Friday, June 22, 2018

Building a battleship - filling in the details

Continuing my posts about drawing up plans for the ancient battleship, Admiral George Leonard.

Once I had the main structure in place and identified the broad layout, it was time to fill in the details. This is what took most of the time on this project.

There was one aspect of the design that helped here - not planned, it’s just the way it worked out. The deck areas were sharply divided up into distinct zones by the keels and structural frame. This suggested that it would make sense to designate zones to specific purposes, and focus my efforts on one zone at a time.

Here, for example, are close-ups of the main medical center and ship’s administration offices.

Once I got going, I quickly realized something that I hadn’t fully thought through yet. Faced with all those empty boxes, repeated deck after deck, I had a lot of space to fill! In the book, despite the overall enormous size of the ship, I do my best to give the impression of cramped and crowded living and working conditions. But in practice I seemed to be faced with a positively embarrassing surfeit of real estate.

Of course, there’s also a lot of stuff needing to go into that space, but I had to start getting pretty inventive thinking through all the possibilities that might be required in a fighting ship with a crew of six thousand, isolated from planets and bases for months at a time. I had to be fairly generous in my use of space, without making it look too generous. So I carved the deck up into lots of small compartments, and assigned functions to them as creatively as possible while making it sound and look credible.

One of the upsides of taking on a large project over a long period of time, new thoughts would pop into my head from time to time. I can tell you, I was always happy when a new idea cropped up, and I thought ... yes, that is going to need a lot of room! And it was a big relief when I neared the end and found I was now having to look for odd corners to squeeze things in.

BTW - the full set of completed plans are posted to my website here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

This is how to earn respect

By doing what is hard for you to do, rather than what comes most easily

Being motivated by selfless actions rather than personal gain

By seeking to inspire others, rather than seeking praise for yourself and your own accomplishments

Friday, June 15, 2018

I wanna be like yoo-oo-oo

It's a sad day when the leader of the world's second largest democracy envies a brutal dictator

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Building a battleship - drawing practicalities

One thing that most distinguished this drawing project from others, is the sheer scale of the drawing.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s the kind of window I am usually working in ...
... it looks small as an image here but this is a snapshot of the drawing window in iDraw that takes up most of my screen. This kind of scale is comfortable to work at, close enough to handle small details but not too close to give me tunnel vision.

And here is the view zoomed out to the whole page, with the previous portion highlighted. You can see that at any one moment I am only working on a tiny fraction of the whole plan.
And this is just page one of three!

A task of this size poses a series of challenges.

The big picture

For fine positioning, iDraw has a grid feature. Helpfully, it lets you set up a two-tier grid, with large and small units. In this case I worked with a 0.5mm fine grid, with heavier grid lines every 5mm. My scale is 0.5mm to 1ft. Yes, I’ve always been weird that way - measuring in metric but thinking in feet, but the latter makes sense in Shayla’s world because I have them talk in terms of Imperial units (miles etc.) to give a sense of tradition and antiquity.

This grid is great when it comes to drawing the detail of rooms and corridors, but to help with overall orientation I add in a broader grid of lines to give me a large scale framework.

You can see that the plan is actually a series of plans - mostly decks, but also profile and section. Laying these out on the page needs some forward planning. I decided on the overall dimensions for the different elements and then worked out how much room each one needed on the page - not so close that they overlap, but not too far apart either. I then laid out my own large scale grid lines to mark out the boundaries. I put these in their own drawing layer behind everything else so they are visible but don’t interfere.

Here is that same view of the page with the grid lines emphasized.

Keeping it together

The next challenge, which applies to any plan but is made trickier working on such a large scale, is vertical integrity. Decks don’t exist in isolation of each other, there are elements that link them together and which therefore have to be positioned correctly from one to the next. I’m talking here about obvious things like elevators and vertical service shafts, stairs, and inner and outer structural members.

Again, this benefits from some forward thinking. I started off with the main structural framework of the ship - keels and horizontal and vertical plates. Again, I put these into a drawing layer of their own for easier handling. Making this ship a fairly boxy shape helped, because there was a lot of repetition from one deck to the next. Once I had worked out the parts of the framework that pierced one of the main decks, it was a matter of copying and pasting to the others.

Even that simple exercise was a bit of a headache until I developed a technique to handle positioning. With such a large drawing, when you zoom out far enough to see the whole deck you are too far out for accurate positioning. And at that distance I also found it next to impossible to “grab” a set of lines I’ve just pasted to drag them into position. My solution was to add some temporary drawing elements to help move and position. You can see one or two red triangles nestling in the corners of my grid. I select the items I want to copy, along with one of these triangles. When I paste into the next deck, the large triangle is easier to grab while zoomed out, so I can get things roughly into position. I then zoom in on the triangle and nudge it until it is precisely positioned against the grid lines and I know everything else - out of sight because I’m zoomed in - is also moving with it into correct alignment.

With the structural framework laid out, I moved on to the outer hull, and then internal elements such as shafts and stairs. This was a game of patience, and checking and double-checking everything before I started filling out the details.

Keeping track

The last major challenge was simply keeping track of the overall plan, and keeping motivated by seeing progress as I fleshed out the enormous amount of detail.

Here I set up a spreadsheet to mark out zones along the length of the ship, and decks down the page.

This became my master plan for what went where. On a copy of this master plan I used traffic-light shading to show which sections were complete, in progress, or still to do. At first this served to emphasize what a daunting task I had embarked on, but it was satisfying to see the steady spread of green as time went by.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Building a battleship - machinery spaces

Armed with a general idea of the overall layout, it’s time to start piecing the main parts of the jigsaw together.

As I said last time, with a seagoing warship you are pretty much constrained by the realities of marine engineering. The general shape and proportions of the hull follow a common pattern and everything fits into that. But with a space craft you have a freer hand to invent your own body plan.

Even so, it helps to pay a bit of attention to basic physics and structural mechanics. It helps to have something that at least looks like it would hang together.

In the case of the Enforcer battleships, my starting point was the structural frame of the ship. I settled on a box frame arrangement. Typical sea ships have a single keel running along the bottom of the hull, to which everything else is attached. Admiral George Leonard has four keels arranged in pairs, upper and lower. Large horizontal and vertical plates link the keels together, forming a series of boxes down the length of the ship.
I placed most of the ship’s tanked storage (water and fuel) and services (e.g. waste processing) in the upper and lower spaces between the keels (click on image for a closer look).

     Down ladders once more to the lowest level, Shayla found the laundry and clothing store. Each deck on a ship like this had its own distinctive look, smell, and sound. The similarities to her old Martha Sandover were uncanny, and brought back sharp pangs of nostalgia. Down here, in a space nestling between the massive frames of the lower longitudinal keels, it felt subterranean. Yellow light glistened off cream walls. Pipes twisted thick overhead. Steam and chemicals tainted the air.

The framework between upper and lower keels extends all the way through the decks in between. Everything else has to work around these immovable structural members.

In this view, you can see that most of the ship is taken up by the two main machinery spaces.

In Shayla’s universe, there is one important design constraint that I don’t have to worry when it comes to the ship’s drive. Most ship designs have to accommodate large rocket (or other) exhausts at the rear. Interstellar technology in this world, however, uses fields that manipulate space and gravity. No opening to the outside world required, so critical machinery can stay safely tucked away behind shields and armor.

     Industrial ear muffs barely deadened the noise echoing back and forth in the cathedral space that rose through most of the height of the hull. She’d grown used to near silence in Blazer’s machinery space, but here the quintuplet of hulking, pot-bellied power units was anything but quiet. The curving shells that filled most of the compartment hummed an almost subsonic note that tingled her bones. Accustomed as she was to technology from the microscopic to the gargantuan, she had never been this up close and personal with the living heart of a capital ship. Despite herself, her skin crawled in awe at the unimaginable power contained a few feet away. Behind layers of armor and magnetic containment fields, humans dared subvert the power of suns.
     She shivered, and returned her attention to the job at hand and the instructions in her earpiece fighting to be heard. From her vantage point high above the deck, the shrieking din of ancillary equipment that clustered at floor level was lessened, but only just.
     A narrow slice of unencumbered air ran the length of the power plant on either side, giving minimally-adequate working room. Canary yellow gantries spanned the engineering space and hoisted the two ton dead weight of the fuel injector high into the air, but it took sweat and muscle, and a constant stream of commands mingled with colorful invective to line the cylinder up with its housing forty feet above the deck.

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