Thesis Proposal: Visual Reference Reel

This week I made some refinements to my proposal and began working on creating a visual reference reel to show some of my inspiration for my project.

Brad Reynolds

3D Modeling Emphasis

Diaspar: Concept Background

The golden age of science fiction from the mid-twentieth century offers a wealth of potential creativity for a thesis project. During this time period of rapidly increasing scientific discovery and advancement, authors and artists were able to dream up a myriad of imaginative stories and gadgetry, some of which exist today. It is from this era of science fiction that I am selecting the basis for my thesis concept, specifically from Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 novel, “The City and The Stars.”

The City and the Stars takes place a billion years in the future in the city of Diaspar. Due to apocalyptic events, the last remnants of humanity are all housed within the technologically advanced city that cares for all of their wants and needs instantaneously through a complex central computer system. All inhabitants of Diaspar are actual reincarnations of former citizens, their minds being stored inside the computer system when they die. Because of this, citizens have millions of years of selective memories within themselves during their lifetime.

The main character of the story, Alvin, is a ‘Unique,’ or citizen that was created without any past lives to remember. Because of this fact, Alvin is driven by an insatiable appetite to explore the world outside of Diaspar. Through a series of events, he discovers and travels to Lys, another community of humans outside of Diaspar who have adopted an almost agrarian lifestyle.

Along with a companion gained in Lys, Alvin discovers and travels to Shalmirane, a fortress where the inhabitants of earth fought off the Invaders with unimaginable weapons. During this excursion, they encounter an extraterrestrial creature who is the last survivor of a religious cult dating back to the days before Diaspar. Accompanying the alien is a strange robot that came with the “Master” of the cult when they first arrived on earth millions of years ago. Through a series of events, Alvin is led to the spacecraft of the Master and travels to a distant galaxy where he is introduced to knowledge that will change the lives of both those in Diaspar and Lys forever.


I would like to produce a series of retro designed science fiction models that are centered around the characters and hardware of the 1956 Arthur C. Clarke novel, “The City and the Stars.” Drawing upon contemporary visual influences of the time during which the novel was written, the style of the models will reflect a nostalgic feel similar to the serial comic books of the 1930s. Two different and distinct visual styles would need to be included since the characters and props are from two long-separated time periods. The models would be posed in a still scene with the final results being both turnarounds of the models and camera pans through the scene. The general description of the models I would like to produce is as follows:

  • Alvin: At only twenty years since he was ‘born,’ Alvin is at a point in his life where he is considered a fully-mature adult, ready to begin his individual lifespan of thousands of years. A ‘unique’ human citizen of Diaspar, he is driven by his insatiable appetite to explore the world beyond the city. Due to millions of years of genetically designed refinement, citizens of Diaspar have some differing characteristics from humankind today. For example, because all of their technology supports them, they have eliminated the need for external anatomical features such as hair, nails, teeth, and genitals. Their clothing is merely for ornamentation, not function, and does not protect against the elements. Clarke goes into more detail about the functions of the society of Diaspar and how that has affected their overall appearance.
  • Jezarek: As Alvin’s mentor and a prominent member of the citizens of Diaspar, Jezarek has tried to cope with his pupil’s insatiable curiosity of the outside world, while educating him sufficiently to survive on his own. He is wise in his actions, but has the same fear of the outside world as the rest of Diaspar, but is ultimately understanding of Alvin’s personal quest for discovery. Because the citizens of Diaspar live for thousands of years without aging, Jezarek appears only slightly older than Alvin.
  • The Master’s Robot: Accompanying the Master on his journey to Earth millions of years ago, the robot is a key factor in introducing Alvin to the mysteries of the galaxy. Further research is needed into Clarke’s description of the robot, but some artistic license may be taken to insure that it fits within the retro science fiction visual language.
  • The Master’s Spaceship: The key instrument in bringing the Master to earth during the last days of the Galactic Empire, the ship is another key element of Alvin’s journey beyond the earth. From another world and era, the ship has been buried outside of Diaspar for millennia, but is still functional. Like with the Robot, further research needs to be done in order to obtain Clarke’s description of the ship. Additional artistic license may also need to be taken in order to achieve the goals of the project.
  • Diaspar: A utopian city that has survived millions of years of regeneration and refinement, Diaspar is almost as a living organism, intricately run by a single central computer system. Circular in form, the city is designed with the comfort and well-being of its citizens, shielding them from the harmful effects of nature, but also increasing their paranoia of the outside world. The city is in a constant state of regeneration and sections of it are redesigned on occasion as desired by the artistry and engineers both for style and efficiency. Although somewhat vague on the exact stylings of the buildings within Diaspar, Clarke does mention that the city is circular in form with multiple high towers made of stone and glass. Air travel has been abandoned in the future in favor of anti-gravitational roadways that convey the citizens by means of a repulsor field to their desired destinations. Given that the contemporary forms of architecture during Clarke’s time was the Art Deco and Googie movements, it would be appropriate to explore designs that centered around that aesthetic.
  • High resolution textures for the hero models and basic textures for the supporting models.
  • Diaspar Extended (Collaborative Element): A matte-painting for the extended environment for the scene would require collaboration with another student, but would greatly add to the overall effect.

One of the pivotal moments of the book involves Alvin’s discovery and retrieval of the Master’s spacecraft. With the help of the Robot, Alvin activates the spacecraft, which has been buried under the sands of the desert for millions of years, yet is still fully functional. He does this remotely from one of the high towers on the outskirts of Diaspar, a place where he would often come to catch a glimpse of the outside world. Alvin’s mentor, Jezarek, is with him during all this and is the only one to bid him farewell before he leaves Earth. This scene would be an ideal moment to include all of the models posed together for a type of diorama/pan-across rendering.


It is my goal to produce a set of models for my demo reel that will allow me to obtain a 3D modeling job in the film industry following graduation. I would like to gear my work towards the type of visual effects that would be done by companies such as ILM and Digital Domain: photorealistic models that would be composited with live action.

Project Considerations

  • What particular in the project should be emphasized on my end to gain the attention of VFX/Film industry recruiters?
  • Because I will be moving to the bay area to work on this project, what collaborative opportunities will there be with other students to expand the scope and final product of the project?
  • Although a set of high-resolution textures would add greatly to the end renderings, would it be distracting to the goals of a feature modeling thesis?

Visual Influences:

Production Design: Retro Futurism
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Character Design: Retro Futurism/Utopianism
THX 1138

Mood: Warm Glow Mingled with Brooding Uncertainty
Blade Runner

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