Creating the Launch Sequence

This is the final part of the rocket build – I’ve already posted the short film (see previous post), so now I can explain what it was all for.

One of the main reasons I wanted to build the rocket was to create a 30 cell animation of it launching, as we are planning to have a flick book effect running for 30 pages in the final book.

This is how I did it. I’ve numbered the pictures above to make things easier to understand:

1. Picture of the finished rocket. At 9ft long it is big enough to look very realistic through the camera lens. Any smaller and it probably wouldn’t have worked.

2. Dad and I pegged out a huge blue plastic sheet as a background. This made it easier to cut out the rocket in Photoshop later. Next we taped down a standard tape measure along the route the rocket would take (yellow in the picture).

3. The idea was to make sure that when I took the sequence of still images, the rocket was moving away from the house in consistent, measured distances so the animation worked correctly. This needed to be pretty accurate.

4. Me, looking confused, as I tried to work out how much the rocket needed to move for each frame. Mathematics was never my strongest subject.

5. The high resolution stills were taken from an upstairs bedroom. This shot is one from about halfway through the sequence.

6. Another shot in the sequence.

7. In the next few pictures (7-10), I’m going to explain how I combined images to create a single animation cell. This is an early shot where the rockets engines have just ignited. Dad is keeping the sunlight off the rocket with a table. This image is taken with a good quality 8 megapixel camera.

8. This is a still taken using the high-speed camera as we fired the CO2. The camera takes a blast of 72 images over 3 seconds, so is ideal because the CO2 fires out so quickly. Sadly, the picture quality is only 3 megapixels, so not quite sharp enough to use in the book. So what I wanted here was JUST the smoke, and because it is blurry stuff, the loss of quality didn’t matter.

9. This is the single cell created from the various pictures. I’ve cut out the still rocket picture taken with the 8 megapixel camera, and overlaid the smoke from the lower quality 3 megapixel camera. I’ve created a background in Photoshop, added spotlights, adjusted the smoke and added flame colour (or color, depending where you live in the world!).

10. I took this shot of a crane. I’ll let you work out which bit I used for the launch tower in pic 9.

11 This is a shot from later in the sequence. I’ve darkened down the rocket quite a bit, and worked on the flame and smoke trail in photoshop.

12. The final sequence. It took about 2 days to create all 30 cells.

Thank you Mr Apple Mac and Mr Photoshop, but mostly a big thank you to my Dad for moving the rocket up the garden 1ft at a time, without complaint.

The Great Space Race website goes live

CGI scene from the trailer

It is great to announce that The Great Space Race website is now live. At the moment it is aimed at the book trade, particularly the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is just about to start as I write this. Frankfurt is one of the biggest events in the publishing calender, so is really quite important. I hope it will help to sell the book around the world. Fingers crossed!

The exciting bit is that there is a trailer with a short interview and CGI (computer generated imagery) of key scenes, created by the hugely talented Simon Nankivell and Andrew Ballard at Postworks Media. This means you can watch a bunch of rockets blasting off and racing for the moon in full wide screen. Well done, chaps! Not sure I could have built all that in my Dad’s garden.

I should thank my brother for playing the drums – his 1960s classic Gretsch kit sounds, well, galactic.

There is also a PDF sampler to download, showing the layout and illustration. You’ll note there is a bit of a change in style from the trilogy.

Let me know what you think.

Photographing the rocket and engines

A busy day yesterday filming and photographing the rocket. The CO2 engines worked well – but as they say, please, please, please don’t try this at home. I took lots of advice, and stood well back. I also had a Chaplain to Her Majesty The Queen on the team (my Dad) praying we didn’t inadvertently fire the thing over the fence.

I discounted the idea of building a launch tower and hoisting the rocket up. The tower would have been lots of fun, but something of a diversion, alas. I also think the rocket would have twisted when the CO2 fired, so a smooth ascent would have been (most likely) impossible. Important to note here that I was trying to carefully photograph a miniature, not launch a rocket – the two activities are somewhat different.

The short film above was shot with my ‘B’ camera. I’ve slowed it down in places to give you some idea of how the final images will look. Rather excitingly, the sound becomes incredibly realistic at slower speeds!

My ‘A’ camera is capable of taking a blast of 72 still shots in hi-def over 3 seconds. I used this to record the smoke. The camera is positioned at the pointy end of the rocket focused on the engines, while Dad is standing behind me taking stills with his camera… a ‘C’ camera, in fact.

As yet, I’ve not had a chance to process these hi-def images, but they look good in playback through the viewfinder. Oh, I should say that none of the film above will be used in the final sequence because it is low resolution – it is just to show you what the setup was like and the sort of thing I was doing to get the shots I needed.

We also took a series of still images of the rocket ‘animating’ across the garden without the engines firing. We did this by measuring out the garden with a tape measure, then moving the rocket slowly across it. The camera in the upstairs bedroom followed the rocket full frame taking still pictures.

Now begins the post production process of creating the launch sequence by taking both sets the images – animated stills and smoke –  and putting them together in Photoshop. I also need to build the background photographically. The idea is that there will be a flick book effect for twenty or so pages. I hope it’ll all work… errr… somehow. It ain’t rocket science.

Rocket Build – Part 3

The rocket is now in one piece and ready for the photoshoot. Hurray! This is a crucial part of The Great Space Race, so an important milestone on the road to finishing the illustration.

It has worked out really well. Dad and I spent yesterday finishing off the painting, attaching the side boosters, cutting the pipework down to size, and attaching the rocket motors. No great dramas and everything went to plan.

So the exciting moment arrived to put it all together. Once assembled it really came together visually, and looked superb… and happily, very realistic through the camera lens.

I’d hoped to try firing the engines and take the crucial photos, but an good honest British drizzle set in, delaying the ‘launch’. Grrrrr!

Rocket Build – Part 2

Progress on the rocket has been delayed by weather – rain, rain, rain. However, here are the latest pictures taken yesterday.

I’ve been in London for the last few days, but Dad pushed on with the internal CO2 plumbing and making the bayonet fittings so the body and nose cones can be taken apart for transport.

It’s all coming together, though. I made the outer cooling jacket from corrugated cardboard stuffed with barbecue sticks to give it some strength. Other barbecue sticks and doweling have been stuck to the outer body for external detail.

Then I began to slowly build up the undercoat with a gray primer. Once that was dry, the top coats were added – silver for the main body and mostly off-white for the side boosters, upper stages and the main nose cone. All this was done with standard car paints, but I had to buy a graffiti artist’s supply of cans to do it.

The rocket needs to look like it has been stored since 1974, so l think I need to add ‘rust’ in the final finish.

Looking good though, and big thanks to my Dad for making everything line up properly.

I hope to complete the build and do the final photo shoot in the next few days – just as long as the rain holds off!


Just to clarify – the still pictures of my rocket will be used in the book, but the CGI rocket launch movie sequence will be part of a trailer to be posted on the upcoming Space Race website.

The CGI (computer generated image) sequence is so complex it could only be created in a 3d software package – it involves eight rockets blasting off.

Both should look fab!

Rocket Build – Part 1

Here are some pictures of the rocket for The Great Space Race under construction. It’s at about the halfway stage. It still needs to be bolted together, finished and painted to make it look real.

The idea with this is that it is essentially a film prop – a photographic miniature – although it is over 9ft tall. It needs to be this big to look realistic.

The plan is to recreate the launch by firing CO2 through the engines. This will produce the correct look and feel to the exhaust ‘smoke’. In the Great Space Race, the scene takes place at night, so I will have to build and light a set outdoors to recreate this. I can then put it together in Photoshop to add additional effects. I should point out that the rocket won’t actually fly, fun though that would be. It is too big for a start, and it may take several goes to get the shot just right. I intend hoisting the rocket skywards with fishing wire and a winch mechanism.

My dad has directed the build. He is a craftsman of huge talent, and normally builds scale models of Victorian battleships – I should point out not from kits, but from the original shipyard plans. He has written books about this and is an Honorary Member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen. In other words, he has an excellent workshop and very sharp tools!

We hope to finish the build next week. The night shoot/launch should follow soon after. Updates as and when, of course.