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HMS Surprise (1796 - Formally Unité) - My first ship model.

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Hi all,


Decided it's time for me to make my own build log as I've got a bit more time on my hands and managed to make some good progress recently after a number of different attempts at the modeling the main hull.


I'll start at the beginning.


So to begin with a found some nice drawings and ship plans in a book about HMS Surprise from the Aubrey Maturin series of books. I recently finished listening to all the books on my commute to work and fell in love with the ship just as Jack Aubrey did. Luckily I work at a studio with a publishing department and they had some excellent scanners and they kindly provided me with some nice high res scans from the book.


I took these scans and began colour coding the lines on the draught plans to make them a little easier to read.


Following this I began modeling the ships hull...


I started in just one perspective as you can see, I then switched over to another perspective and moved out what I had already modeled to match the draught plans in that view, giving me a 3D shape...


I then subdivided this mesh to give me more detail and to smooth out the hull. It was quite a long task but I was really happy with the results overall.


From here I had to tackle the bow. This is when I realised the draught plans were all slightly out in each view. I made a topic elsewhere on the forums asking for advice and the overall consensus was these plans are never 100% accurate and it's going to involve me using my initiative to overcome this.


Honestly, I lost a bit of motivation and confidence here. Ships aren't simple shapes, and I could never seem to get the bow looking quite right.


The above was modeled by hand and I was never truly happy with it. It was a bit bumpy and I didn't feel the shape was quite right. You can see it a little better in motion in this video on my Instagram account.

So I tried another method to hopefully give me better results. Using splines I built a "cage" in the shape of the bow and then turned it into a mesh. The results were pretty good, not perfect, but better than what I had before. After some tweaks I was a lot happier. 



I wondered what the rest of the ship might look like using this method so I also remade the rest of the hull this way. The results weren't as good with some bad topology and bumpiness across the sides of the hull.


So I thought it'd be best to build the bow using splines as I can control the shape much easier using the splines but keep the rest of the hull hand-modelled.





This is where I'm at right now. I'm quite happy with what I have so far but I can still see some room for improvement on the bow. I think with a few tweaks though it could be much improved.


I'd love to hear comments and critique for you all. I'll be posting updates as and when I work on this here as well as on the Instagram account I posted above.


Thanks all!

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Look at post #9 for ideas about how to get a smooth hull surface.



You are right that you don't get a perfect hull shape from lines drawings, and even working from a Table of Offsets can produce some significant errors.


One problem you seem to be seeing is that sudden/drastic changes in the hull surface may result in "wrinkles" around the transition points. It is OK to use multiple surfaces for the hull, keel, stem post, stern post, etc.


This can also be a problem at "knuckles" in the hull surface - these are places with sharp bends or "kinks" in the surface. With a fairly coarse grid mesh the grid facets cannot bend over the knuckle. A solution is to create two separate surfaces above and below the knuckle.


This all depends upon how much control your program allows for these sorts of things.

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I read the post you linked to and I think I understand what you mean.


Basically, create planes cutting through the hull, and where the two meshes intersect create splines. Then hiding the meshes look down the splines for bumps and imperfections. Create a new spline snapping to the good points on the intersecting spline and leave the bad points out, the program (3DS Max in my case) will interpolate between the two and probably sort out the imperfections. You can then use the spline as a new guide for your original/new mesh that you update/create?


Thanks for the reply though. You've done some amazing work so it's really good to get your input.

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@Dr PR - Thanks for linking your post. It really helped me out.


I spent some time tonight cutting some contour lines across the entire ship and after isolating them so I could see them on a black background I could instantly see what you meant. The imperfections stand out like a sore thumb. 


So the main bulk of the ship is pretty good, overall I'm happy with what I've achieved there. The stern of the ship is definitely in need of some more detail but I knew that already. I'll tackle all of that when I create the quarter galleries. I'm focusing on the bow right now and I could see a number of bumps which the contour lines really highlighted.


The red boxes above show some of the imperfections, some lines are too straight, are slightly pushed in or out. The blue box shows where the contour lines have given me much nicer lines to work from where my topology is off thanks to the surface modifier I used previously. You can see the contours a little better in this gif:


I've tidied these up a little but they still need some more work. I also want to fix the topology so I'll be doing that next...


As you can see I have more polygons aft. I'll be spreading these out towards the front of the bow to give a much more even topology which will also help immensely with the overall shape of the bow.


Again, Dr PR, thank you so much!

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Thanks for posting your animation! It does a much better job illustrating what I was talking about than my words.


Now remember my caution - you can spend a great deal of time trying to get everything perfect (I speak from experience). Personally, I am a frustrated perfectionist because I know perfection isn't possible. At some point you just have to stop and say it's good enough!


If you are planning to build a real model you will probably end up using filler, files and sandpaper to eliminate the last imperfections.

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Dr PR,


No problem! I love documenting my progress and after seeing the results your method could give I had to capture it so other could see it too. I know it's hard to show these things in an image. If you want me to grab any more gifs/videos of this process just shout and I can whip some up for a guide or something. I'm sure it'd be helpful on these forums for other members.


Yeah, I understand your caution. I can still see imperfections on my latest mesh and I do plan on working them out as best as I can and tidying up the topology as mentioned. I'm not going for 100% accuracy, but enough accuracy that it could potentially be used for learning. I plan on importing my finished ship into Unreal Engine 4 and allowing people to walk around and explore her. Along with functioning things like cannons and sails. We'll see about all that, I'm just focusing on the model right now.


Again, thank you. It's really helped and really motivated me to work on this as much as possible.

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For what it's worth I can show how I do it.


First, check if the drawings in the book include the planking - the original drawings usually do not, they show the shape of the frames, so you have to keep additional foot or so in mind.



Then select a number of vertices for the frame curve (I use around 16 for a frigate, and then subdivide the edges where I need more exact curve - I'll show it later) and keep it the same for all stations you take from the drawing. Keep them flat - i.e. do not move any vertex forward-aft, only inside or outside, and when finished forming the shape, make them evenly distanced (there is a "space" function in loop tools in Blender, although I don't know how it is invoked in 3dmax, but there certainly should be something).


2.thumb.png.8ef2255238623437e430ef80656a36a2.png 1.png.8e70b2f92db10aa5d0e1955cdc6f23c3.png

Now, at the bow it's a little bit tricky, but still manageable. You take the last station from the line plan, place it along the stem line, and flatten it over the keel. Space the vertices. Then you take the station and the stem line and bridge them over with 3-4 segments. Then, using the horizontal plan view of the ship, you adjust those vertices a little outside, and space each of the lines once again. It takes some manual work, but you should get it right in the end. Remember, though, to constrain the movement of the vertices to single axis, it will save a lot of confusion.


The sterns are tricky as well, since there are very little lines of them given, usually. So I generally also take the last station of the hull, and then extend it horizontally aft, cut over the sternpost, flatten, then cut vertically from each vertex of the last station - and then adjust the intersection vertices horizontally (only fore-aft) to get the smoother shape of the stern according to the plan. The image shows an elliptical stern of the Pique, but earlier ships work the same (and were actually built in this way), only the lines will end at the transom.


When it's all done, you can smooth over the curves by subdividing them and triangulate if required:



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Hey Martes,


Yeah that was very similar to my process so far.


I haven't really touched the stern too much yet so your post will be helpful no doubt when I finally get around to working there.


Thanks for the post!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey all,


Sorry for the lack of updates. I've managed to find time to work on my model most nights this week and didn't want to spam this post with updates each night. Felt it would be better to group it up into one post. Unless people prefer to see more frequent but smaller updates?


So to begin with I created a new spline mesh over the bow with a much more uniform topology. I also took the time to check the spline mesh over the previous mesh I had made to find any more bumps I could take out. I think the results are much better than the previous ones:


With the topology much more uniform and being overall happy with the shape of the bow I created a duplicate of this spline mesh so if I ever need to go back and make any changes in the future I have a copy to adjust and work from. I collapsed this down to an editable poly mesh which, in 3DS Max, gives me many more tools to use when modeling.


The mesh is quite dense but I don't think it's too for what I potentially plan to use it for so I'm happy with it. Below you can see a couple of before and afters (Orange mesh is the before) and I think you can agree there's a big difference. DR PR, I have to thank you again! 



Since the method gave me such great results on the bow I wanted to give the rest of the hull the same treatment. I drew splines in the same way across the entire hull. This gave me a mesh of similar density to the bow...


Unfortunately, in my excitement, I forgot to create a copy of spline mesh I had created for the rest of the hull so I can't go back and make adjustments. I'm going to create another one anyway because it'll be very helpful to have in case I do need to make any changes in the future, and the next mesh should be better anyway as I may spot some imperfections. I can optimise this new mesh too as it has too many horizontal (going fore and aft) lines which aren't really needed so I can sort that during this process too.


The stern definitely needs a bit more work so I may chop that off like I did with the bow and work on it in isolation. Although, all of this may get hidden by the stern quarter galleries. Would you agree?


Anyway, I didn't get too much time to work on her tonight so I cut out her gun ports as that's a nice quick and easy task. I still need to do the fore-most gun ports but since they're at an angle in the plans I wanted to spend a bit more time to ensure they're in the correct locations.



So that's everything I've managed to get done this week. It feels great to see some progress and posting here and over at my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/hms_surprise_/ - I post here every time I work on her, so feel free to follow if you'd like more regular updates) is really motivating. I'd love to hear any comments, critique or hints you guys may have.


Thank you.

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  • 1 month later...

Hey all,


Apologies for my lack of updates recently, been very busy with work and even a trip to USS Constitution (Which was regrettably closed!) but I'm back on track and been doing some work over the past week or so.


First up since the shell of the hull was done I went ahead and added the decks (at the start of the gif below you can also see some basic masts)...


These were pretty simple to add as the plans cover them very well. They slightly poke out the side of the hull right now but I'll fix that later when I actually give the hull some depth. My thought process behind adding the decks so soon was that it may help when I come to model the stern and quarter gallery. Boy was I wrong!


I'm finding the quarter gallery particularly hard to model. I'm using the same method I used for the rest of the hull (I'll model the windows and other details later on) and it's working for the most part. Where I'm struggling is connecting this to the hull. It seems the plans I have don't show the quarter gallery at all and don't even seem to take it into account. I take it back then part of the stern was removed to add the quarter gallery on later?


Anyway, my progress can be seen below in another gif...


As you can see the bottom of this section extends out further than the hull does in this area. Now I admittedly I don't know what to do next here. How do I connect this to the hull? Does the hull need adjusting to meet the bottom of the quarter gallery or is it the other way around?


I've been looking at pictures of other ships and the replica ship in the US and it seems the hull is adjusted to meet the quarter gallery.



Anyway, to get this right I think I'm going to cut the stern off of my model and do the entire stern separately. It gave me much better results doing this with the bow so I think it would be beneficial to do this with the stern too. If anything it will give me less lines on the screen to make it that bit easier to read.


Any insight into this area of the ship will be massively appreciated. I'm going to be delving into some books too.


Thanks all!

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  • 5 months later...

Hi all,


Apologies for the lack of updates. Obviously life has been hectic the world over coupling that with moving house and decorating I have not had chance to work on Surprise recently. However, I'm finding I'm having the itch to work on her a lot and I also have some free time again so I'm raring to go.


She currently has the entirety of the outside of the hull modeled to a point where I'm happy to move on for now. However, last time I tried to work on her and I tried to model the interior of the hull (the inner walls) I realised I didn't know how they should look. It appears the interior walls, or hull thickness is not shown on the plans that I have. I'll repost them below:



Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't see any lines which show the interior walls or thickness of the hull.


Were these ever shown on plans? Does anybody have any good reference as to where I could find some or at least a similar ships interior? How did everyone else tackle this, did you just give the entire hull one thickness and merge parts that overlapped?


Any help would be greatly apprecitated, many thanks!

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22 hours ago, iMustBeCrazy said:

Both as captured and as fitted Unite(1796)


That's previously captured Unite, not the Surprise.


As to the Surprise you can check this topic here (there is a midship cut on the linked page, although may be somewhat inaccurate, but it can be a starting point):






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4 hours ago, Martes said:

That's previously captured Unite, not the Surprise.

Ok, I think I've got it.


In 1796 the British captured the French 5th Rate Frigate L'Unité (formerly Gracieuse) and renamed her HMS Unite (or Unity).


In 1798 the British captured another French Frigate (6th Rate) named L'Unité and renamed her HMS Surprise.


Confusion reigns as many sources get them mixed up.



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