Greebling - Form and Function

I know at first glance it may seem like a silly idea to talk about Greebles/Nurnies but I’m thinking it’s because it’s not that it’s hard to do or work through so I thought a bit of benifit from working it out in a forum so design and modelling will go much smoother.

Some may have read my post on the Battlecuiser Greeble thread and I wanted to start a discussion on greebling by itself. As it can be an important part of ship or other sci-fi design process it perhaps should have it’s own place to toss it around a bit as it were. So I’m hoping to have some good input on the subject and maybe build up some stratagies in adding these often used details to sci-fi equipment (ships - vehicles - devices - perhaps even costumes [BORG]). Perhaps aswell some of the software tricks and techniques to do this aspect as they apply to blender and PSP aswell as others perhaps if they are others. We could perhaps build a bit of tutorial on Greebling that could be a model for making models with… I’ll get it started and see were it goes.

Perhaps a bit of history first:

Greebles came out of the BSG/SW ships because they wanted to add detail without the technical neccessity to explain why they are there. They also give the ship a heavily modelled (designed) look for the same reason. Mostly though it’s to give the ship a great texture without needing to paint the textures on. Perhaps aswell to distinguish them from “Smooth” ships of 2001 and Trek. If you look at the ships of SW and BSG you will notice they are painted white not much painting on them at all.

This was an easy way of giving a texture to the ship that for the most part would be smooth.

The parts of the ship that could be inside could always be inside if for these two reasons.

  • They need to be outside to function
  • They were added on after the design was complete.

Like a hotrod the parts can be inside or outside it’s up to the builder. My primary idea or thought is that greebles can be consistant with the design or they can be added on… If they are added on then they need to have a bit of purpose. If they are consistant then they are part of the design (intigrated). To some extent both of those need some kind of purpose the later is more hidden.

Not to say that greebles are a bad desgn idea but it would be far easier to build a ship with just a few more feet of hull then putting holes in the hull for the greebles. I say that only to make the point that it would be some kind of reason for them to be there when they are there. If space is at a premium inside then you kinda have to ask the second question - why is there so little space inside.

It could be very confined inside but that would be a lets say poor design. You wouldn’t build a house for 4 people with only 2 bedrooms. You could do it but why… (expence of the added rooms or lot size restrictions) well that could be but you would reduce the use of the house aswell. So what ever the use of the ship is it needs to be big enough to hold everything it needs to the greatest extent.

Greebles give you a chance to put in details but they aren’t just details like the old days (SW/BSG). When your making a computer model you aren’t restricted to the little bits out of model kits (as some greeble plugins try to do). You are building the greebles themselves. So you have total control over them. this isn’t to say they all need a purpose and a reason to be there but some of them do… The ratio is up to you as to how many… I would say though that if you look at it from a building the ship standpoint. As in my previous post You can work through the primary functions and add greebles accordingly as you go.

Perhaps to illustrate what I’m trying to say. Think of a steam locomotive. It’s kinda close to what you have? A complex machine even for it’s time. Thousands of parts moving in somewhat unisen. Some of the parts are very recoginisable others not so much but you know it’s a steam locomotive by the parts you recognise.

This is what I’m trying to say. In order for people to believe the greebling is something and not a camera effect then some of the greebles need to be recognisable as something. This will draw the eye into the model to see the details. As a side bar I’ve been into model railroading for years. One of the things that’s important is to model the obvious. Lets say the recognisable or common place.

It’s the same for a spacecraft. When you have details that people recognise as something they would expect to see then that makes them want to look further (to see the things they don’t recognise - curiosity). Without that initial recognition it’s just bumps (no detail just texture). All that work will have been for not. You want people to be curious about the ship and why it’s built this way. To ask questions about it as they look at it.

Perhaps to futher that idea look at the Millenium Falcon. There are greebles on that ship that you know what they are or atleast what they appear to be in anycase. This recognisabilty is part of the greebling process. The ships funcitons play a part in that aswell. You know what the ship is for (it’s primary functions) so the greebles reflect that even if you don’t know exactly what they are they look like they are supposed to be there.

Another long post I know. I am hoping to be helpfull though. The greebling flows out of the ships functions and then it’s operations then out of it’s backup systems. To some extent these things need to be efficient. Then they need to have a certain amount of commonality (recognisablity - standardisation). For spacecraft that isn’t a high priority but it’s important somewhat.

Perhaps a bit of flowchart is what is required to help out. I’ve always wanted to do something like that now seems like a good time. When I get one together I’ll post it here on Elysium.

Till then. Adding some purpose to your greebles becides the aesthetic ones will go a long way to making the greebles really come to life. One of the ways to do that is to not fill the entire space with them (ala Borg). This was a primative design idea as it was ment to be. If you put in some spaces it will give the appearance that the greebles have a reason and are not just stuck on (like the old days).

Greebling is in some cases pretty hard work. I’m not trying to make it harder on you. I’m mostly thinking of a few modelling tricks and ways to get your ship into a greater level of design.

At a very basic level these are perhaps important to always concider

Contrast - Differences in size and space (see the trees and not just the forest)

Balance - The design should have some flow to it. Consistant design cues throughout.

Realism - Not so much that the ship needs to be completely realistic but some of the parts need to be recognisable this applys all the way down to the greebling.

Flowchart is on it’s way… Part one of a tutorial

Comments and ideas welcome…

Just wanted to add this link to this topic as it very much applys:

Don’t forget the bundled Discombobulator script!
Maybe the script could be modified to add things other than cubes, like half-spheres, pipe segments, etc.
Though I always thought these greebles were there specifically to make the model look ‘more modeled’, and for no other purpose.

I’ve been digging around here for a little while already and have seen a number of greebling efforts. One very good point some have brought up is the sense of scale greebles can convey.

For example:

If you put big greebles on a ship that’s supposed to be large you will make it look smaller and vice-versa.

Also don’t forget plain old hull panels, if you look at aircraft or the shuttle up close, it isn’t smooth at all. No plane is made up of one piece so hull panels if not over done can add alot of believability to your model. Which can be said of any type of model not just a space ship.

Here are some good examples of greebles I’ve found on this forum:

This is kinda what I was hoping for. There are some fine examples out there. I do think that they give detail to something that probably wouldn’t be built that detailed in reality. I agree that paneling is also a part of a ships building. When available the tutorial section at SCI-FI meshes will have a few. Currently it’s under renovation. One of the other things in ship construction I think that is somewhat looked over is the lighting. That is interior and exterior lighting. Nav and position keeping lighting aswell as lighting for operaiting purposes. I know that in space VFR is not really going to happen. Still you may need exterior lighting to look at things as you work in space (in an asteroid or debris field aswell as search and rescue).

I do think greebles can represent the patched together look of a ship or the once totally covered now exposed (heavily used) ship. They can also bring an industrial look to a otherwise spotless design. Adding in a utilitarian signature to a once highly specialised ship. All these things give the craft an age. The cleaner and sleaker it is the newer and the more greebled the older. I also agree that the greebles give a ship scale. Something to measure from as you know how big a pipe or valve or port would be and by that judge the size of the ship.

As with my other posting I think it’s important to keep in mind that the greebles represent something that needs to be there. Even if you don’t know exactly what that would be. So some thought must be given to there location and look to get the message accross. As with any vessel every whole you put in it is a way for the stuff inside (air/water/fuel) to escape and also a place of weakend surface for stuff to come in through (micro meteors/enemy fire/debris). So you would want them to be least exposed as possible. You still want to have them and see them but you have to concider why they are there (access/function). These two things can lead to many a different reason.

I think that currently and not just for reasons of it’s newness. That BSG the re-imagined series is one of the best examples of greebling out there. The whys and wherefores are quite evident in their ship designs. There is a wide breadth of designs aswell to view in that series.

I have always wanted to go through all the points of ship design and to some extent layout a basic plan for making ships that have a purpose. I know it may seem like an easy thing to do but I’ve spent some time working out quite a bit of concepts hoping to share my ideas with those here. There are other aspects of space scene developement that could be worked out aswell. From planet generation to atmosphere entry and exit. So I’m looking forward to more brainstorming.


Guess the greeblers are asleep well anyway just picked up a good tip and thought I’d share it here. Based on a tut on Sci-Fi meshes, when paneling a hull the size of the bevel (on top of the panels) can also be used to convey scale.

I know the one your talking about but the tutorial section on SFM is down (renovation work still to be completed). There are quite a few there that would be helpfull.

I was hoping for some more responces in here but I guess it’s not as important a topic as I had thought. Or perhaps it’s been talked about to much. I know I have talked about it a few times myself.

For doing space scenes in Blender there are a few fan sites that can help out quite a bit. Blenderwars is perhaps the best.

Although they are a “Star Wars” - Blender site they can offer quite a bit of info on making space scenes in blender that can be applied to any type of space theme images or animation.

I have always wanted to start up a site that had all the technical side of modelling. Not the tutorial aspects of making models but all the data to make the models realistic. Based on many factors including but not limited to actual science. These subjects would be broad in scope including planets space and ships aswell as life support and what happens in different types of atmosphere. A place to pool all the theoretical data aswell on Terraforming and other projected science concepts. I would also want to tie that into a modelling plan to get models from concept to actual manufacture (in blender of course).

Still on the drawing board though… It may never leave that board (it’s a pretty full piece of computer hardware).


Yeah I find alot of good info from plastic model kit sites also. A site like the one you’re wanting to build would sure be great to have right now. If you ever get it started let me know, I’d be happy to help, got a little html/javascript/php under my belt, not much but every bit helps.

first of all , Great topic!

I am currently in the process of greebling and modeling my ship and its my first try at such a model. The greebling is a combination of modeling and using text converted into meshes to fill in the gaps. Only problem is that its very vertice intensive but anyway.

Here is a good comment/tut I also heard of on these forums :

And don’t forget texture and bump maps, especially when trying to balance level of detail and rendering times.

Greebles and associated micro-detail are best used sparingly (IMHO). There are some good examples of 3d modelling with a sense of scale here:

Your right it’s a fine example of the keeping the poly’s down. I do think that greebling is a dish best served in small quantities. You want it to look like details and not just a bunch of stuff stuck on. In one of my earlier posts I mentioned that. If you concentrate on what the functions of the area are then the greebles will tell you what you need to have there.

Bridge = Communication/Navigation/Engine control connections
Main Body = Life support/Enviroment Control/Aux Power Generation
Engines = Propulsion subsystems and Directional Control

If you break the ship down into the parts and then add the greebles accordingly you will find it works out best that way. For me anyway. This will give purpose to the details and will give them a presense that just adding stuff won’t do. Form following function even at the greeble level.

I also agree that bump maps can do allot aswell. These details are the ones that are perhaps to small to actually model. If you try to bump map the bigger details it can be a problem. It’s easy enough now in blender to reduce the detail for distant objects perhaps as they did it in the old days of ship modelling (making different models for verying distances). This will cut down on the render times. One of the things that I find benefit a great deal from bump mapping is natural objects (Planets/Asteroids). I sometimes have the greatest fun building these objects as you can often use procedural textures to do the bumping for you. Bumps are hard to get right in the texturing as they require most time a UVunrap to get it where you want it. If the actual placement isn’t a problem then it’s not to bad. I also find that some care needs to be taken as to how the model is built in the first place to utilise bump mapping to it’s fullest.

It would be good to have a tutorial on the connection between the model elements and texturing. I know allot of people use an empty to move the texture to where they want it to be. Perhaps that could be included. Once you have understanding as to how the model is going to be textured then the model elements can be built. Often though the texturing is thought of last in the process and many times requires a rebuild of the model to get the textures right. I know it’s somewhat of a basic idea but if you know how the textures are going to roll out then the model can be built and very little needs to be done to correct for texture placement afterward. I’m working on a model right now that could benefit from that.

I do think that bump maps are oft times looked at as a game creation bonus and not as a modeling tool. You can certainly use them to keep the render times down but they can be very subtle and give really good detail to something that would be hard to model at the same time. You have to figure the bump maps into the design process from the beginning however to get them to work out right. Along with the other textures these will add much to the model.

In as much as can take away from the mesh of a model and not add to it’s a bit of sculpting tool to be used to pull stuff out. You can use it to raise the mesh but it can only do so much in that area before they are recognized. If the bump is isolated enough that the detail will remain obscured enough to hide it’s a bump then it’s good plan.

A few tips.

  • Plan the use of a bump map in advance.
  • Use it for details that are very small or eucluded (hidden behind other objects)
  • Try to keep the bumps from direct connection to the backround image or (matte)
  • Try to keep the bumps from area’s that will be in closeup at any time during the rendering/animation.
    Note: As render speed increases this becomes more and more a problem (you will want more closeups - perhaps exposing the bump maps in the process)
  • Don’t use a straight black and white image as a map. This will make hard edges on the model and make it easier to detect as a bump. If you use a variation of greys (blurred map) this will make the bump harder to detect.
  • Atleast Double the resolution of the bump map compared to the rest of the image maps. This will keep the bump a good detail level when it comes to rendering and make the previous tip work easier.
  • Where possible use a procedural bump map. These I find are the most fun. You can play with the possibilities the most and can be added at the end of modelling if you gave thought to it in the beginning.

If there are others just add them in.

Bump maps can be quite a bit of fun to add on to the model in many cases adding a great deal of life to it. This is even more so for an organic model (planet, moon or asteroid). So long as the resolution of the bump map is to scale with the rest of image maps (see tips). I don’t know what the current image map max res is for the current releases of Blender (both 2.37a and 2.4) If some knows please post it. They may be the same as the previous versions. This could be a limiting factor when using bumps in the modelling process.

C&C Welcome

One good tip from NeOmega is when doing a bump map, make the bump go inward instead of outward. The profile of an object will be a dead give away otherwise.

Also, render times depend more on memory usage and not just on polygons. A bump map could slow you down just as much or even more then modeled details.