Page 1 of 4

nebula creation

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 7:36 am
by Josh
I understand there is a need for some nebulae. This one here is ripped from a combat UI knockout I made recently, so it doesn't go to waste. The first one is for preview purposes, and the second one is if you want to use it.
Made from scratch, so nobody has a copyright on it but us, it's dimensions are around 800x600 firing at 8 bits of color per channel (Which I guess makes it 24 bit color doc) and I named it for the star cluster that was the middle, but...

Cradle Nebula

This one is 600x1200, nearly one MB in size which is the maximum photobucket will allow for free. Top is preview, bottom is for use. Also from scratch, and also 100% ours.

Mushroom Nebula

If there's some kind of thread already open for this sort of stuff by all means, move the post, because I haven't found it yet.

Re: Concept Art

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:08 am
by pd
Well done. I intend to use this as part of a background for spacecombat. In case you are going to create similar stuff in future, higher resolutions are welcome. A skybox is made of 6 square textures, each 1024x1024(maybe higher). (Don't worry about putting this together, I can do this easily.) A 800x600 texture would be just a tiny blob at this "sky".

Re: Nebula

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:27 am
by Josh
800x600 is only tiny blob? Crap.

Just one small detail: Photobucket won't allow me to transport files over 1MB. It's the transparencies that add a ton of bulk to the file, solid backgrounds are easier to transport, so as long as you're not averse to photoshopping out black backgrounds and shoving the masks back in yourself....

Anyways thanks for the complement, it makes the work worthwhile believe it or not.

Re: Concept Art

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 2:42 pm
by pd
I tried myself on nebula painting and I can say, you are doing really well. I find it's important to have a mix of detailed and loose definied areas - adds a nice variety. If you don't mind, you could create a mini tutorial, showing your process. It might be useful to others and myself :)

Black backgrounds are no problem. Putting a greyscale version in the alpha channel and loading this as a selection to mask out the black parts is a matter of seconds.

I was going to create a quicktime panorama to show you how small the nebula is once mapped on a skybox. Unfortunately quicktime VR doesn't work on 64bit systems. Bummer!

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 2:52 pm
by Tortanick
Can you throw up a 32 bit chroot on a Mac? That's how I got round the lack of 64bit flash player on Linux.

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:00 pm
by pd
I'm using xp64.

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 4:05 pm
by Tortanick
Oops, I jumped to Mac when you said QuickTime. I'm pretty sure it wont work on Windows.

Daybreak Nebula

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:45 pm
by Josh
THIS ONE is in 1024x1024, but unfortunately, if you want to use it, you need to add the black masking yourself. Use your good sense I suppose.

Daybreak Nebula 1024x1024, 24bit

The process is fairly simple:
step 1: Black background
step 2: Create a new layer
step 3a: White swatch on new layer using paint tool of choice
step 3b: Small swatches for small clouds, big swatches for big clouds
step 4: Generate difference clouds on top of white swatch (ctrl+f is helpful)
step 5: Adjust blending modes and levels until satisfied.
step 6: Merge layers with background.
step 7: Repeat until you've got a big, satisfying cloud.
step 8: Post work. (step back, take a fresh look at your picture, and add any necessary clouds, smudges, paints, and whatever)

You should always step back from your work on a regular basis to make sure it's all coming together. If it's not, you can catch it before it gets out of control. If it is, you can start look for promising parts of the picture and develop them better than if you didn't use peripheral vision.
After you're finished, the painting should be merged into one layer, and it should still be B&W, otherwise desaturate it. You will save a lot of trouble by not coloring it yet.

Optional steps
step 9: Use broad smudge and paint tools to sculpt clouds, lights, phenomena and shapes.
step 10: Use narrow smudge and paint tools to further define cloud edges for detailed effects.
step 11: color it (everything should have been B&W up to this point)

If you know how to use Difference Clouds, Nebulae are a cinch. At any point you can also use the background eraser tool to tweak clouds and erase out black and white masks, but blending the layers into the black background usually takes care of this more expediently. The smudge and gradient tools are great for getting wispy effects, and the eraser is actually a really good for painting in reverse (as long as you don't use it on the background). It's not unusual to have blended some 50 difference clouds together to get one painting, and to have tweaked many of those to personally fit your tastes.

Coloring involves FIRST either applying a gradient effect to the white spots (you need to merge all layers and erase all black areas with the background eraser first) or by colorizing the whole image with the hue/saturation tool.
Coloring specific parts involves feathering the lasso tool and selecting a spots (I use between 10-40 pixels and the shift key to select multiple spots) All you have to do is use colorize, adjust contrasts, and adjust levels of the spot until satisfied.
You can also paint your own colors by creating a new layer, setting the blend mode to overlay (or hard light, or multiply or whatever) and painting with normal paint, gradient and smudge tools. You need a black background for this second approach.

I'm pretty sure that's all there is to it. If I think of something else, I'll say so.

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:13 pm
by pd
Thanks for the breakdown of your process. It's always interesting to see how others work. Your latest nebula is by far the best. I love the variety in edge softness and all this black negative space.

Here is one of my (older) experiments. My approach seems more "cloudy", which is the result of me painting just on one layer. It sucks big time compared to your nebulae. I'll definitely try out a heavily layered approach as you did and try to mix both. Btw, for the coloring step you might want to try the colorize or hue blending mode, as it doesn't mess with the brightness level and just adds color.

Just keep those nebulae coming. The more we have and the bigger they are, the better :) We'll need quite a variety of backgrounds, because they'll fast become boring, if shown each and every combat.

Scorpion Nebula

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:25 pm
by Josh
O there is one thing I forgot that's really helpful: You need to study nebulae. Also, you can tie a feathered lasso around real life nebula and copy paste it into your own designs :)
In fact, I tried doing that with the Cradle Nebula, but for some reason it ended up looking like a giant space vagina...

Freudian slip or artistic inspiration? We may never know.

Scorpion Nebula (You may not have noticed, but I'm just making these names up as I go along :D )
1280x1280, 24bit

Rainbow Nebula A file so big I had to convert to jpegs. This one scales nicely without any significant loss of detail. I even got it up to 2000x2000 pixels (but then It got too big to upload)
1600x1600 24bit.

Halo Nebula If you desaturate it, you can add your own color.
1280x1280 24bit

Actually, pd, I think your Clouds have a whimsical charm to them,
just stick a luck dragon on it and you're ready to go. :)

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 10:17 am
by Josh
Firestone Nebula 1024x800 (At first, I thought it was going to suck, until I added that little beacon of fiery light in the center, hence the name)
Dagger Fall Nebula 1280x1000 (One of my favorites, for many different reasons)
Angel Nebula 1024x1024 (The picture was supposed to look more divine, with the clouds parting and the sun shining through. It obviously didn't quite happen that way)

So far that's 9 Nebulae, which makes me feel like a one man army, but these later ones were freaking hard to make :? How many do you need anyways? Is there an upper limit? I'd imagine the file size for the art folder gets obscene after a short time if you pay too much attention to just nebulae.

I also I had a couple of thoughts while painting these Nebulae here, because I was wondering how they are intended to work in game:

1. Sometimes, I want all the nebula to be one color, or a different color, so i desaturate them, and apply a quick fix of color. It makes me wonder if the game could do this too.
2. You can create a bigger and more varied Nebula by sticking Lots of smaller Nebulae together in their transparent states.
3. The Nebulae in general are surprisingly resilient when it comes to scaling.
4. Maybe a simpler and more elegant style would be better. I was testing one out with the Daggerfall Nebula. (I just made that name up, it's the forbiddingly icy looking one FYI)
5. There are a lot of commercial space games that, while not necessarily similar to FO, have really nice backdrops for their 3D scenes. Homeworld comes to mind immediately, where it always looks like it's one gigantic background in every scene.

Okay, so that's more than a couple of thoughts, but I think you get the idea.

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 11:07 am
by pd
Sometimes, I want all the nebula to be one color, or a different color, so i desaturate them, and apply a quick fix of color. It makes me wonder if the game could do this too.
Coloring of a greyscale image with a single color can be done. The result is probably not so good looking, because there will be no variation. Maybe we could prepare sets of backgrounds, that include just color information(applied loosely with very soft brushes or gradients). Those could then be combined with greyscale backgrounds, that include the actual cloud definitions. I think this deserves some testing(on our side first) as it promises a huge variety of nebulae, that can be easily set up by code, so that it fits to the different gaseous texture sets used on the galaxy level.
5. There are a lot of commercial space games that, while not necessarily similar to FO, have really nice backdrops for their 3D scenes. Homeworld comes to mind immediately, where it always looks like it's one gigantic background in every scene.
Yes, that is similar to what I am aiming for. Those nebulae will serve as kind of focus points though. So, there will be areas that are much more simplier. This is what I was talking about previously by the way. I don't want to be as cartoony as Homeworld was, but a similar feel is definitely desired. From what I've seen, Eve is quite colorful as well, so maybe a mix of both will come out. I think it's best if we keep the backgrounds nearly monochromatic(with slight variations of course, including complementary colors as accents). In contrast it's quite safe to say that there will be dark backgrounds as well. Maybe those will be used at the outer edges of the galaxy, in areas where the gaseous substance fades away. I'm thinking of whether we should include some giant fragments of machinery in some backgrounds, like homeworld did. Maybe we can think of other interesting things, that create interesting settings. Those could be coupled with certain (system wide?) specials.
The galaxy itself could be included, spanning a major part of the background. It could be varied depending on the distance to the core. You see, there is quite a lot we could do and it seems like great fun too :)

This Dagger Fall Nebula is indeed amazing. I love how it seems to throw shadows in some areas, which by the way is an effect happening in reality.

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 3:13 pm
by Tortanick
Josh wrote: So far that's 9 Nebulae, which makes me feel like a one man army
Well you are one :)

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:10 pm
by Josh
Checked out screenshots of EVE Online. I'm wowed.

Perhaps then it's better if you color the Nebulae yourself too, as you seem to understand how this would work best in game. I found the one of the most effective ways to do this (after much trail and error btw) is....

1: Open a Greyscale Nebula file
2: Create a new layer and set blend mode to "color"
3: Select a paint tool: Adjust thickness, softness, flow and opacity of brush until satisfied. (I typically set opacity and flow settings very low, with a very thick soft brush.)
4: Paint away :) (study real Nebulae, game Nebulae, or even use the eyedropper on other peoples Nebulae to get an idea of what colors you should use)

I'm going to go study those backgrounds in EVE Online. They baffle and awe me to no end and I really want to know how they're doing those backgrounds. Freespace 2 has nifty backgrounds too, it's tech level also might be more FO's pace.

Re: nebula creation

Posted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:39 pm
by pd
I'm guessing that the backgrounds in EVE are mostly painted. There might be some volume rendering tools involved(Afterburn and such), but I wouldn't count on that. It's definitely possible to achieve something like this by pure painting.

I've set up a nice workflow for the combat background creation. The main part is me painting in Modo on a 3D sphere with inverted normals from the inside. It's a great way to lay out all the main elements in the same way they will appear once completed. I've started the image below by using your Dagger Fall Nebula as a base. Mapped on the sphere, I noticed that it appears very flat and so I've started painting on top of it, adding thick clouds to create some depth. I've worked in grayscale and the colors are just a quick temporary finish. I've then brought this back into Photoshop and tried adding different stars. Pixel stars didn't work very well, as they also seemed very flat. I've then added some bigger stars instead, but kept them still smaller than the central star in-game will be(max zoom out). Those stars might be nearby systems and I think it works OK. Once done I bring everything into Max to create the Cube Maps for the skybox. I'll have a Quicktime VR ready tomorrow, so you can see how it looks if you rotate around.
Original Resolution is 4192x2048.

As an additional step I might add some tiny details in Photoshop, before going to Max. However I'm a bit worried that they might distract too much from the important elements(ships, planets). I like the looseness of the backgrounds in Homeworld. You can even see the brush strokes in some places and it contrasts the hard, detailed ships really nicely.
100% - As you can see, it's still quite blury. This is about the size you'll see it in-game.