Orreries and Fresnel Lenses

I have been thinking of creating an environment in Unreal 4 that has a collection of beautiful science gizmos in it. It is easy to imagine what this kind of room would look like, but I’m sure the process of creating and then animating each object (in game terminology, “asset”) would take hundreds of hours. It’s like looking at a huge oil painting in a museum and saying “I’d like to make a painting like that!”

I can dream, though…meanwhile, here are some cool science gizmos.

No Man’s Sky meets Mass Effect

In my version of the Mass Effect storyline, Commander Anna Shepard chooses to take over for the Reapers. They relinquish their powers to her, in shame and humility. To the galaxy at large, it seems that the Reapers have been destroyed and Shepard has disappeared. Only Liara knows the truth about what has happened, and she is good at keeping secrets!

Meanwhile, the galaxy has entered a new age of exploration. New alliances are forged.




These are screencaps from NMS that I played around with using GIMP (free art software!) and a Wacom graphics tablet. I’m just getting the hang of GIMP. I know the more I practice, the less awkward it will seem.

The Making of Mass Effect

Here is a series of videos about the making of the video game Mass Effect. What I like about these videos is that they talk about the creative process. At one point they say “we wanted to create a world that we would like to visit”. That was inspiring to me because I have ideas for a science fiction story that takes place on one of my Minecraft worlds!




There are also videos # 5, 6, and 7.


Previews of new Adventure Map

I don’t want to give too much away, but here are some previews of the new Adventure Map I’m working on. This section is called Vierria, named after David Vierra, the guy who wrote the MC Edit software.

Vierria preview
This area is the last region the adventurers will reach, and is called Ultimaria.

preview Ultimaria

Adventure Map

I’m working on an Adventure Map for my Minecraft world “Mystery Snail 4”.

Here is an article which gives an overview of Adventure maps

One of the popular ways to play is through adventure maps. An adventure map in Minecraft is a quest to get from point A to point B, with certain restrictions to follow. Restrictions such as you can only explore the interior of the map, you cannot go into creative, you cannot break blocks unless you have this, and the list can go on.

I’m hoping to have my son and some of his friends do a treasure hunt in Mystery Snail 4. I will be giving them a small map that gives them a general view of the world, enough to let them get their bearings, but without revealing too many details. I don’t want them to know about the Terrifying Abyss, or the Stairs of Doom, or the Caverns of Calamity….!

Here is the original image of Mystery Snail 4 taken from the world-creation software, and then the new version in GIMP, which hides a lot of the features.

before after Mystery Snail 4 map


Close up

Mystery Snail 4 map for GIMP 3


Hey, another GIMP project to check off the list!


Two New GIMP Images

This is an homage to the Doctor Who Christmas Special (2014).

GIMP 4 FB version



and here is a “painted-over” version of a Minecraft screen shot.



Here’s a comparison of the original screen cap and what I did with it. There is a particular brush that looks like bunches of leaves, and another brush called “cloud”. I was surprised to find out that your ERASER could also take the shape of these brushes. Erasing with the leaf shape seemed to improve the tree a lot.





explain paint over screencap

One Hundred Images challenge

For 2015, I challenge myself to create 100 images using the software GIMP. I got an early start and I’m up to image 4.

I’m already starting to feel more at ease with the software, and excited about the things it can do. However, I still feel annoyed when I get stuck. There’s so many things I know how to do in Corel Painter Essentials that I can’t do in GIMP yet.


The background gradient and crescent moon layer are modified from a photo. The blackish vegetation is one of the “texture brushes”, using different sizes of the same brush. There’s 2 layers of vegetation, and I made the tree-ish things in the back layer more faded, using the “opacity” slider.



Just messing around with the different “brushes”! I wanted to try each one, but only got 2/3 of the way through the list before running out of room.



This started with a paisley background, which I found online (Google images “fabric + blue paisley”). To lighten up the left side I used the “dodge” tool, and darkened the right side with the “burn” tool. Then I selected an elliptical area and modified the color (hue, saturation and lightness).


GIMP — GNU image manipulation program

Horsetail Nebula has expanded from being a “Minecraft World Creation” blog: now it’s covering a broader range of topics. I have some posts on The Amazingly Weird World that’s Out There Already (Astronomy, Cosmology), examples of inspiring art that show Different Worlds, and discussions of software. Here’s a software discussion.

The software that I am learning about right now is called GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Software. Some people think it is approaching the level of a  replacement for Photoshop. It is free, and open source. “Free” you probably understand already, though I always have trouble understanding why people would offer complex software for free (how can it be as good as the expensive versions)? That’s a topic for another post. “Open source” means that if you know what you’re doing, you can get right into the guts of the program and create your own extra tools, called “plug-ins”. You can then make these plug-ins available to other people. GIMP has plug-ins that add extra tools to your tool kit. You don’t have to worry about them right off the bat, but might find them useful later.

I bought a how-to book about GIMP called Grokking the GIMP

Grokking the Gimp

…which has clear explanations and excellent pictures, but unfortunately was published in 2000. I like learning software step-by-step and have been looking for more recent tutorials. I found a website called Lynda.com which offers a series of lessons. I checked out some of the free lessons and was impressed with the professionalism of the tutor, the clarity, and the level of detail. I decided it would be worthwhile to pay the $25 and sign up for a month’s subscription. One advantage of this approach is that since I have paid the money and only have a month to use the materials, I have to get down to business and LEARN it (instead of putting the book on my shelf and saying “this looks like a great book!”.

I’ve done up to chapter 2.2 already and so far GIMP looks a lot like my beloved Corel Painter Essentials 4. But already I’ve seen some new variations of tools that I suppose I could have done in Painter Essentials, but it would have taken many steps.

Wish me luck on this educational adventure, and I’ll let you know at the end of the month if the subscription to Lynda.com was worth the money!