The Boy Wonder

As I mentioned, I had stumbled upon a modeler who didn't think of spacecraft as huge hunks of rusting iron and plates of steel covered with greebles, but rather as an engineer: parts that had to bear loads and stresses, and who saw form following function and knew enough about the function to be able to interpret these engineering loads and model the hardware accordingly.

I had to meet this person -- at least online. His Sci-Fi Meshes handle was Catseye; no doubt he was a former NASA engineer in his fifties with and extensive background in engineering. 

But he wasn't. He was a kid. Gaelan Rhinehart is his name (and I have been trying without success to re-connect with him; if he should hear about this, try me at bill at billwhittle dot com). Despite the Germanic name he's an American. I think he was 20 at the time.  

As to his engineering background: he had none. He is just one of those savants who can see things that aren't there, and through the magic of 3D modeling, he can put them there. So I hired him. 

This was a tough time for me, financially: in 2005 I was two years into writing essays at Eject! Eject! Eject! and I didn't have a lot of money to spare, especially after buying a new PC to do the 3D Studio Max visualizations I needed to do. I had been working in 3D Studio since version 2, back in 1992; just playing, mostly, and the best work I was capable of was the ship in the banner for IN THE BEGINNING. But since the ship was -- at least in the first drafts -- the star of the movie, I had to get the ship right. And I had a unique challenge, because well before I was able to get a usable story out of Aurora, I had a mission in mind for the movie, and any subsequent movies, and I swore on a stack of tech manuals that this would be my mantra, my polar star: no magic. I decided that if I could not make this movie as realistic as all of my astronomy and space and aeronautics background would allow-- NO EXCEPTIONS! -- then I didn't want to make the film.

It's an old saw in good science fiction writing that you are allowed to break one law of physics in order to tell your story. Why? Why would you have to break any? Yes, it would be nice to have faster-than-light travel, but that seems exceedingly unlikely and at the very least is far beyond our ability to imagine. The solar system seemed so boring compared to a galactic empire... until you really got down to brass tacks and thought it through. Then it was not boring at all. It was just mental laziness. The warp drive, essentially, is no different than Jeannie crossing her arms and nodding: BLINK! Now she's somewhere else. Now look, I bow to no one in reverence for Star Trek, but that has been done. Warp Drives, Jump Drives, Wormholes, Hyperspace -- all of that has been done. What hasn't been done, on film (with one precious exception) is attempting to show, to the best of our ability, the drama and danger and adventure of how it would look if we actually went. 

So Aurora had to look real. And Gaelan was the guy to build it. 

And so we entered into a remarkable arrangement: he was living in Europe at the time. I paid him through PayPal, and then I would hack out the basics of the configuration that I wanted in 3D Studio -- like the multi-colored, Play-Skool artistic masterpiece you see below. A day or two later, as if by magic, the elves at the North Pole would send back images. I to this day have never seen better modeling, nor have I ever seen anyone work as fast as he did. He was possessed. He told me he had never had a project whose design specs were clear enough for him to apply his skills to their full effect. So we built her together; and when I say "together" I mean I did the first 5% -- the general configuration -- and he did the rest, based on that 5%. But every single bolt on her is his. 

So I would begin with this: 

And I'd start to get back stuff like this:

So why this layout? What was it that was so important? 

Well, the entire vehicle was based on one simple idea, and here it is:

...to be continued.

Published Oct 26, 2013