Realistic Spaceships

Thought I would share my progress on the project I’ve been working on for the past three weeks or so (on and off, mostly off), a realistic near-future manned spacecraft. I’ve taken inspiration from existing craft such as the ISS as well as NASA proposals and ships from movies such as the Hermes from The Martian and the Endurance from Interstellar. The goal is to depict a reasonably plausible spacecraft that could be used as a reusable workhorse for deep-space missions out beyond Mars, even to the outer planets like Uranus and Neptune. As such this is a primarily nuclear-powered vessel (solar arrays provide backup and can keep vital systems running when the reactor is powered down) with a VASIMR engine providing a small but constant thrust.

I started off with a basic proxy model and am progressively replacing the proxy sections with high res models linked in from another blend file. This seems to be a reasonably efficient way of working but I’m getting some considerable viewport lag when doing so, far more than I’d expect for the polycount (I can usually handle multi-million vertex sculpts on my system with little to no slowdown, and I’m pretty certain that the aggregate of all the linked parts in nowhere near that). Anyone got any ideas of a solution to this or am I just going to end up having to work around it with more proxy models?

In terms of critique what I’m looking for is primarily help with materials. I’m reasonably happy with it so far but I don’t know what I can do to push it to that next level of photorealism, and materials have never really been my strongpoint. I’m continuing to add detail throughout (the truss backbone needs a remodel, as do the spherical holding tanks at the front of the propulsion section) and there’s a couple more modules to create, such as an airlock and a command deck and possibly some sort of lander.

I’m intending to follow this ship up with further designs getting progressively more and more futuristic (this one is meant to be from the 2070s or so, post a Mars landing but prior to large scale colonisation), hence the plural in the thread title.



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Looks great! It’s very believeable!

I think the cylindrical section is a bit too seamlessly textured.
In general the materials could use some grunge, a bit of dirt, not necessarily clumps of it, but space isnt as empty as we think it is and a lot of stuff can create dirt/damage on the surface of fast moving objects.
Right now it looks just a bit too pristine.

Otherwise this is pretty baller.

It actually looks great. Those large capsule things though kinda look plain compared to the other parts.

Impressed !
Could you bring us some close up ?

Thanks guys!

Have worked on materials quite a bit and added some procedural dirt/grungy stuff. Was a bit unsure at first but thinking about it makes sense since this ship is meant to have been in service for 20+ years or so, spending huge amounts of time in deep space and amassing micrometeoroid strikes, radiation damage and propellant buildup on its surface.

I also replaced two of the ventral docking arms with opening cargo bays which can be used to transport landers or probes or any other sort of mission equipment with them.

Here’s a bit more of a closeup as well as an annotated orthographic:

Still needs an antenna somewhere on there and lots and lots of cabling. Plus manoeuvring thrusters & hatch covers.

I really enjoy the details and the schema you made !
Keep up the good work :slight_smile:

Dang I wanna see that thing spin in space and be crushed Gravity like !

To me what could add some interest would be some pieces wrapped in a soft material like the Soyouz (I don’t know which ones though) :

There’s a lot of detail on your model. Of course if we look at, say the ISS, there’s a BUTTLOAD of details (zoom on the image):

What I find gorgeous about the ISS is its very white material being lit by the sun, as well as the brown panels. Yours is darker with the metal. But if you prefer it this way…

I love this. It’s incredible. I had a project some time ago I gave up on…actually I gave up on all of them lol. I can appreciate this level of detail and thought. Loving your treatment of the module texture

Cheers for the feedback guys! Have made several alterations based on what you’ve said, but the opportunity came up to enter a 3-mniute film competition where the prize is to have your film screened on the International Space Station - not something I was going to miss! So I’ve prematurely stopped development on it in order to be able to use it in the short. Will resume after it’s done in February.

Here’s a teaser trailer:

I like it. It’s very believable.

Steve S.

Looks great! Did you do all of it in Blender? I’d be interested how you did the sequence with Saturn, in terms of the glare and the other effects. Never saw this so believable before with Blender.


It’s clear that the glare is made of still images, not a Blender effect.

This teaser looks quite mysterious and interesting, seems like the spaceship is creating a wormhole.

But there are some things I would’ve done differently (note that it’s subjective) :

  • The changing of direction of the spaceship on screen (especially the Saturn shot) makes it look like it’s roaming around in space without a goal.
  • The spinning parts spin too fast
  • The Saturn shot is not zoomed enough and the spaceship is super far from Saturn. I would’ve done it more like Interstellar :

If you don’t want to copy Interstellar, why not choose another planet ?
How about Jupiter and one of its satellite visible in the shot (but still small) ? I would love that. It would make such an impression of gigantism.

This Interstellar image also has a framing that gives a totally different emotion. More relaxing, less agressive, it kind of looks like Saturn is protecting the spaceship. Moreover, the scene itself is relaxing (with the crickets sound). Well thought Nolan.

  • In the last shot, I would’ve made the spaceship smaller to increase the impression of gigantism again. It’s space for God’s sake !

And please, make this thing break like in Gravity !

If this has been in service for so long, you should probably add damage from micrometeorites, and possible repairs.

I don’t think so, the ghosts and the glare effects change with the camera moving. It’s not a still image IMO.

It really looks great.

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

First off, sorry to disappoint but the lens flare is using Optical Flares in After Effects - I considered using a lens flare rig I’d used on a previous project in Blender but the set up time and fiddliness of customising it meant that basically the only option given the timescale was to use another program. I am still using Blender for lots of post-processing effects though. It does chromatic aberration and star-like glare effects very well, so I’ve been plugging my AE compositions back into Blender and rendering them through the node editor. Also means I can use the film colour management option too, which I’m a big fan of.

Noted on the change of direction. That shot’s primarily AE with some animated stills so it’s easy to redo.
In terms of the spinning, I actually did some approximate calculations and it does spin at the right rate to produce about 0.2G (radius of 25m, spin rate of 3rpm, gives approximate lunar gravity to those on board). The second rotating section (further back) spins faster because it’s a counterweight for the habitat ring, spinning about 3x the speed of the first to counteract torque. It has scientific instruments and processors/life support systems which are designed to function under the influence of gravity (which actually makes some systems a lot easier to design)

The Saturn shot is one of several shots which form a sort of montage of where the ship has been - it’s at the end of a ‘grand tour’ of the solar system, approaching its last destination, Neptune, and Jupiter (and its moons) also appear. I will probably change the composition like you suggest though, maybe not as similar to Interstellar but definitely to give a greater sense of scale.

Would love to break it apart like Gravity but I don’t really have time! Plus the movie doesn’t need it - maybe I will do after the film is done!

Already thinking about what I want to redo when I come back to working on the ship itself. Currently the hull panels use a normal map and I want to replace them with some more interesting modelled geometry. And move away from procedural shading a little more as that’s caused some problems when dealing with animation and linked groups & objects. Hopefully by the end of the project I can have this looking closer in quality to the Hermes from The Martian. That’s a long way off though. I think i remember reading somewhere that the Hermes project files took up something like 700GB of storage in total which is something I can only dream of!

Latest shot done: actually the longest render time I’ve ever had for any single shot. Took about 30 hours at 20 minutes or so per frame. Normally I’d approach these shots by rendering a still and then doing the moving parts separately and comping them in, but the ship’s so shiny that if I’d done that you wouldn’t have any moving reflections. So I rendered the whole thing. Astronaut model is not mine but by Jgillhutton on blend swap. Very nice model, easy to animate. Still need to colour correct to match the rest. Then i’ve reached about the 2 minutes 10 seconds mark, with maybe 15 more seconds taken up by credits & black video, so I have 35 seconds of animation & live action to get sorted by next weekend.

Here’s a preview render of the film so far (about 80% complete visually, still lacking live action & dialogue which will obviously involve a lot of visual effects too):

Would greatly appreciate any critique on the film overall at this stage. I have about a week left to get the rest of the film done in terms of visuals; I don’t want to be adding any new visuals post next Friday in order to have time over the weekend to finish up sound mix and colour grading. I’m at the point where I’ve been staring at the thing so long that I can barely distinguish it as a film anymore, so outside opinion is critical. It’s deliberately ambiguous and in parts surrealist, but is it too much so? Is it too slow or too rushed? Any editing beats you would change? How’s the tone, the atmosphere? Obviously that’s a little hard to tell at this stage given the live action will cast a very different feel over it.

I’d particularly like criticism on the sequence from 1:58 onwards, what I’m calling the ‘Beyond’ sequence. I want to feel deliberately somewhat disjointed but with a common through line of movement in it to suggest continuity even though the shots span a vast expanse of locations. Not featured in this upload are a couple of WIP shots of a wheel station in orbit around Neptune, with the bulkhead doors opening up to accept the ship at the end. My question is: does this sequence work? Does it fit with the film as whole? Should I jump around a bit less and have more shots expanding on fewer set pieces?

Also, current working script for the dialogue I’ll be inserting in (the Apollo 8 ‘genesis’ reading will be cut and rearranged a little more, currently it’s a bit of a backing track almost):

It's been nine hundred days since we left Earth; nine hundred days in the depths of space. We're beyond Jupiter now; beyond Saturn (Cue shots of Jupiter and Saturn respectively).
Three billion miles from home. But out there, in the dark, somewhere around Neptune, something impossible is calling us. 

Within rendezvous distance. Matching velocities. 

Final approach. 

Move us in closer. 

Firing OMS.

Where's it taking us?

Dialogue will be blended into the piece forming a sort of soundscape more than a standard conversation. The first bit of speech will probably be the only one not to be given a radio-like filter.

Cheers guys,


this is the best Blender short I’ve seen to date, even without being finished. The story reminds me on the novel version of 2001, which I really love. And the visuals are stunning, I don’t know what to improve there.

Here are just some minor comments that might help, feel free to ignore them completely!:

0:21: Water droplet: I doubt that the surface tension of water would allow to have such a split to happen. Even if three droplets collide, I’d expect that it separates only to two.

0:38: Jupiter vs. foreground lighting: The direction of light seems to be different for Jupiter and the foreground planet.

  • Stop the rotation before the ship enters the cube: I guess from a mechanical point of view it would make sense to stop the artificial gravitation module before going through any sort of barrier to avoid any additional forces. I think it could also be a nice visual feature to stop the rotation here.

  • Ship needs not always being oriented in line of travel: If the engine is turned off, the ship can be oriented in any direction with respect to the line of movement. It might bring some additional interest if you include a shot where it is not perfectly parallel.

I like the “Beyond” part very much, especially the planet with the artificial ring. That’s a great idea. If the Neptune station is not known to humanity in your story, I’d change the planet to some planet far away, or you need to explain how it could come there without being identified before.

I can’t imagine what the live-action would look like, but I love the short as is now.

Looking forward to each update here!

Cheers, Thorsten

This is stunning!
I agree with Thorst that the surfact tension will not allow a split. from looking at videos of water in space, I don’t think any split should occur, although it will deform with an oscillating motion for a while.
I would keep the rotation as it enters the cube, since I doubt they would have included a braking mechanism (heavy and not really required)

Cheers guys, very useful feedback! Currently have a series of post-it notes plastered above my desk with all the alterations I need to make haha!

Will redo the water droplet animation, that’s pretty easy. Render time was short. Good spot on Jupiter too, and again, simple fix since Jupiter is a still in that shot and is just part of an AE composition. Won’t be stopping the rotation (partly because I think it looks cool; sort of like a clockwork mechanism as it’s moving through the portal; and partly because re rendering all those shots would be pretty much impossible in the time frame with everything else left to do!)

The Neptune station is meant to be a sort of vision of a possible ‘destiny’ for humanity (the Beyond sequence shows a ‘best-case-scenario’ for humanity in a way) and so is a human built object, just in the far future. Same with the artificial ring around Mars.

Here’s the station (not had time to put as much detail in as I’d have liked, but it’s just a couple of shots):