Playing a Digital Shipwright - I Love This!

Work In Progress / 22 November 2019

The Botter, arguably the most characteristic historical fishing ships you would find on the Dutch Southsea the past centuries. Now largely sailing historical monuments, once these ships populated the sea day to day, gathering fish for people to eat. Having sailed on on of these ships over a year ago, in a race between many, I became very excited t reconstruct one digitally. Here is the story so far:

This particular model is based upon my first try at a botter from a few years ago. That one was not based on any official blueprints for the shape of the boat, rather just paintings of the past, and so wasn't the correct shape. This time I actually found quite a lot of old references and blueprints of the old fishing ships, a few examples shown below. From these references I was able to remake the model with an impressive amount of detail and precision.

One of the most outstanding parts about this ship is the height difference between the bow and the stern. This makes the ship almost look like a traditional Dutch wooden shoe, but this does in fact, have a purpose. These fishing ships worked with big nets, and to get these nets inside the boat after they are full of fish, you need to use man power. With a lower stern like this, that makes the whole process a lot easier. While the high bow still makes it very seaworthy. The front of the ship is used for, sleeping, living and storage of the anchor rope and extra sails. While the bottom of the rear is actually filled with water, to keep the fish alive and fresh.

What hugely helped me during the modeling process in terms of accuracy and viability, is that I've been following a few ongoing ship building projects where historical ships are being build up from the ground up. While the types of ships are completely different, a lot of the construction methods and mechanical design are actually very universal. This helped me a lot when working on the shape of the hull, but also the placement of the frames (the structure inside that keeps the shape). I've learned about fairing the curves, since, even when you copy the lines on the blueprints correctly, the lines might still not be smooth. In real life this is done by using a long piece of wood, bending it against the known points on the schematic, and then letting it loose a bit so it can take on it's natural shape. This is the digital way I achieved a similar result.

I first made a model that exactly follows all the lines in the line drawing, This shape has straight horizontal lines bad triangle connections in lots of places, especially the bow. This shape would be a nightmare to work with and achieve any good result. So after this, I made a rough second shape, one that follows the curves of the planks rather than the lines, and has a very even spacing throughout the length of the loops. I then projected (shrinkwrapped) that new shape onto the line based model, which was using a smoothing modifier to "fair" the curves. This way I achieved a properly spaced very nice looking topology, with perfectly smooth uniformly spaced surfaces, that would be a breeze to uv unwrap.

To really sell the inevitability of the model I really felt that I had to properly design each distinguishable detail in 3D. Not just for accuracy's sake, but also aesthetic value. Often, with concentrated detail like the structure frames here, you get a very attractive design. I took care not to spare on vertices where they are really needed, like in the curves of the frames. But to budget vertices of smaller more numerous items, like the hooks the ropes would be tied on.

Materials are also really important to sell a proper look. Yet I've not painted any for now. All what you see now just a repeating wood texture used with color variation and roughness to signal different wood types used for different purposes. On top of that is some procedural dirt and ambient occlusion which gives a very believable look already. Later when I paint materials in, I will go in to proper detail about that. But for now this will suffice to get a proper idea of the realism and believability of the model.

One thing I also do is to have a quick scale check in VR. I import the model with basic textures into a test scene in Unreal Engine. I then run the scene in VR where I'm able to walk around the ship, sit, stand, and grab parts to gauge the proper scale of things. Do things feel weighty and solid, or tiny and flimsy, and how appropriate is it for a certain object and material. I realized I often tend to make details like screws and connections way to big, and things like ropes and lines to fat. As I've been on one of these ships for real, it was interesting to figure out if I got the same impression from being on the virtual ship.

Lastly a bit about the interior. I was doubting for a while If I should really do this. I could also just shut the door and never make this. But I figured I could always cut this part out of the model if a less poly heavy version needs to be released. I can also give this part it's own texture space so it can be culled out easily when the inside is not showing. For now the inside will just keep to the basic boarding and floor work. You can see the different spaces, living quarter, sleeping bunk and anchor storage. If i want I can always add furniture and detail to this later, but at least I'll have the right shading done.

Shipwrights working on a Botter

That's it for now, next up is the rigging. Lots of details with blocks, loops, knots and hooks. Dynamically setting everything up to work with bones and constraints so I can pose the ship in whatever position I want, and even use cloth simulation for the sails.

Another entry in the list of projects that I work on for a bit and then abandon for a while..

Work In Progress / 13 September 2019

Title says it all really :) This time it's a space game. I'm continuing a project I started a while ago, inspired by the enthusiasm for coop space games by the game clan I'm part of. This basically started out as a modern remake of the old classic Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, but I end up taking clues from other games like Elite:Dangerous and Star Citizen.

The setting of the game is a little like this: You and your friends are crew on a rogue corvette gunship in deep uncharted territories of space. Encountering dangerous space monsters, raiding rich convoys of deep space traders, infiltrating alien factions and finding hidden treasures.

The basic design of the ship was made a while back. A few things I knew for sure I wanted to have in the design. The ship would be about 180 - 200 meters long. Guns would be appropriately sized, and I wanted it to have massive engines, like the blockade runners in Star Wars. These things drove the shape of the ship. There are a few ideas and concepts out of real live that you might be able to see in the design what makes it so aesthetically pleasing in my mind. 

American warplanes always had a few elements that really strike me well. The cockpit of the B-17 flying fortress and the long nose of P-51 Mustang fighter were certainly an inspiration here. They give of these though, well defined shapes. Something you would ascribe to the face of a bull or a ram. Another element is that of the Farm Tractor, Big wheels in the back, slender engine in the front, cockpit on top of the wheels. You can clearly feel that all the power comes from the rear base, a solid foundation, and then the delicate steering and control more in the front. (yes i'm a farmers boy)

The front also has a very menacing look to it. The angles pointing towards the very expressively placed red windows. Something that just shouts "rogue" and "untrustworthy", perfect for the setting and the role of the ship in its environment.

Here you can see what the earlier design looked like. A lot is still there, but there are some major changes in the overall silhouette. I was never really happy with the big blast shields on the side, And the logo was a bit overkill. Especially the missile launch boxes felt tagged on. So I changed this first when I restarted the project.

Another rule got added to my design philosophy when doing the recent redesign of my earlier work. And that was the concept of motion. I want the ship itself to feel alive, to have many moving elements allowing it to fold open and achieve various purposes, some conveniently hidden at first sight. The blast panels protecting the fragile engines turned into expandable heat radiator panels to cool the ship quickly. The nose became folding to bring more forward arms to bare at the same time. The center ridge can open up to display a central high energy cannon.

The engines were next to be tackled. In my mind, the trust vectoring that jet fighters are able to do with their variable nozzles had way more appeal than the (still awesome) rocket nozzles. After that I had to think about the exhaust. This was an interesting part, I wanted an exhaust worthy of engines this size, but watching real footage of rockets in space, most have a barely visible flame when there is no atmosphere to burn unburned fuel in the flames. So I knew I was going to break some realism rules in name of aesthetics.

I took this as a great opportunity to get to know the animated material capabilities of the Unreal Engine, and it's powerful new particle engine, Niagara. Two days of labor, and this is the result. Most of my inspiration came from the Falcon 9 Raptor engine test video from SpaceX. Together with a whole lot of explanatory videos about the ins and outs of rocket flames.

The effect is scalable with a zero-to-one value, for various levels of power output. The blew transparency but also the refraction distortion really made this effect come to life. And the pinkish end of the flames really gives a nice and original colorscheme. The full power on the right would only be used when using boost or afterburner, which wil heat up the ship as well if kept on too long.

There is so much more to talk about, like the asteroids, the interior design of the ship. Even the exterior is going to be a lot more detailed in due time. The game even works in VR so it's going to be interesting how that is all going to get shape.

Till next project!

Machines of the past

Work In Progress / 04 December 2018

This time work went towards the windmill. The windmills standing on the walls of this 17th century city, were in these days all made of wood. The type was called Standerdmolen. Because these mills completely rested and turned on a large frame called a standerd.

The reconstruction of this mill required mostly thorough research to still existing windmills of the same type. A hand full still exist today stemming from the same year as our subject. We have to take care to just copy everything we see, since these windmills underwent various restorations and renovations over the years. In most of these windmills often steel frames and structures were added in time to reinforce the aging wood.

The internals of old windmills is are marvels of engineering. Because almost everything is made from wood, simplicity is key here. Every object you find inside has a purpose. The wood was often connected with various wood connection methods like pegs or dovetails. The whole "chest" rests on the massive "stonebeam" which in turn sits on the standerd, and allows the windmill to be turned into the wind.

All the mechanics and cogs in the system are made of wood, with a few exceptions for the parts of the actual grinding wheel-set. A very big wheel, connected to the main axel, drives a smaller frame, which in turn makes the wheels grind over each other. The same wheel can also be engaged to a lifting mechanism called the "luias" which is an old term for a winch that lifts up the sacks of grain to the top floor.

The mill is not completely finished yet, we need to add the staircase and the hide to make it fully functional. Next blog we will put some work in creating proper materials of wood, stone and roofing that can be used throughout the scene.

Oh no! We did it wrong!

Work In Progress / 20 November 2018

While I was a enjoying some week of retreat in a small village in central France, the historians came up with some interesting discoveries. An opportunity for more research but it also means we need to redo some parts we've done before. Apparently a drawing of the complete west side of the town that we have missed so far. 

Here is a cutout of a bigger image. The author, sadly though, has a terrible sense of perspective and detail, so we could only use this in combination with the older sources we already knew about. And also take in consideration that this is not the most trust worthy source. The house in question is right behind the mill. We assumed that one of the other map painters mistook this so called Flemish facade as another large front house. this is why we should 4 high houses counting from the right. This didn't add up with a source that said that the house owned by Rembrandt's father was the 3rd from the right. Because we know his house was not a high one.

As you can see below, we solved this by changing the slender house to a one with a side facing roof and now the 4th triangle facade is part of the house of Rembrandt's family. There is now one front door too many, so we will probably remove the most right one and have this part be internally connected to the middle. Be sure to look at the older blog-posts to see what has been changed.

The whole thing is still not perfect, but we are more and more confident of the final result. I honestly love these kinds of discoveries, it's like a giant mystery puzzle, or complex Nonogram. where you only get various perspectives of a subject and you are trying to figure out the whole picture.

Next up we will switch the project up a bit and revisit our lovely windmills. We found some magnificent drawings and paintings from Rembrandt himself of windmills just like his fathers, it would be a shame not to use these for inspiration.

How to get upstairs?

Work In Progress / 14 November 2018

Last time when I showed some interior of the building, It was all quite empty. For now I worked on a little more detail. Back in the day Dutch people slept in what they called a "Bedstee". If you would describe it, it would be a wardrobe with a bed inside. They did this to have a warmer place to sleep at night in a poorly isolated stone house. Here is a picture of one in an old windmill.

 Our bedstee is connected with the staircase next to it. The staircase itself has a door to keep the warm air from the day to escape to the cold attic. Figuring out how the staircase should turn and how big it should be was quite a challenge. And only after I started checking the scale in VR did I manage to create something that felt believable and useful.

Later on we will give the bedstee some thick woolen curtains. We also have to dress up the fireplace. Some chairs and a table and it will start to feel like a real home.

The old street - Weddesteeg

Work In Progress / 09 November 2018

With the basis of the house done it was now time to focus a little more closely on the environment. From the city archives we found an old map of the whole city from around the time that we are reconstructing. Here you see a little cutout from the street that we are working on. Together with some later more precise maps we were able to figure out all the probable house placements and sizes.

From that position I started creating all the walls and facades. For this I looked to many paintings of similar building styles as well as some still standing houses. This gave us a quite nice view of the skeleton house frames of just brick. No wall had the same size and often the houses were no regular rectangles so this took some extra care.

For each facade I had to make little variations, some a bit wider, some had a more pronounced slant. Different window counts and varying heights. For now we're just going to leave the windows as cutouts from the wall. Later we will fill those with separate pre-made window assets. This is to help with adding variation and to allow the game engine later to handle everything more flexibly.

Using the same photoscanned roof we used for Rembrandt's house we can create all the roofs. Then we fill in the back of the street with house blocks of the rough shape they should be. It's far from realistic at the moment, but for now we can use this to get a good idea and feel of how it would have been.

If you look closely you can see the little house behind Rembrandt's own house, this is where is grandmother would have lived. All the way on the right we have a blacksmith's shop and workplace behind it.

The 17th century house

Work In Progress / 30 October 2018

The prototype is an important step in the production. To get a good feel for what the final building is going to be, I worked on a relatively quick setup for the house. This was based upon schematics provided by the Construction historian in our team. To get a useful building, I decided to make every wall a separate object. This way we can update the prototypes separately and have a basis for a good nice Level of Detail system. The result looked like a building under construction, which was pretty nice in itself.

I spend little time on the textures, mainly focusing on getting a proper idea. So the current textures I quite standard, taken from texture sites with a quick normal maps. The point was to get the idea across and to look around and get a spatial idea of the building. When we added the windows I mentioned in the previous blog, it really starts to look like something. The doors are for now, just copied shutters. these allowed me to make a dutch door design, with the two parts seperate.

And then the finishing touch with a photo scanned roof gave us this. The final image is rendered in Eevee. I had some struggles with the inside shadows leaking to the outside walls.

Next up i will make some more traditional facades for the neighboring houses. To give is a full street and we will start to get a good impression of the scene.

The basis of a 17th century Dutch house

Work In Progress / 17 October 2018

The project the currently occupies the most of my time, is currently "Rembrandt's Bakermat" which roughly translates to: the birthplace of Rembrandt. The good man grew up as a boy in the city of Leiden, an, at the time, prominent town in the Dutch United Republic.

His home would have been pretty average looking for a normal burgher of a prosperous town. And thanks to the many painters of his age, himself not forgotten, we have a pretty clear idea of what such a home would have looked like.

While we are still in the planning phase of the project, I went ahead and created some detailed pieces in advance, to get an idea of what we are going for.

Windows of the day were made of a strong wooden frame, small glass panels set in lead and wooden shutters. Glass was expensive at the time, so it was not uncommon to only find the top half with glass. If there was enough then openable windows would have been mounted on the bottom inside.

These glass panels are actually too big, I over estimated the size since my original reference didn't show the correct ones. I will correct this later.

The floor would have been made from terracotta stone. The same material as used for the orange rooftops. These tiles were backed from clay and sometimes glaced for more durability. Richer homes might have other colors or even marble floors, but for the average citizen was this not doable.

This texture doubled for me as practice for Substance Designer. I haven't had a chance to play around with the program before. But I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Stone tiles are not the hardest texture to make.

For those of you who worried that I dropped the last project of the castle. I did not, but this project asks for the priority right now.

The castle valleys of Luxembourg

Work In Progress / 21 August 2018

So this week I finally made a beginning on reconstructing the castle that is most dear to my heart. This castle is Bourschent (English: Boursheid), a large castle that stands on a hill near the similar named village. Standing proudly in central Luxembourg (West Europe), The castle currently is a ruin with several buildings reconstructed to open for tourism.

Ever since I visited this castle years ago, I knew I wanted to rebuild this castle in it's former glory. Back then my skills weren't up to the task, and so my tries didn't result in anything worth showing. After years the castle always had a place in my heart, and after a recent revisit, I decided to restart this old project.

Photo is property of and is only shown with educational purpose.

The first challenge was the environment. If you ever get the chance to visit the castle, one of the most fascinated things its it's location. If there was ever a place to build a castle this is it. The large pointed rock that forms it's foundation seems to be destined to be build upon. And the view is breath taking, a clear view over the valley in the south and north, and massive hills behind it.

I tried extraction height information from satellite data first. But I was unsatisfied with the sample density (30+ meters).  After some more digging I stumbled upon a free to public LIDAR scan of the entire country of Luxembourg, thanks to the Luxembourgian government at

I used the blender displacement modifier to rebuild the terrain from the, roughly 5,5 by 6,5 km, cut-out height map of the region. the quad density is higher in the nearby surroundings of the castle, to not overload the scene with polygons. The horizontal scaling was easy due to the 5x5 meter to one pixel scan data. Vertical scaling required me to do some height measurement in online apps.

From aerial photographs and the schematic map from the tourist folder (which is pretty accurate, even had a distance scale on it) I quickly created a low poly block out model of the castle and placed it on the right spot on the hill. As you can see, the castle and the rock below seem to belong together. (they share a history of at least thousand years)

Next blog I will talk about the first steps of basic texturing the of the environment. As a little tease, here is a sneak peak of how the project looks as of now:


Overdoing a Simple Contest

Work In Progress / 02 July 2018

So finally I crossed the barrier that was holding me back in posting my thoughts online. Let's go:

For this first blog I'm going to tell you about a little contest I'm joining. The premise is simple. Download the supplied energy drink can and give it a fancy texture.

Of course my mind doesn't allow myself to think simple and before I know it, some weird designs start to assemble themselves in my brain. The main question being: what would this can look like if it was from a magical world that stuck in the 17th century.

At this time I figured I wanted to try my hand at baroque. I've made some curls before, but never actually went all the way into all the little intricate details. I found out that one of the common elements in Baroque ornaments is the Acanthus leaf. After a little practice and drawing examples, I figured it out. I used curves to layout the shapes, and then filled in the surface as mesh.

So now for the can. The result idea is simple enough, decorate the can with these leafs and make it look pretty. There was another idea though. I wanted the can to have Crystalline  windows, this will be useful for a purpose I will keep a secret for a little while more. After building some frames, this is what I ended up with.

Of course, this is far from the finished result. But so far it starts to take the shape that we want it. The acanthus leaves, sadly, couldn't be as curved and curly as I'd like them. They will have to be baked onto the surface, and curling them too much won't give a satisfying result.

The next post is going to show you more of the ideas that I have and how I implemented them.

For now, farewell.

The contest is hosted by Sketchfab and is called "Texturing Challenge: Beverage Can"