Joysticks, spaceships, CAD work, fusion reactors, hell – I spent four hours talking to this guy. It was a good time. I recorded a little over an hour for the Q&A, and then we went off the rails. Ungineer is one of those guys that you can waste a day and still feel like you could keep talking. He apologized for being a bit hard to interview at one point, I’m really not sure why. Talked. My. Ear. Off. Not like I wasn’t just as bad, but still! That guy can talk!
Speaking of his ships, I’m reasonably sure if I had a Guinness Starfarer, it would show up a few hundred gallons under the starting volume and a few days late. Yes, days (not weeks), because I enjoy Guinness. He won the MVP with the Big Benny’s Freelancer, but I’d rather the beer ship.
Tyler Witkin (aka: CM guy with the backwards hat) even gave me a quick comment, as well as complementing his reskinning efforts. Sure, getting the MVP is in-of-itself a feat, but I figured I’d go the extra mile and see if I could get something from the source. I can’t help but agree with all that Witkin says on Ungineer. Good content, check. Nice guy, check. Looks fantastic, check. Okay, maybe that last one was taken out of context but I’m having fun. Trying to anyway, been a rough couple of weeks.
So this guy, Ungineer, he does CAD work. He does it for the internal structures of actual airplanes. Then, he gets home and says to himself, “You know what I want to do? Play with a CAD program.” He boots up the one at home, pulls apart holoviewer ships, and lobs them into KeyShot. After messing with lighting, perspective and so on, he makes the holoviewer ships into works of art. Hell, he even got me to look at KeyShot just to poke around with it. I’d probably have picked it up sooner if I realized I could use a CAD model.
Ungineer just flipped that onto its head for me. I had no idea I could use CAD for Star Citizen. I mean, it makes sense, but that doesn’t precipitate the knowledge that it’s possible. I love those sorts of little bits of information. It’s that sort of thing that widens my view of the possibilities and how to apply them.
You know another one he did that with for me? Joysticks. We have this idea that if you can take something like a SpaceMouse and put it right before the part you hold on a throttle of a HOTAS, you should be able to get a nice wide range of motion out of it. Maybe cannibalize one to work out how the sensors are set up. The idea would be to find a way to use tilt, rotation, and pushing left and right, while avoiding a lot of motion. Intuitive and compact, I’ve gotta give it a try.
I think that’s really my big takeaway from my time with Ungineer. Always try to look at the problem differently. You work with CAD? Great, maybe apply that to art. Controls? Try using this completely different one. Think that ship looks like a tube? Yank it out of holoviewer and take a closer look. Might find something interesting, or maybe you’ll find a different answer. Try it out, open your mind, you might come up with something unique or new.
Below is the transcription of the Q&A I did via Discord:
Q: Where are you from?
A: I live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Q: What do you do outside of Star Citizen?
A: I’m a mechanical engineer in aerospace. I went to a very small school called Oklahoma Christian University. I do airframe design, I’m not an aerodynamicist. I design the bones of the aircraft and sometimes the flight control mechanics.
Q: What planes have you worked on?
A: Many commercial companies. I’ve worked for smaller business jets, Boeing, Beech Aircraft. I’ve worked for Boeing on the 737, Gulfstream on the G5 and G650. I worked for about 8-year on the F-35 at Lockheed.
Q: Where did you get your name, Ungineer, from?
A: From my complete lack of imagination and the fact that I am an Engineer. And it wasn’t taken, so it made it a good choice.
I don’t play a lot of MMO games at all. I like single player FPS games or Exploration games. I just don’t get into the massively multiplayer that often, so I don’t have to come up with names that stick that much.
Q: How long have you been following Star Citizen?
I didn’t join up until early 2015. I missed the Kickstarter. I heard about it, but I don’t do a lot of Kickstarter support. I don’t jump in on a lot of those. I’ve been starving for space sims ever since the X-wing series went away from the computer and to the console. Elite Dangerous came out, and I jumped on that one. Been a while since I even had time to play games, but I got so excited for space sims to come out again that I started looking deeper into Star Citizen.
I hesitantly signed up for Star Citizen. I ended up buying the Freelancer for my starter package and thought, “Wow… I’m pretty stupid for spending this much on a game.” I think it was two weekends after that, they had an event where they put every hangar ready ship into your hangar and I went ballistic. I got to see all the ships. Attention to detail is one of those things that really grabs me. Seeing how much detail was in all the ships, and you could walk around and everything like that, I pretty much lost my mind. I started buying everything.
I imagine attention to detail is something very important for you considering your job.
Absolutely. I mean, when they will put warning labels and everything on the landing gear door, on the struts, everything like that. It’s very legit. They did a really good job mimicking that. It was just phenomenal.
Q: What drew you to Star Citizen?
A: It was a combination of things. I’m all about the space games. Not necessarily ones like EVE, but one where I can actually feel like I’m flying a starship. I’m all over that. The X-wing series, X-wing Alliance being the last one they put out, I was in love with those games. I’d jump in and play them over and over again, just so that it felt like I was in a starship. I really liked being able to replay through X-wing Alliance with any ship, I ended up doing it all with the B-wing.
Q: Do you have a background in 3D modeling, reskinning, anything like that?
A: It’s just a hobby. Recent hobby. I’ve never done 3D modeling for games or stuff like that. I always thought it was really cool and I always wanted to learn how. I’ve tried reading tutorials for it way back when CryEngine came out, but I never got very far with it. This time, seeing the ships, I wanted to play with them. I actually stumbled upon GreyHeadedGamer’s channel, where he started using CryEngine directly with the assets. I was like, “YES!” and I was going to jump in there and do that, then all the assets changed a week after I tried it for the first time and none of the assets worked anymore. I thought, “Alright, well I’ll play with the holoviewer models and what not and see if I can get them 3D printable.”
My CAD system at home has an included license for KeyShot, which is a rendering package. Just for fun, I hit the button that throws it over to KeyShot and started playing around with materials and paint. I slowly started learning how the lighting stuff works. I think my first one that I ever did was the Guinness Starfarer. After that, I just kept playing with it. Every time I did another one, I learned more about how KeyShot works and how lighting stuff works. I try to get a little bit better at it each time.
Q: What programs do you use?
A: I use SpaceClaim for projects at home, especially when I’m doing 3D printing or stuff like that. It’s been a really nice tool to work with. I use CATIA in aerospace, which is a very powerful modeler. I’m used to the way it works. It’s often hard to jump into a different CAD system, which is why it’s hard to jump into graphics programs because they don’t think like Engineering software package. I have trouble getting around in there.
Q: About how long do you think it takes to make one of your models?
A: With the way KeyShot works is, it’s easier for me to take the holoviewer model into the CAD program and split off all the surfaces and group them into different materials. Like I want all of this stuff to be this color, and I want all this stuff to look like metal, and this stuff is going to look like glass. So I split up all the surfaces in the CAD program. To do that, depending on the ship, a couple of evenings.
The Carrack has… I’ve been playing around with it for the last week. It has a lot, lot, lot more surface detail than I ever realized. Since you’re only looking at a white model, that holoviewer model if you download it, you can’t quite see all the detail that’s there. When you get down to the nitty gritty, there’s tons of stuff on that model. It’s really impressive. A bigger one like that, took about three nights just to split it up the way I like it.
Q: Did it change your view on the ships?
A: Certain ships, like the Carrack, yeah. I never thought the modeling of it was very interesting compared to some of the others. It’s kind of a long tube. When I started looking at it more closely, you can see some of the details that might hint at what they’re shooting for, even if it’s not on the model yet. I think it will end up being an interesting ship. It just comes down to the level of detail.
I didn’t think much of the ship at first, but just like the Starfarer you can see how amazing they did with all the tiny details. I just start giggling as I walk around in the Starfarer, and then I realized that they’re going to do just as phenomenal of a job with the Carrack. Playing with the models has helped me see just how detailed, even though it’s just concept art, they go into with these ships. These aren’t even the models they’re using for white boxing or anything.
Q: What would you say is the most difficult part to your modeling?
A: I would say the lighting. I always like putting the ships into a contemporary scene. I so very much want these ships to be real, so I enjoy pictures that make them look real and in a real scene. Matching perspective, which KeyShot has tools for helping you match perspective in a background issues, is also one of the toughest parts. Then you slowly have to start working the lighting system till the direction of the light is correct, it’s reflecting light as it does in the picture, and those two parts probably take just as long as splitting the model.
Q: If someone wanted to get into this, what advice would you give them?
A: Just have fun with it. I literally knew nothing about it going in. One of the things I like a lot about KeyShot is the materials system is so much easier to use than a typical graphics program like Blender or 3DS or any of the game engines. KeyShot isn’t UV map based. You drag and drop materials onto your geometry and then you can tweak the materials manually to whatever you like. You don’t have to worry about UV maps for unwrapping the model, or anything like that. It’s just drag and drop, and then you play with color, how smooth it is, etc. I think there’s another program called Octane that uses material similar to KeyShot.
For someone just starting out? I don’t know. If you’re more into game dev types stuff, I wouldn’t do this because you’re going to need to know how to unwrap everything and you’re going to have to know 3DS. If you’re just playing around with it, this is so much easier. KeyShot or Octane, something like that which has materials you can drag and drop if you’re just having fun with it. As someone who uses CAD programs, I think that KeyShot works much better with the way I think.
Q: What is your favorite ship?
A: I would have to say the Starfarer. My favorite concept art was the Vanguard. Gurmukh’s concept art for the Vanguard was phenomenal. I loved everything about the way that ship is set up. Some of the details of the released assets turned out a little disappointing. I know Gurmukh’s model was probably a polygon nightmare, just because I played with the holoviewer model. I tried for probably a month to where it was 3D printable in a large scale, and went to bed crying a few nights. Just concept wise, that one is probably my absolute favorite. I hope that they bring some of that level of detail back.
Q: What was it about the ship that really drew you to it?
A: All the overall geometry. I loved the twin engine design, the twin booms down the back, it was a combination of all the geometry, plus his early animations for it I thought were super cool too. He had things retracting and tucking away under kind of like Rolodex panels. Seeing those kind of things, I was really hoping they would make it into the game. It’s still a fun ship to fly. I do enjoy it.
Q: What do you think you’ll do when the Persistent Universe goes live?
A: I will probably start out shipping. Between me and my buddies, we’ll probably focus on shipping. If my buddy is running a hauling mission, then I’m hoping I can jump in there with an escort ship and follow him around and vice versa. When I’m running a shipping mission then he can run escort. That way no one gets bored.
I plan to try just about everything. Except maybe piracy, it’s generally not my thing. Except maybe pirate a pirate sort of thing. I want to even try the mining. It doesn’t appeal to me in most games because you’re sitting still in one spot, were as shipping you’re moving around and seeing new sights as you’re running cargo. That all appeals to me. I’m hoping even the equipment tuning mechanics will be fun. Being able to overclock your components, or your buddy’s components. It’ll be interesting to see how all these gameplay mechanics come into fruition.
Q: How did you feel when you were announced as MVP?
A: I was a little surprised. I kind of got some hints when Underscore was asking me to send him some stuff after he got a job there. It was an unexpected surprise and kind of weird. Work for 20-years in a job and people really don’t know exactly what you do, but then you play around with fake starships on the side and suddenly a company with a million followers acknowledges you! It’s a pretty cool to be validated like that, and different.
Q: Is there anything you would want to say to the community?
A: Don’t kill me? Hah! I don’t know.
I would say… what makes this community great is the support amongst the community member. The self-support. I would say, “Please. Keep that up!” It’s amazing what positive people can do together. It’s always phenomenal to see what positive people can do together when they’re not trying to put other people down or make yourself look better than somebody else. If we hold each other up, this game will continue to be an amazing experience even after release.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: Nope. I think that about sums it up. Thanks for the interview.
Tyler Witkin’s comment:
Q: Can I have comment on the Bennylancer MVP by Ungineer?
A: We are always on the lookout for awesome content and Ungineer makes our job finding it easier. A lot of people don’t realize just how much effort has to go into re-skinning those ships. I have to say that the custom paint jobs and other various creative pieces that Ungineer has done look fantastic, and on top of all that… he is one hell of a nice guy, too.