As many of you are probably aware, my partner, Benedict Roff-Marsh is a composer and record producer. At the time of writing, he has released 91 albums over the past 30 years.
For his latest album, Voice of Space, he asked me if I would like to have a go at making the video for its release on YouTube. I am still very new at digital art and animation, and making a 48-minute video is an ambitious undertaking even for an experienced CGI artist, but I jumped at the chance.
Just to add to the complexity, Benedict really wanted it to be a fly through a solar system (not our solar system), which meant that rather there being many different scenes as you would ordinarily see in a video of this length, it had to be one, single 48-minute shot.
As you can imagine, this added quite a lot of complexity to staging the scene. Firstly, I created a complete solar system.
We decided early on that we wanted an asteroid belt and various oversized planets, such that you could always see something, no matter which way you looked. We also kept the detail lower, partly because it was the look that Benedict was after, and partially because the load on the computer was significant given the size of the “world” we were working with.
I didn’t draw any of the planet textures beforehand, they’re all done procedurally in Blender using textures and coloring tools. They’re kind of meant to look like some planets in our solar system, but different enough as to not be the Sol system we’re in.
Even the star field in the background is created using a bunch of tools.
Once we had all of that in place, then came the mammoth task of setting up the path through the system.
It meant making some compromises in not being completely specific about what we saw and when. We had to take cues from the movement within the system itself, and as we moved from one thing, we would look around to see where to move from then. Every planet and moon has its own orbit, and they’re all different.
Some lovely images emerged though, and all up, the whole thing felt amazing, especially when shown alongside the music itself. We even managed to include a comet and Sputnik, which seems to make a cameo in many of Benedict’s videos and covers.
Once we finally got everything set up, it was time to do the actual rendering. That also required some compromises – At 48 minutes with 60 seconds per minute and 24 frames a second, that equated to 69,120 individual frames that needed to be rendered.
As much as we would have loved to do them in high detail, each frame would have taken anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to render. Running on my high-end Alienware Aurora R9 PC continuously around the clock would have required anywhere from four to seven weeks of rendering time.
So we had to take a more pragmatic approach, and instead of using the Cycles rendering method, we used the more game-engine oriented engine, called Eevee. It meant the quality wasn’t quite as good, but total render time was reduced to one week shared across two computers.
All up, the final result gave the look and feel that we wanted, and I learned a lot from the experience. You can watch the final version on YouTube.