Incredible digital re-creations of the Mars rovers

Mar 12, 2012 By Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
An incredibly detailed 3-D model of the Spirit rover. Credit: Nick Sotiriadis

Want to see the Mars Exploration Rovers in incredible, intricate detail – without having to travel to the Red Planet to inspect them in person? Design wizard Nick Sotiriadis from Greece has spent five years working on what he calls a once-in-a-lifetime project creating high resolution 3-D renders of the Mars rovers with attention to detail precise at the scale of millimeters. Even NASA doesn’t have anything this detailed for reference, so Sotiriadis basically built these visual representations of the rovers with 3-D computer graphics.

“After 3 computer upgrades, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of frustration and hundreds cups of coffee, the project is about to be finished,” Sotiriadis said.

He’s still putting the final touches on his project, but it’s been a labor of love because of his interest in space and technology, as well as wanting to refine his computer graphic skills.

“It has been really challenging and has helped me increase my experience in the 3-D field,” Sotiriadis told Universe Today. “However, it was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t have any good references and I spent literally hundreds of hours studying reference photos online. Later on I posted on the Unmanned Spaceflight Forum and people’s support and excitement in the forum is what has kept me going.”

What he is creating are 2-D images with 3D photorealistic effects. Sotiriadis has ‘built’ just the Spirit rover, but said the differences in the two rovers would be visible only to professionals and hardcore fans.

The project is still a work-in-progress, since he is still texturizing and rendering his visualizations, but he has posted several views on his website.

A different angle view of the Spirit rover. Credit: Nick Sotiriadis

“Once I am finally done the whole page will be replaced with full-high resolution renders of the rovers,” he said.

When the project is complete, viewers will be able to see the rovers in any view. “Since it’s created in 3-D, you can see any angle you want, but it takes several tens of hours of computer processing for the final picture to be created.”

I asked Sotiriadis if since these are super-high resolution re-creations of the rovers, if you printed them out would they basically be life sized — or bigger?

“Since the model is done at that level of detail I can create a picture of any resolution -no matter how high – so I guess it could be created so to be printed in life-size specs and still have all the details,” he said. “However the rendering process – that is the process of creating the photorealism out of my 3-D model – is very power hungry and time consuming. I guess render computer farms would have to be used to make it.”

Interestingly, he started this project because of the movie, “Transformers.”

“Ever since I can remember, I loved Transformers,” Sotiriadis said via email. “I played a lot with Transformers when I was a kid. When the movie by Michael Bay was announced, they released a teaser trailer that showed a rover finding robotic life on the Moon. I wanted to do something that was similar to the computer graphics in the movie, so I thought it would be a great idea to model the Mars rovers.”

The five years of work have not come without frustration. “I have redone many things countless times,” Sotiriadis said. “I accidentally deleted surfaces it took tens of hours to re-create, I upgraded my computer several times in order to just open the file because of its great size. The effort was a lot harder than I could ever put to words.”

But it is really awesome.

Check out Sotiriadis’ Mars Rover Project website to see his high resolution renderings of the .

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