Death Star Timelapse

I realize that there have been quite a few space animation posts recently, but bear with me. This is a personal project that I worked on with my brother. I enjoyed watching a little bit of Death Star assembly in Rogue One, but I wanted to see more. I was just wrapping up some stuff for the Challenger Center when I decided to mock up this Death Star construction process.

I came up with a very simple method of revealing geometry with Lightwave’s instancing tool, and since there was a lot of procedural animation, I was seeing a lot of interesting shapes appear that I hadn’t planned, and several layers of complexity that I didn’t need to create by hand. All of that helps the final render, but the thing that really pulls it together is the new score by Ben Botkin. That was when I decided I should actually finish this project out and post it here.

Almost every shot in this animation is just a different camera angle from a single scene that plays out over 1500 frames. Originally, I had planned to create this animation as a single shot, but as I moved the camera around my master scene I kept finding interesting things to show from all kinds of different angles.

The only shots with separate setups are the closeups of the first trench section, this corridor, and the back of the main dish. As I started cutting my favorite sections to Ben’s music, I found myself needing these close shots. I think that cutting back and forth between tiny intricate details and then wide shots of the entire station helps communicate the gargantuan size in a way that my original long pullback didn’t.

There is very little compositing work. In fact, most shots only have a bit of bloom applied the luma chanel and a tiny bit of a lens effect in the corners. Rogue One is a beautiful film, but I wanted this animation to be a bit more reminiscent of the simpler lighting and optical prints from A New Hope.

The planets were rendered as separate elements at 4K. I could have rendered everything in a single pass from Lightwave, but I wanted to be constantly adjusting the framerate of the build animation to give it a more flickery timelapse look, and it was easier to keep the stars and planets moving smoothly if they were on different layers. Both planets are entirely procedurally generated, like most of the textures and clip maps on the Death Star itself.

One of the few things that isn’t a procedural texture is the Death Star’s main spherical diffuse map, which is not much more than a screenshot of a scan of the original model that John Knoll showed in this video.

The final credit screen was a bit of an afterthought, and tries to emulate the minimalistic CRT-based user interfaces from the first Star Wars films. The Death Star plans in the center are an outline render from Lightwave, depicting nearly all of the geometry that was used to generate the more complex instances. As you can see, it was really a very simple project.

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