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From Digital To Reality: Bringing a Low Definition Model into a High Definition World

Have you ever bought a collectible from a movie, took it home, torn it open with complete excitement… only to realize it just doesn’t exactly match what you had seen in the film? I mean, it captures the overall look and feel but it’s not exactly right, the color is off and the detail is not right here and there...ever wonder why that happens?

We have too. It actually plays a major part in our design process and our quest to capture all of the accuracy possible!

Interpretation can be a huge sticking point when we create props, kits or costume replicas that originally only existed in digital form. Let's look at the Clone Trooper helmet as a great example of when reality diverges from what was seen on screen.

When the digital models used in the film were delivered to us, there were certain details that appeared to be missing from the basic 3D geometric map. It became apparent that additional details were layered on top of the basic form in later stages of the visual graphics process. Thus we had a unique situation. We had a great form to work with, but we would need to account for the missing details seen in the finished film.

Continuing our ongoing series on ANOVOS’s replica making process and the unique challenges each new project can present, this segment will focus on the art of taking given assets from the official archives and combining them with some good old fashioned reference pics.

  1. How to tackle the digital conundrum of taking a model created in earlier versions of CGI technology and bringing it into the newest iterations of that technology.
  2. Using the final results in the film as reference to bridge the gap, via the use of image captures.
The Digital Model Conundrum: 2003 was an amazing time to utilize digital technology to create out of this world, immense battle scenes on screen without having to deal with physical limitations. That amazement was tempered by the reality of just how far digital technology has come, particularly when factoring in the “engineered obsolescence” of the technology that had generated those effects in 2004-2005.

This hit home when we received the nearly two decade old digital assets. The resolution on the models were considered low by current standards, and would have to be reworked.

Imagine, if you will, watching a film on an older television… playing back something on VHS. For the time that the technology was first introduced, it was considered “cutting edge”. Try playing a VHS tape on a high-definition television, and you wouldn’t be able to do it. Why? Simply put, our perception of quality has changed, and we now need to have every detail sharper, clear, and vibrant.

Helmet model comparisons. Click image to enlarge. Original model vs. the remastered model.

The same effect transpired here: The files we were given would need to be smoothed, reworked and perfected in some way before we could move on.
Essentially, we ran into the problem of restoration. There were two paths we could take:
  1. Do we 3D print the model that we were given, using that as a base to hand-build a prototype in traditional media?  
  2. Do we digitally re-model the helmet first (using the original model as a basic foundation to build up from), and then 3D print a prototype closer to our ideal?
We ultimately chose option #2, reasoning that option #1 would only risk the possibility of taking material away and increase the variability for accuracy mistakes.

Referencing the Film Itself: So, there’s a term for this… and it’s called “screenshots”. This is every prop and costume maker’s old friend, particularly in the absence of an actual, physical item to reference. (As we said in our previous blog, no Clone Trooper helmets were ever physically built for the films.) If you’re a hobbyist, I’m sure you have the same fond memories we do of inexorably crawling step-by-step, frame-by-frame, through a film or episode just so you can nail that one tiny detail that’s only on screen for a flash. It becomes a personal Holy Grail—a hallmark of accomplishment and distinction that separates our piece from others that have been built previously.

Seeing as our digital models were missing some nuanced details, we decided to take it old school and do just the same. We painstakingly reviewed the footage repeatedly, documenting and analyzing every detail possible. Once we had thoroughly debated the ‘true’ final design on the helmet, we went ahead and digitally sculpted the missing details back into our base helmet. There are times where the “old ways” are still the best ways, nostalgia notwithstanding.

One such feature is what we have affectionately called the “butter cup”, which is in the center back of the helmet. If you’re familiar with peanut butter cups, particularly those in distinctive orange wrappers, you’ll see why as evidenced in the screen captures below.

Click image to enlarge. Note the horizontal lines near the bottom of the "butter cup".

Closer up on another helmet.

Taking everything into consideration, we felt that the combination of these two methods produced the most accurate physical representation of the helmet that’s ever existed, even though it never really… “existed” at all. The screen-used digital models allowed us to capture the much-needed contouring and shape of the helmet, while the step by step hi-resolution screenshots allowed us identify details that needed to be built into the model.

Click to enlarge. Note the horizontal ridges in the "butter cup" that were included in our sculpt.

All together, this was a great challenge to encounter early on in the development of our helmet, prop and kit program. It definitely taught us to not rely on a single source of information regardless of how enticing and official the channel. We learned a lot from this project and I’m happy to say it was well worth the long-term improvements to our program.

We’re continuing to push our efforts farther and farther and we have no intention of slowing down. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this little look into our process—if you did, let us know by leaving a comment below!

Anovos Productions LLC March 12, 2019 0 tags (show)



John said:

Yes nice pice very clean mask now i like the butter cup too..

A Visual FX Artist

A Visual FX Artist said:

This is awesome, for years since you guys have done star wars I’ve been hoping for the clone troopers to be brought into your beautiful line of products. This is truly the first step into a larger universe for the company and I can’t wait to see what more Anovos can do with the prequels and the amazing creative vibrancy those films brought to screen. A lot of content to bring to life. Awesome job guys, cant’ wait.

Bernie Mendoza

Bernie Mendoza said:

I want one


Gary said:

I appreciate these looks into the research and design phases of the products. Keep them coming.

Steven Dodds

Steven Dodds said:


You didn’t mention if you got some of the shaders and textures to also help sort out details.

Steve Day

Steve Day said:

In the screenshots of the Reese’s cup piece, to me the upper half has a ~2mm smooth rim without any creases.

Of course, the perceived details on the Reese’s cup could just be entirely a result of the rendering engine not smoothing those sidewalls properly! (The 3D modeler may have even forgotten to toggle the polygon smoothing option on for that piece.)


Angel said:

Will you ever make phase 1 clone trooper and a clean version of phase 2 helmet?

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