Robert Burke - Illustration - Case study of my Spitfire Mk IX model used on More 4's Inside the Spitfire Factory and Channel 4's The Great British Spitfire Rebuild.

Case Study - Project Spitfire

From a 3D Learning project to Prime time UK Television

As used in:

Initially started as a personal project to challenge my knowledge of 3D modelling and to test the capabilities of the Freestyle line renderer used in Blender. The goal was to see if a 3D cutaway model of the Mk IX Spitfire could match the style of 2D cut away images often seen in Warlord comics using traditional ink on paper in the 60’s and 70’s.

Creating the model required extensive research and detective work to find suitable references and it was soon found that not all the information on the internet was accurate. After two false starts I was loaned a set of spitfire plans from a friend who had previously purchased them off an internet auction site. The accurate plans allowed me to create a visually accurate airframe. However much more detail was needed so the occasional trip to RAF Hendon museum together with scouring the internet for any suitable reference photographs helped me build up a usable reference library.

The Build process

I initially started by creating a wire skeleton cage of the Spitfires outer surface and then each component that made up the fuselage was individually modelled to scale and assembled onto the correct position in the wire skeleton.

I then progressed onto the wings, which were initially modelled horizontally on the X-Y plane and when complete rotated 6 degrees to give the correct orientation.

The next stage was to add a skin to the back half of the Spitfire, this would allow shadow detail to show inside the fuselage and help create more depth to any render.

With sufficient work done on the framework of the fuselage I could turn my attention to adding detail to the model. Though the initial idea was to create a cutaway image as a line render, I decided to also add a version with colour detail. This meant painting camouflage colour and bump textures for the outer skin, I could also now start detailing the inside components.

Detail was added to the cockpit along with fuel tanks.

Further detail and a lot more components were added to the fuselage and wings. When complete the wings were rotated 6 degrees to their correct orientation.

With most of the components now on the airframe, I could now turn my attention to the V12 Merline engine. My intension was to show the outside of the engine only rather than including all the internal components.

With the exterior of the merlin engine modelled it could now be offered up to the air frame.

With the bulk of the modelling now done I turned to experimenting with different line render settings to see how the model compared to the older hand drawn and vector images of past decades.

Though the Freestyle line renderer gave excellent results, on a model with this level of complexity, the monotone style became difficult to identify all the separate components. This demonstrated the artistic skill of the older hand drawn or 2D vector graphics of the past where the artist could pick and choose which lines were added and which to omit in order to achieve a cleaner cutaway result.

For my final render I decided to use colour on the spitfire cutaway, but show it sitting on a 2D monochrome line drawing plan, created from the model with Freestyle top, side and front views of the spitfire.

With my goal for the project achieved I decided to add to the project and create a full skin for the spitfire. With the skin created it was UV unwrapped and a 2D image of the skin created. This was checked for for any stretched areas of the UV layout using Blenders colour UV grid.

New Diffuse and bump maps were created for the skin and any visible parts of the spitfires interior copied over from the cutaway model. For the skin I chose a spitfire with markings from the free polish air force, as I was taught to alignment scrape by a Free Polish Air Force pilot who stayed in the UK after the second world war.

It was at this point of the project in early 2020, when I was contacted by Holey & Moley as they had been commissioned to provide explainer videos for More 4’s inside the Spitfire Factory. Their contract was on a tight deadline as the supply of TV programs had been affected by COVID19 and with all the production shots completed prior to COVID, only editing was required to complete this documentary series.

Having experienced the many hundreds of hours needed to model all the internal components of a spitfire and knowing the tight deadline they were under, I agreed to release my model for use on the Inside the Spitfire Factory series. It would allow Holy & Moley to produce much higher quality explainer videos for the series rather than having to use up excessive time modelling the internals of their own spitfire.

Click the images below to go to their webpages

Inside the spitfire Factory (Image Credit: Holey & Moley)

Inside the spitfire Factory (Image Credit: Channel 4)