This is a project I had been wanting to do for a long time and I finally decided to get around to doing after modeling Rey’s blaster from The Force Awakens. I started collecting reference images for the speeder a few years ago, but felt there wasn’t enough to go on for the level of detail I tend model.
This speeder is the same model landspeeder that Luke Skywalker uses in the original Star Wars on Tatooine. When I started working on this, my intention was to try to replicate how it appears in the film but later settled on making a version of how it may have looked when new. Had I decided to make it look like it does on screen, it would have taken much more time due to my limited experience in creating textures. I decided on red because the worn dull pink and taupe color scheme of the actual prop would seem to indicate the color had long faded out from red. It’s possible it could have been orange but I didn’t like the look.
One of the main challenges in doing this model was getting enough reference photos of the speeder to try to make an accurate model. With the amount of screen time this prop had, there are not very many photos of it online. I saw the motorized version used in the film in person back in 2011 when the Star Wars: When Science Meets Imagination exhibit visited Seattle’s Pacific Science Center but I didn’t think to get more than a couple of photos at the time.
There are a few 3D models of Luke’s landspeeder on the web but they all fall short of accuracy in proportion and in details. There are a few line drawings of the speeder and even an original production sketch but not even those are very accurate when compared to the screen used prop. Thankfully I could find a lot of photos documenting the building of fan made replicas on various prop building and costuming club forums to fill in the details.
According to what I have read, there were at least two of these landspeeders made for A New Hope. One was built on the chassis of a small three-wheeled British car (more specifically a Reliant Bond Bug) that could be driven around and another that was mounted to a gimbal for closeups. The version I ended up doing is a combination of the two. I chose to use flight yoke from the stationary version and the dash panel and center console from the motorized one. I decided against the steering wheel because it seemed odd in a flying craft. Also, I left out the wheels because a prop replica is not what I was going for.
When working on the body I went through many revisions until I got it to where I was satisfied with its look. The most difficulty was in the rear portion of the speeder with it contours and dimensions. I must have modeled the back of the speeder a least a half dozen times to get it to match the reference photos.
Besides the modeling of the body, I was really concerned about was applying the graphics to it. I could have done this with geometry which would have created some sharp lines but it could have messed up to smoothness of the surface of the speeder. So, I did it as a texture which I made in Photoshop and then projected it on to the model in SketchUp. A texture is much easier to change than actual geometry; it would have been very unforgiving if I didn’t get the shapes right. The same was done with the propulsion thrusters.
The landspeeder is adorned with a lot of random real world parts (commonly called “greeblies”) to give it a lot of realism and to make it look like it would work in the real world. The most complex part happens to go on the back of the speeder where it is hardly seen in the movie. It is supposed to be part of the repulsorlift generators that allow the fictional craft to free float. This part is the channel changing mechanism from a WWII era British aviation radio; the military model TR1985 or civilian model STR. 9-X from Standard Telephones and Cables Limited. The part is very obscure and very hard to find pictures of it but I did find enough to make it accurate to my standards. In the movie, it is completely slathered in paint and dirty. I have made it bright and shiny because again, it is meant to be new. About 200 integrated circuit chips with their corresponding sockets surround the channel changing mechanism. On the real prop, these chips were laid out on a table and vacuformed in plastic to create a panel. This was a wise decision for the prop makers because it would have been a nightmare trying to keep the chips attached to the back of the speeder. So, of course, I decided to place the individual chips on the speeder in pristine condition.
The next most complex part was the Dash Panel which is made of many individual parts. These parts include items seen on C-3PO and other droids, a Hengsler counter from the Stormtrooper blaster, some industrial switches, an unidentified circuit board, more IC chips and sockets, the metal “tusks” from Darth Vader’s mask and various other parts.
The vehicle controls were relatively simple. The shifter knob that is supposedly an altitude adjuster for the speeder is supposedly from a British Reliant car. It is not known where the steering yoke came from. For the pilot, there is a cutaway of the speeder that shows helicopter style pedals but after modeling the style of pedals the used to their real-world dimensions, it just wouldn’t fit so I went with the pedals from the Bond Bug chassis.
The seats were not too bad but I did them twice as time went on. The headrests (which actual come up to the mid back) were not very easy to do but turned out good.
All along the way I was creating snapshots of the model using some free rendering software called Visualizer that works inside SketchUp. I wanted to use Visualizer to create a high-quality rendering of the speeder when it was done but in the end, it was too limited in functionality to get what I wanted out of it.
As a bit of a challenge, I set out to create some high-quality renderings in another free rendering software called Kerkythea. I have had some experience with Kerkythea (like the renderings of the lightsabers I have been using for the header image on my blog) but nothing at this scale.
The model was set up for Visualizer so once I started working with Kerkythea I had to setup the model for it instead. I went back into the model and started rounding as many sharp edges as I could to make the model look more realistic. I stripped away all the materials that I had assigned to the groups and components that made up the model and applied the colors directly to the faces of the geometry so just the outer faces render.
I had a crash course in UV mapping which is a term for wrapping textures around 3D models for the seats, headrests and the displays to give them detailed textures for rendering. When modeling the headrests, I had given up on making the outer edges rounded and smooth but somehow once they were UV wrapped and rendered, the appear perfectly rounded and smooth — all by accident.
I went through quite a few options for the spherical sky and finally found a free one that I liked. It’s not quite a Tatooine like sky but if this is the speeder when new, maybe Tatooine had more moisture in the air back then. I liked the cracked earth look that the sky image had but I was unable to make a shadow for the speeder which would look fake so I went in search for a ground texture to use as a ground plane. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a large enough resolution but found some pictures above thick cloud cover that I thought looked like sand. I manipulated the pictures in Photoshop by stitching them together, inverted the shading and applied a gradient map to recolor it to look like sandy soil. I also created a match bump map to give the texture depth when rendered. That wasn’t enough so I made a normal map which amounts to a super bump map which adds even more depth. In addition to the ground plane texture, I added a procedural texture that looks like brownish clouds that when blended with the soil hides the fact that it is a repeating pattern.
The most difficult material for the model was the for the body because the graphics need to have a different sheen and reflectiveness than the rest of the body. The part that made it difficult was my lack of understanding of making materials in Kerkythea. To make it work you must create a mask to isolate the different parts of the texture so they can be setup separately. I was missing a step in the ‘Texture Editor’ box inside the ‘Material Editor’ where you set the black and white mask to multiply to eliminate the dark areas shown in the mask. The graphics were meant to look like a vinyl wrap so I applied the mask images to the bump map of the material to give the vinyl some thickness.
Once I was satisfied with the 40+ materials I created in Kerkythea and the rendering tests, I thought the speeder would look great as a picture on my wall! So, I decided to make a very large rendering that I could have printed. I settled on a 16×20 inch gallery wrapped print that would be printed by Nations Photo Lab which is a company I used for printing some family photos I myself had restored digitally. I didn’t know how my computer would handle a rendering that size at 300 pixels per inch in Kerkythea but surprisingly, using the ‘11. Photon Mapping+Caustics – High + AA 0.3‘ rendering setting it only took 2 hours to do it. I found a 64-bit version of Kerkythea called Kerkythea Boost in the software’s user forums which was great because it renders a lot faster and utilizes system memory much more efficiently. (I should warn you that it is a little buggy, so if you use it, be sure to save your scene periodically.)
When the rendering was done, I was satisfied with how it looked but up close I could see hundreds of pixel sized spots that didn’t belong there. I tried other settings but they still appear so I used Photoshop to paint out each pixel that didn’t belong there. It took several days to do that and I ended up missing out on a sale for print I wanted to have done. Anyway, there was no real deadline so I kept working on the image to refine it further. I noticed the image looked a bit off without shadows from the cloudy sky on the ground so took some time to add some subtle shadows in Photoshop.
I thought as a final touch I could add a familiar Star Wars prop to the background in the form of a moisture vaporator. I had made a model of one a long time ago for the SketchUp 3D Challenge so I brought it back into SketchUp to reapply the textures the proper way and I placed it in the Speeder model where I wanted it so when I imported into Kerkythea it would be where I wanted it to go. Instead of redoing the entire rendering of the speeder, I hid all the speeder geometry and rendered the moisture vaporator alone to composite into the speeder rendering.
The renderings are done and the print from Nations Photo Lab has been ordered, printed and shipped to be received here in a few days. It was a fun project to do and I look forward to hanging it on the wall. If you are interested in purchasing a print of it on your own wall… don’t ask because I am not a Lucasfilm licensee and The Mouse has people.