Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Planet is Not a Beach Ball - Quite

There's something to be said for stories that are strictly verbal - that exist as an ordered sequence of words, and nothing else. It's the sort of tale that was told before Homer cranked out the Iliad and Odyssey, and is still going strong - take a look at how Stephenie Meyer's and Steven King's books sell.

I'm trying a words-and-pictures approach to storytelling, though.

Which adds a whole new layer of complexity. That's good news and bad news. If I pull it off - with the assistance of my oldest daughter, who's a commercial artist - the end product will be memorable. One way or the other.

Planning for extensive visuals means that I'll need to collect source material. Some of that won't be too difficult, since I'm on Earth. Problem is, most of the settings aren't on Earth: and won't be built for centuries. Make that millennia.

Never mind the issue of making everyday technology of over a dozen centuries out not look like a cheap upgrade of those silver lamé leotards that were the latest thing in "futuristic" fashion a few decades back.

Then there are the planets.

For a words-only story, describing the look of a planet from several thousand miles out isn't all that hard. We've got close-up photos of quite a variety of moons and planets here in the Solar System: Everything from Mercury to Jupiter, and Earth to Enceladus.

'Drawing' a picture of Distal in a reader's mind, all I'd have to do is use the trite "blue marble" description - or be creative and come up with something a bit less dusty.

No problem.

Distal? That's a planet that won't be found for quite a long time yet. Quite a bit like Earth, except for the parts that aren't.

My approach, so far, is to create photo-realistic images of Distal and other settings - for my daughter to use for reference, the same as she would for photos of the Great Pyramid in Egypt or a Louisiana bayou.

As a cartoon character said, "this has 'bad idea' written all over it." (Sam in Danny Phantom) Well, I'm giving this approach a shot, anyway.

Here's what I've got, so far.

Not bad, if I was trying for a beach ball. The colors and numbers were to let me see how a square array of pixels got mapped onto a sphere. That goal achieved, I refined the pattern a little, for more study:

So now I've got a beach ball that's got numbers and lines on it.

Not even close to looking like a planet.

But, I know what sort of distortions I'll be dealing with, stretching a flat graphic around a sphere. Now, to see if there's a fairly easy way to 'draw' on the sphere - and have software project what's on the sphere to a flat surface.

Not bad for part of an afternoon's work.

Eventually, I'd like to have three layers on the planet: glossy oceans, dull land, and clouds just a little over both. That's what I'd like to get - what happens, we'll see.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:


  1. Well, I'm not exactly a commercial artist yet. I think I'd have to graduate first.

    And good luck with the mapping.

  2. Brigid,

    Well, you were paid for that one job - perhaps I *was* stretching a point.


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