Modeling a Steampunk Spacecraft using Blender 3D 2.49

Allan Brito

November 2009

Steampunk concept

Before we actually begin working on the model, let's make clear the difference between a regular spacecraft and a steampunk spacecraft. Although both of them are based on science fiction, the steampunk spacecraft has a few important characteristics that differ from a regular hi-tech spacecraft.

Imagine a world where the advances of science and machinery were actually developed centuries ago. For example, imagine medieval knights using hi-tech armor and destroying castles with rockets. It may sound strange, as the rockets have been made only for the army in the last century. What would a fighter jet look like in the Middle Ages? It would be a mix of steel, glass, and wood.

The steampunk environment is made out of these kinds of things, modern objects and vehicles produced and developed in a parallel universe, where those discoveries were made long ago.

The secret of designing a good steampunk vehicle or object is to mix the recent technology with the materials and methods available in past times, such as wood and bronze to make a space suit. If you need some inspiration to design objects like those, watch some recent movies that use a steampunk environment to create some interesting machines. But, to really get to the source, I do recommend that you read some books written by Jules Verne, who wrote about incredible environments and machines that dive deep into the ocean or travel to outer space.

The following image is an example of a steampunk weapon (Image credits: Halogen Gallery, licensed under Creative Commons):

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Next is a steampunk historical character (Image credits: Sparr0, licensed under Creative Commons):

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Here are a few resources to find out more about Steam Punk:

Spacecraft concept

Now that we know how to design a good steampunk machine, let's discuss the concept of this spacecraft. For this project, we will design a machine that mixes some elements of steel, but not those fancy industrial plates and welded parts. Instead, our machine will have the look and feel of a machine built by a blacksmith. As it would be really strange to have wooden parts for a spacecraft, we will skip or use this material only for the interior.

Other aspects of the machine that will help give the impression of a steampunk spacecraft are as follows:

  • Riveted sheets of metal
  • Metal with the look of bronze
  • Valves and pipes

With that in mind, we can start with this concept image to create our spacecraft:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

It's not a complete project, but we're off to a great start with Blender and our use of polygons to create the basis for this Incredible Machine.

Project workflow

This project will improve our modeling and creating skills with Blender to a great extent! So, to make the process more efficient, the workflow will be planned as this would be done by a professional studio. This is the best way to optimize the time and quality of the project. It will also guarantee that future projects will be finished in the shortest timeframe.

The first step for all projects is to find some reference images or photos for the pre-visualization stage. At this point, we should make all important decisions about a project based only on your concept studies. The biggest amount of time spent on this type of project is with artistic decisions like the framing of the camera, type and color of materials, shape of the object, and environment setup.

All of those decisions should be made before we open Blender and start modeling because a simple detour on the main concept could result in a partial or total loss of all work.

When all of the decisions are made, the next step is to start modeling with the reference images we found on the Internet, or we can draw the references ourselves. The modeling stage involves the spacecraft and the related environment, which of course will be outer space. For this environment, Blender will help us design a space with nebulas, star fields, and even a glazing star. Right after the environment is finished, we can begin working with some materials and textures.

As the object has a complex set of parts, and in some cases an organic topology, we will have to pay extra attention to the UV mapping process to add textures. We'll use a few tips when working with those complex shapes and topology to simplify the process.

What would a spacecraft be without special effects? Special effects make the project more realistic. The addition of a particle system enables the spacecraft's engines to work and simulates the shooting of a plasma gun. With those two effects, we will be able to give dynamism to the scene, showing some working parts of the object. And, to finish things up, there is the light setup for the scene.

A light setup for a space scene is rather easy to accomplish because we will only have a strong light source for the scene, and not so much bouncing for the light rays. The goal for this project is to end up with a great space scene. If you already know how to use Blender, get ready to put your knowledge to the test!

Building edges and planes for the spacecraft

The technique used to build this model is called edge modeling or poly modeling, which is a derivation of subdivision. In this type of modeling, we have to progressively create edges and faces to build the overall model, which will result in creating a full model. Even if it seems difficult and hard to complete, we have full control over the topology of the model with this type of modeling. It is very important to have control over the topology for models like machines, where the precision and organization of the vertices, edges, and faces can really matter.

The other important aspect of the project, if we look at the concept images, is the fact that this object is perfectly symmetrical, so we can build only half of the spacecraft and mirror the other part.

Creating the first section of the spacecraft

Open Blender and start a new model in top view, adding a mesh cube to the scene. This will be the object used to derive all other geometry for this first step of the spacecraft.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

While in edit mode, select the bottom edge of the plane and with the E key extrude it four times.



The extrusions should follow the proportions shown in the following image:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

The next step is to rotate the view. Without rotating the model with the middle mouse button, select only the faces pointed out in the following image:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Then, move them just a bit along the Z axis.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Change the selection mode to edge with the Ctrl+Tab keys, and choose the edges on the lower right side of the model. There, we will extrude the edges down the Z axis.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

With the selection mode set to vertices, select only the small triangle created in the previous extrude. Triangular faces are harder to control and can mess up a mesh, but in this case, it won't be a problem because no edge loop will be created at that point. When the three vertices are selected, press the F key to create a new face.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Now, we can begin creating the side part of the model that will connect down with the wing. Select the edges pointed out in the following image:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Then, extrude the edges four times in the Z direction.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Because a big part of the main body is beginning to appear, we can start making a few adjustments to the last extruded edges. Those edges are pointed out in the following image. To make the selection easier, just hold down the Alt key and click on one edge to select the full loop. If any extra edge gets into the selection, just click on it with the Shift key pressed to remove the edge from the selection. Each loop must be selected individually and moved a bit to the right along the X axis. This will create a small curvature on the side of the model.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Repeat the same process for the edges at the back of the model.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Modeling the wing

With the first part of the modeling created, we can now work on the wing modeling. The wing will be created from a series of extrusions coming from the side of the model, and the edges that we must select are pointed out in the following image:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Set the view to top and start a series of extrusions to create the mesh required for the wing. Four new extrusions will be needed.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

With the base for the wing created, we will move a few vertices to shape the wing. Change the work mode to vertex, and move the vertices pointed out in the following image:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Those vertices were moved down in the Y axis.

Rotate the view to select the edges pointed out in the following image, and move them up in the Z axis. It will simulate a turbine air entry.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

Modeling the front

The basis for the wing is created, so now we can move forward to the front of the spacecraft. To start modeling the front, select two edges located on the side of the wing, as shown in the following image:

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

With those vertices selected, extrude them three times.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

If you have not yet saved the project, now would be a good time to do so.

To finish this part of the project, select only the two edges at the right side of the model, and extrude them along the X axis.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines

This will be the basis for the modeling of the cockpit.

Blender 3D 2.49 Incredible Machines


In this article, we learned more about our second Incredible Machine. Our first step was to create a base mesh for the spacecraft, which can be detailed and improved later. So far, we've used edge modeling, deforming, and we've adjusted the shape of a model to get the shape of the object.

Here is a brief summary of what we have learned:

  • The definition of steampunk
  • The characteristics of a steampunk machine
  • How to contextualize a steampunk machine
  • What the project will look like
  • An overview of the workflow for a professional project
  • How edge modeling works
  • How to create a model from a single face
  • How to shape the model by transforming edges, vertices, and faces

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