand hard surface cutting lines, and how things connect together. This step is necessary for designing details, giving me more ideas of creating functional design. I did some rough doodling on top of the model in Photoshop to generate more ideas and develop the details further more.

To refine details by searching for more references

Boxcutter & Hard Ops in Blender

I found out that the workflow is more efficient after inserting Blender add-ons, Boxcutter and Hard Ops. This toolkit can increase productivity and save more time just by cutting out the shapes, or inserting new geometry in a faster way. When working on modeling, I also need to make sure the model is neat and no faces are flipped over. To double check the faces, press Alt+V  and enable face orientation. Blue color represents correct face direction while red color is being flipped. To solve the flip normals problem, go to Edit Mode and press Alt+N, then click “Flip.”

Use Blender add-ons to build the 3D model

Final design

This is the final concept based on my draft. I added a modular turret to my spaceship for having two different designs, which could be disassembled and assembled flexibly in my final illustration piece. For the material, I only used one single material for my spaceship and did not add any fancy textures as it was not necessary for the final scene.

Different views of the final concept

Rough sketch of spacecraft

After finishing the spaceship, I started to work on spacecraft. I used another method starting with black and white sketches first. This can help me draw my ideas faster with different solutions. As they were just 2D graphics, I wanted to see how they looked in 3D viewport. I then used Grease Pencil in Blender to sketch out the shapes based on my drafts, fixed the vertices a bit and filled up the faces. This is not a clean model and is not final, so it is fine to do experiments and test out the over proportions.

Use a big brush to sketch out ideas in Photoshop and use Blender Grease Pencil to model the basic forms

Clean lineart

I worked on clean lineart for giving myself a clearer art direction before jumping to Blender. Last time when doing the spaceship, I jumped back and forth in 2D and 3D programs to develop ideas, which was more time consuming in my opinion. Therefore, I changed my working process and drew the concept in a neater way, which would be easier when moving to the modeling stage.

Work on clean lineart before modeling

Final design of spacecraft

I repeated the previous modeling steps from step 4 to 6, starting with simple forms first and slowly combined them by using Boxcutter and Hard Ops tool. It took quite a bit of time to fix the geometries and cutting lines. Since this spacecraft was symmetrical, I mirrored it to another side by pressing Alt+X. This shortcut is handy when it comes to mirroring objects. After finishing the whole model, I added the base materials with a bit of metallic and decreased roughness.

Different views of the final concept

A website for constructing custom shapes

This website is very useful and handy when you are lack of ideas. After typing some random words or your name in the blank section and press “Build It,” it will automatically come up with many possibilities and you can start working on it as a base or do paint over on top.

Combine simple forms based on my name “Samantha”

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