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.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Ian - well I'm lost ... but look forward to learning more. I shouldn't be as there were major civil engineers in my father's side of the family - amazing work you're putting in to make the story real ... fascinating - cheers Hilary

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  2. Well, I guess I just need to eliminate all space ships from future stories, as I don't put in even a tenth of that effort into planning my ships. That's impressive, Ian.

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  3. Hilary, I lost count of the number of times I ended up lost too, and had to re-orient myself in the middle of drawing something :)

    Alex, for the purpose of the story itself I don't think even a hundredth of this effort counted. What you are seeing here is something over & above, and a product in its own right far beyond anything needed for the story. I think you are perfectly safe with what you're doing!

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  4. Could be worse. I'm trying to figure out how to map a spacecraft that's designed as a series of concentric spheres . . .

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  5. Rick, that does sound like a challenge. I suspect (as with mapping the globe) any representation can only be approximate. What kind of approach makes sense would likely depend on the size of the craft, but I think I would divide it up into zones and map each zone separately.

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  6. I'm definitely impressed! I see after my being away for so long, you are still doing remarkable work with your visual prep for your stories. This is fantastic! And Shayla .... hey, I remember that name. :)

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  7. David, the visual work has always been a large part of my process.And, yes, Shayla's back!

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