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Tribute Video to Apollo Missions

April 6, 2015

NOTE FROM LAURA: If you happen to be new to the blog, my husband Neil, who is a super creative person, occasionally writes a post about a creative project he has been working on. I asked him to write about this one. I am always inspired with how he spends his downtime learning and growing his skills. He works in motion graphics – which is basically computer animation. Enjoy!

Neil’s Blog Entry

As a creative, it is very important to me to continue to better myself. This usually means doing tutorials, reading software manuals, and/or looking at animation and effects that inspire me and trying to figure out how they were created. To that end, I like to have a sort of side project going on, so when I’ve got some down time I don’t get stale.

Most recently, I started animating the various mission patches worn by the Apollo astronauts during their manned missions to the moon. I’ve always been interested in space exploration. For the longest time, as a kid, wanted to be an astronaut. But I’ve always been slightly claustrophobic, and considering the spacecraft that existed back then were only a little bigger than a closet, that dream never materialized.

Anyway, I started the project at the NASA website. What a treasure trove that turned out to be! They have everything – high resolution images, archival video, audio clips and free 3D models. Plus, since it’s NASA – which is part of the government – it’s all in public domain and free to use!

I was able to download images of the twelve Apollo mission patches as well as the main Apollo program patch. I carefully looked at each patch and imagined what they would look like if they were in motion. How would the various elements in each design move in and out? Was there a visually interesting way to have all the separate elements of the patch all coalesce into the final static image?

The eagle featured in the Apollo 11 patch presented quite a challenge – both in a design sense and in a 3D modeling sense. First of all, of all the mission patches I wanted to somehow incorporate the lunar module (LEM) sitting on the surface of the moon – which was not a part of the patch itself. Secondly, I wasn’t sure I could animate a 3D eagle very well. I’m fairly good with hard surface objects like machines and space ships; but I’m not all that great (read: crappy) at organic things like people and animals and yes, eagles. I had an eagle model that I attempted to animate landing on the moon and striking the pose as seen in the mission patch. Wow. Did that suck.

So I asked my friend Evan – who helped me with some of the animation in my Captain America Fan Film I did last year – to assist me in rigging the eagle model for easier animation. The subsequent animation was better but the problem was also the model itself. It was a very low quality model I got free from the internet. And unless I wanted to spend about $100 buying a high quality model, this was the model I had to deal with. So I moved on to Apollo 12 thinking that a creative solution would present itself once I stopped trying to think about it. This process usually works well for me. The less I think about something, the more and better ideas seem to just pop up in my brain.

Anyway, the idea came to me to include a shot of the LEM sitting on the surface of the moon. Then the command service module (CSM) flies by and while it’s in full frame, hiding the LEM, the LEM changes into the eagle. From Eagle to eagle. Get it? Pretty cool idea, huh? So with that in mind I only had to do some very subtle animation on the eagle. But then I was still saddled with my poor quality 3D model, so I decided to create the eagle in 2D by stitching together several reference photographs. In the end, I like how the eagle looked and I was also able incorporate the LEM into the animation.

The rest of the patches had their individual challenges when it came to animation and modeling. The horses in Apollo 13 gave me a headache – I was thinking of doing the same 2D effect that I had done for the eagle – until I remembered that we already had a galloping horse animation at work from a previous job. Upon searching our 3D model archive at the office I also discovered that we had a bust of the Greek god Apollo – which I needed for Apollo 17.

After animating the patches I needed to texture the elements. My initial idea was to texture the various 3D elements to match the look of the actual patches. For example, the CSM in the Apollo 1 patch was white, so I textured my 3D CSM white to match. But much later on in the process, we took a family trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and I found myself standing in front of an actual CSM and LEM. Inspired, I took a bunch of reference photos, and when I got back home I re-textured the models to be more realistic. Not photorealistic by any means… but I wanted them to look a little bit closer to the real thing than the stylized versions depicted on the patches. So the CSM and LEM were given a more realistic look. And the flat, solid colors of the text and the graphic elements became dynamically reflective metals and other surfaces.

Whenever possible I tried to match the lighting that was suggested by the original patches. And when there wasn’t a specific light direction or style I just created my lights to give the scene a cool look.

The last step in the process was gathering some mission-specific sound files from the NASA website and string them together in an interesting way along with a music bed I had created years ago. I then added some text denoting the launch dates of the individual missions and a nice sappy “thank you” to NASA at the end. Oh, and the only thing that NASA does copyright is their logo; so I’m pretty much using it illegally – but I’m praying for grace and forgiveness from their space lawyers. And there you have it.

I hope you enjoy watching!

Still with no pithy catchphrase,


5 Comments leave one →
  1. lynne bracy permalink
    April 6, 2015 4:20 pm

    Neat, Neil.I am forwarding to a young man I know who is starting a new job with NASA soon. The voiceovers gave me the chills. So many memories. Mom Bracy

  2. Ralph and Janie Stuckman permalink
    April 6, 2015 6:59 pm

    Neil, Lynne sent us the info so we could see your new project. It is terrific! Just what we would expect from creative you. Say “Hi” to Laura and Mari. Janie and Ralph Stuckman

  3. Mark permalink
    April 6, 2015 7:17 pm

    A wonderful patch video!!! I would love to see the same treatment for Gemini, or the entire shuttle program!! The shuttle set would be intense work though.

  4. Kris permalink
    April 7, 2015 4:20 pm

    That is a wonderful work. Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Craig VW permalink
    April 23, 2015 12:53 am

    Very impressive! What a great tribute to the Apollo missions. Thanks for making and sharing.

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