Speed Skimmer side view


Universal-Motion has focused most of their energy on Earth colonies or planets that have humanoid like intelligences. But there are many planets that have very non-humanoid like species and by not providing technologies to them, are missing a great deal of market opportunity.


To get a feel for what it would be like to work with one of these non-humanoid intelligences, U-M decided to try to work with the Galup species, who are the predominant intelligence of the planet X1223-4/23.


The Galups are hexapods, very similar to squid and octopus on Earth, but have enough internal bone structure to be able to move easily on land as well as water.


When the Galups were exposed to human culture, they took to it in a very deep way. They especially liked the period of time between 1950 and 1960 CE. The art, architecture and commercial items all appealed to their sense of beauty.


Many Galupians wanted what were called motorcycles on earth. They had no analog to this in their technology and felt that having a single person transportation device would be fantastic. So U-M took on the task of building a vehicle that provided the fun and freedom of an old style motorcycle, but would fit that abilities of the Galupians.


There are several factors that needed to be understood in order to be successful. First, there is the anatomy of the Galupians. Any vehicle created would need to fit the rider, but also provide controls they can manipulate. Since the Galupian arms are not very strong, the use of regular handlebars seemed out of the question. So U-M designed a system that allows the rider to control direction by twisting the grips on the front bars. They can control speed and braking with the front set of foot pegs which the can also twist.


Another factor is that there are very few roads on X1223-4/23. The Galupians never saw the need and so most of the roads are footpaths or wide, packed dirt trails. So the vehicle created by U-M needed to not be dependent upon wheels. U-M solved this problem by using their patented anti-gravity generator to keep the vehicle off the ground. An added bonus is that the vehicles can travel over water too. So the rider can move almost anywhere on the planet.


The U-M "Speed Skimmer" was released to the public with initial sales fare outstripping production capability. After almost six months of mass production, U-M has finally caught up with the initial pre-orders and is still struggling to meet all the demand. Since no new technology was needed to engineer the product, profits have been through the room and now U-M is looking at other planets to do business with.


This project started as an idea I had to do some "sketching" in ZBrush. I do so much work that is based on humanoid structure and almost everything is mechanical. ZBrush is a great tool for creating characters (one of its primary uses in the industry) and I wanted to get some experience doing that. So I thought, "What kind of character can I do quickly that I could then base a vehicle upon?" I pulled a Dynamesh sphere into ZBrush and started at it. Soon I had the basic shape of my alien.


Now, how to make it ride something. Again, using a Dynamesh sphere, I started to form the vehicle is was riding on. Soon the shapes started to take form and I realized that this would be a hover craft of some sort that looked a lot like a modern motorcycle.


Of course, the initial shapes are the easy part. The devil is in the details. Adding things like lights, lenses, air intakes, exhaust, and all the other details took a fair amount of time and a good bit of trial and effort. avionics and other details, making this a relatively heavy model.


And the alien required a good deal of work too. Creating the leather jacket was one of the fun things to do since I had to model in all the wrinkles in the fabric. The hair was fun too. The hair functions in ZBRush Fibermesh function takes some getting used to using. There are just so many options to try. Of course, I learn something new with each project and this was no exception.


One thing that really helped with this model was using KeyShot early in the process. Continually sending the sculpt in to be rendered with correct textures made it so much easier to see how things were progressing. I also learned how to use KeyShot Templates, which allow you to assign materials to named geometry. This is important because the ZBrush to KeyShot bridge uses the name you give the geometry in ZBrush but adds a different suffix each time you start a new session. So unless you finish your rending in one session (or never shut down your computer/applications) you have to reapply the textures each time. Using templates you can use wildcards around the name of the geometry and assign the materials to that, which is then applied to your model. That is a heck of a lot easier than reapply the textures each time!


Another neat trick is using polygroups and ZBrush textures. When using the bridge the ZBrush textures are also exported. The object will appear in the scene list in KeyShot with a "0_" prefix followed by the geometry name, a numeric suffix and the material applied. However, if you create a polygroup and apply a different texture to that, the object will be exported and appear as two objects in KeyShot. One main one will the "0_" while all polygroups with different materials will have "1_". If you create multiple polygroups, as long as you put a different material to each one, you will get a separate geometry in KeyShot, each with a sequential prefix (e.g. "1_", "2_", "3_", etc.). You can then use these separate geometries to apply KeyShot materials to. It is very cool!


The final render of this was done using an HDRI image that came with ZBrush. This is very high pixel count picture so the quality of the image is very good.