Shuttle, the compact PC folks, have posted a step-by-step walkthrough demonstrating how artists model the Viper fighter craft for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. (That might seem like odd timing, but Sci Fi Channel — now SyFy — continues to crank out spinoffs of the show, so there’s plenty of modeling work to be done.)

What’s nice about the video is seeing how much of the workflow is now becoming real-time. That illustrates how the long-awaited convergence between traditional modeling and effects and live visuals is finally coming to pass. As three-dimensional design becomes more about “right now” and less about “tinker, tinker, wait, wait, wait, render, render,” the notion of visuals as live instrument is no longer so strange. It means that the VJ and visual performance community has growing common ground, even with elements like special effects.

Also remarkable: all of this is done on a compact, small form-factor Shuttle PC. Usually, compact PCs have been associated with significant performance trade-offs, but that’s changing, as well. The Core i7 is showing up in laptops, and smaller size, lower heat, and lower power consumption are the order of the day.

The animators behind the show are interesting, too. Effects consultants Tim Albee and Kelly Lee Myers are the ones contributing here, and to the Galactica universe in general; Tim is a superstar independent artist with his own production company, and Kelly aka “Kat” moonlights as a trance DJ. (Hey, you have to listen to something to keep you awake during long visual effects production sessions!)

The software appears to be NewTek LightWave, continuing a long-standing tradition between NewTek and sci-fi. The ground-breaking Babylon 5 was made quick and on-the-cheap using NewTek’s Video Toaster on the Commodore Amiga. (See a 1994 making-of story, for starters.) That show heralded the future of science fiction effects, producing loads of ship shots that would have otherwise been impossible on a budget with traditional real-for-real models.

  • Orubasarot

    Sorry I'm going to take this opportunity to totally lose my shit on hardware for a moment and not even make any coherent point.

    That's really amazing that something of this level is being done on such a portable system. This is a refreshing counterpoint because currently my live setup is a 4U rackmount. Right now I'm exploring the utterly excessive side of this. It's a real pain in the ass to drag it to shows, but I really can't hope to play even my Resolume Avenue sets on any laptop on the market.

    I've been shopping around for Dual Xeon platforms ($300 per CPU, $400 motherboard) and dual GPUs with dual SSDs (watch the Intel G2s for $200 this Friday). Now that's nerding out hardcore, but it actually seems like you could build an utter monstrosity for a bit over $2000. Flash the ATI cards to run as FireGL, which reportedly works even in crossfire, and you've got a transportable Pixar studio at your disposal for the price of an entry level Mac Pro.

    I've spent a month counting power requirements and screwing around with measuring tape to see if all this server junk and EATX can actually fit where it needs to fit. Apparently it can, but the reason I'm writing this is I'm wondering if anyone else is going to such extremes. Are we really this close to broadcast quality realtime graphics or is it just an illusion? Will the law of diminishing returns always be relevant? Will there always be the desire to just throw an excessive amount of unnecessary plugins at a project and bring the machine to its knees regardless of the investment?

    All this "amazing new power like never before" seems tempting but I could have sworn we've been mid-step around this corner for the past decade.

    Bonus round:

    And in related nerd news there's this, a $200 monitor that runs at 2048 x 1152 for comfortable 1080p video editing. 3 of these in Eyefinity is utterly ridiculous, and half the price of a single 30" monitor.

    Sorry I don't have a blog and I just needed to put that somewhere. It's shameful but relieving.

  • Orubasarot

    Oh and I almost forgot:

    ECC ram and live visuals. Do you care? Personally after 5 RMAs and hundreds of wonderful BSODs I'm never building a system without ECC again.

    Doing ECC can even be done on a budget (AMD/AM3). But is it important enough for you to consider this route? I never see this mention for live systems and yet in theory it seems so essential.

  • Ha. I am in the middle of re-watching all of Babylon 5. Im mid season 3 now. Great timing. The effects in that show were so ahead of its time it was rediculous. Earth Dome/PsyCops/President Clark are going to catch some heat once Sheridan opens a can of whoop-ass. Boo ya.

    Uh. Yeah. Sorry.