Senior Studio Project


This post is here to detail and track my progress with my Senior Studio project which serves as a thesis for my senior year. My project is to create a steam driven orrery, which I will spend my second semester animating, and rendering in the form of a short film.

Hit the jump to see more information about my project.

In general, we were required to make a year long project that did justice to our four years at Alfred State. Most students choose to do narrative projects in 3D, which is essentially what I’m doing. However, my project places an emphasis on modeling and set driven animation over a narrative that uses animated characters.

My work started as a pure concept with some reference images and plans I drew on a piece of paper. I was originally inspired by Aughra’s planetarium in the movie Dark Crystal, but I eventually stumbled across a YouTube video of a Jules Vernesque, steam-driven orrery that influenced my final product.

For frame of reference, this is the video of the original orrery:

Planning The Project

My first step was to begin gathering reference photos and research. I did a considerable amount of searching for blueprints to create the specific types of engine and boiler that I wanted.

If I was able to complete the engine, orrery, and boiler in the time I was allotted, I also decided I would do a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism as a side project. I collected detail shots of the mechanism itself and included them in my original presentation for the project.

The following gallery includes a handful of images that made their way into the final product. Not shown is a number of detailed blueprints and schematics that I used to design the machines themselves.

I also took the time to draw some simple overviews and concept drawings of my own project. I did not want my project to look exactly like the Jules Verne engine, rather a hybrid of period accurate technology with steampunk stylization.

A lot of my inspiration came from my personal experience with antique engines and art deco architecture, such as the Riverside Drive Viaduct in New York City. I’m using photographs and drawings of the viaduct to design the trellis supporting the second floor of the observatory.

Modeling the Steam Engine

The first part of the project I modeled was the engine. The primary parts, internal workings, and details are all complete. Next semester, I will set about rigging and animating the whole system using set driven keys.

The engine is true to specs from the original blue print. The only thing it doesn’t include is the boiler pump which I plan on adding as part of the boiler hook-up. I’ll add the pump when I add the boiler, engine, and orrery unit to the environment as a final product. It will also pick up a lot of detail once I texture it.

Modeling The Boiler

The second part of the project was creating the boiler, which was much less time intensive than the engine, namely because I didn’t have to add the details right away. Items such as the pop valve, blow off, and steam tubes won’t have to be added until I create the environment, in case there are space or floor plan restrictions.

I also moved and removed some details such as the view holes and hand holes. I may add them back into the boiler in the final product though.

Modeling The Orrery

The third item I designed was the orrery. The most time intensive part of planning the orrery was the gear assembly. Eventually, I decided to make a simplified version, and focus specifically on creating a convincing set of gears with more detail than I had planned before.

I.E. the gear assembly was originally boxed in the way I had planned it, but I decided to expose the gears so viewers could see the way they turn and interact. Secondly, orreries apparently operate on a series of interlocking tubes, so the planets on the outside can turn at separate speeds. I designed the supporting arms of the planets so they could simply be parented to the gears below them and still appear to be turned by them.

My end product deviated from my plans by quite a bit, but I’m very satisfied with the way it looks in both a technical and stylistic sense. I decided to give the planets a different number, size, and orbital speed than our own solar system. I figured this would give the project a fantasy setting.

Modeling The Environment

The last part of modeling in the project is to create the environment. I plan on using art deco architecture to draw inspiration for architectural features of the environment. My plan for the final observatory is very close to the Jules Verne replica that inspired it, but I hope that various architectural features and elements will set my project apart from it’s spiritual ancestor.

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