The Birth of the Stratoglider

14.7.2008· Autor: Milan Soukup· Přidat komentář

This illustration is a job I did for the Czech magazine VTM Science. The illustration was featured on the cover as well as being the main illustration for one of the articles inside. The article dealt with the Czech super glider project named ICADA whose goal is pretty ambitious: to fly the glider around the world. The glider has no engine and once it is airborn it will not land until it has reached its final landing site. In this tutorial I will not only focus on showing images illustrating the making of this illustration in C4D but rather show you how the project was approached and shaped as I find this to be more interesting,


How it Started

The  editorial staff of VTM Science magazine one day received a very interesting call from a Mr. Vladislav Zejda, a well known Czech glider expert. Mr. Zejda explained that they were planning a flight around the world in a specially designed glider and perhaps this would make an interesting article? Of course it would! But as the Stratoglider, as it was called, wasn’t yet built there were no photographs available to go with the article. The VTM Science magazine was familiar with my 3D hobby and thus I was given the job.

Blueprints and Sources

I quickly realized that this will be a difficult task. The ICADA team knew they needed some advertising and promotion material but their project was still very confidential.  Another factor was that there are separate teams working on the same idea worldwide, icluding one team headed by the missing Steve Fossett.

I did find out one thing for sure: the glider must be able to fly up to 30.000 meters and that it would not be constructed by the famous Burt Rutan, who constructed the GlobalFlyer and SpaceShip One.

What I didn’t tell anyone is that I actually have an education in aircraft design and so I started with my own construction that would work for this task. I prepared and did a preliminary sketch.


There is an absolutely amazing online resource I always use called There I found plenty of plane references and I used them for construction details and so on.



I was for example inspired by the construction of certain wing tips, I studied landing systems, I found that gliders can use a solar energy system for power supply and that gliders can land on water :-)

First Draft

When I had a working blueprint I drew all my curves in Illustrator and imported them into Cinema where I constructed a basic model.



I added some details and basic materials, set up a few lights and above you can see the first illustration of the Stratoglider project. Some details were added in Photoshop.

This illustration was not for the magazine, however, it was for the ICADA members only and was to serve as a starting point for our next brainstorming meeting on the final look of the Stratoglider (it was a bit of a strange situation: they knew what the Stratoglider looked like but they couldn’t share that information with me!).

A New Look

This first image of the Stratoglider was very successful and was approved by Mr. Zejda and he gave me a three hour long presentation on the project. I learned that they have very few concepts of the project, that the plane will have an emergency power engine (powered by solar energy), it will have a crew of two, as well as other interesting information. The first pilot will be Hana Zedjdová, Vladislav Zejda’s daughter. She is a skilled glider pilot and holds quite a few records. The second crew member was yet to be decided but it will be a woman.


The editors of VTM Science selected two concepts from this brainstorming: a more elegant concept for the article and a somewhat crazy concept for the cover.

Second Concept

The second concept-phase really was quite different from the first so I created a new set of splines in Illustrator and imported to Cinema 4D and there I modeled the basic shape of my second glider.


A few updates later my new concept was approved.


Cutting and Slicing

Now it was time for the modeling part. I needed to add a lot of details because there would be quite a few renders, including one with x-ray view.


I cut out a section from the model to shape the cockpit and canopy.


I modeled the major interior parts.


Including the landing gear.


The rudders are fully functional and could be animated if needed. I cut them from static parts and used it on other parts as well (elevators, ailerons, etc.).


The final model without materials but as you can see there are many areas of the model that are exposed.


All materials and textures were really simple and I mostly used very basic materials without any UV projection.


I used flat projection for the ICADA logos, flags, plane codes and so on. All of these textures were created in Photoshop.

But there was one area were I did use UV-mapping: the solar panels on the wings. For this reason only I UV-edited the upper part of the wings.

The Pilots

I started the work on the pilots independently of the work on the airplane, before I knew how they would react on my first glider project. Once again I my first step was to find references. Via Google I found some pictures of superglider pilots on, a site for the US Air Force. Other pictures I found on the website of one of one of the ICADA projects competitors, the Perlan project: But these references weren’t enough, I needed more so I expanded my search to include Launch and Entry Suits worn by US astronauts for space travel as these were very close to to what I needed. For face references I used photos from

Reference astronauta


The first step was to model a body or a suit. The second step was to model a head and the third step was to unite the two separate parts. Hair, eyes, helmet, visor and other parts were modeled as separate objects. This suited me very well as I could freely combine all poses and states of the pilot whenever I needed them (pilot with and without helmet, pilot with visor opened and visor closed and so on).

Modelování astronautky

The next step was texturing. Unlike the airplane model the pilot is completely UV-mapped.

Textury postavy

For the color and specular textures I used BodyPaint 3D and Adobe Photoshop. The resolution of all these textures is 2048 x 2048 pixels.

Textury hlavy

A head texture size has resolution 1024 x 1024 px. I have all head parts in on one texture (head itself, eyes, hair). I did a Color and Specular textures again, normal mas and alpha. I used a CrazyBump generator for normal maps creating (from Color maps).

The head texture is 1024 x 1024 pixels. All parts of the head (head, eyes, hair, etc) were placed on one texture. The complete head has color and specular maps as well as normal and alpha maps. I used CrazyBump to generate the normal map based on the color map.

 Textury přilby

For the helmet I only needed a color and alpha map. Also these textures were 1024 x 1024 pixels. After the suit and head were completed I created a basic skeleton so I could rig the pilot for better control and with that the pilots was basically done.

Final pose, Lighting and Rendering

The first step in this part of the process was the background image. For this project it was much more convinient to use a commercial image rather than creating a new unique one. This is beacause the owners of VTM Science, a Mafra company, purchase several hundreds of photos every month.

But nothing is ever easy – the editors of VTM have final say of what I do and how the image is composited so in the end it was a joint effort, where the editors of VTM and me decided on the following image.

Obrázek pozadí z fotobanky

Using several images of clouds I created a full panorama in Photoshop.

Obrázek prostředí

In CINEMA 4D I mapped the image on a Background object and positioned the camera so it aligned with the horizon.

The final render size had to match the size of the magazine which is almost full A4-size. To mask off the correct sized I used spline rectangles to create a sort of preview of how the cover would look with all headlines and text in place.

The lighting setup is very basic. I used one parallel light positioned roughly where the sun is in the background image. I had to place this light slightly higher as the real sun was too close to the horizon to provide realistic lighting for the plane. The rest of the setup was simply a Sky object with my panorama image mapped on it and Global Illumation activated.

With this I was ready for the final part, placing of the glider with crew.

Finální scéna

I rendered in multipasses with pretty high resolution (4000 x 4000 pixels). The passes I rendered were RGBa, Shadows, Illumination, Speculars, Reflections, CI and Alpha but in the end I only needed four passes: Color, Specular, Reflection and Alpha.

Render - Multipass


My first action in the postprocess was to apply the Lens Correction filter in Photoshop. I used this filter as I wanted a natural look of the plane and with natural lens deformations, something close to the effects produced by classical cameras. Keep in mind that a glider has a wingspan close to 40 meters and the complete glider would probably be a difficult task for a standard camera lens to capture without some distortion.

Vrstvy finálního renderu ve Photoshopu

Next I discovered that it would be better to keep the original picture as background. I adjusted the brightness of the glider with a Curves adjustment layer, duplicated it on a separate layer, blurred it slightly and set its mode to Hard Light. This added some extra contrast to my image and also softened the edges. Finally I added a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and using the layer’s alpha mask I adjusted the color of the glider as well as brightened the interior of the cockpit. I also increased the „cover“ of the reflection layer for nicer reflections.

The white overexposed areas were painted directly on the Specular layer using a standard brush.

The very last step was to add some lens flares to indicate the small position lights.

And that’s it!

Finální obrázek

I hope you enjoyed this „making of“ as well as the ICADA project itself.

Best regards – Milan Soukup (aka Elektronek)

VTM science magazine home page

Anders Kjellberg
Pavel Zoch (aka pzdm)

Milan Soukup Do r. 2004 DTP operátor v reklamní agentuře, 2005 - 2007 2D a 3D grafik na volné noze. Od r. 2008 zaměstnán u herního vydavatele CD Projekt, coby DTP operátor. Příležitostně dělá 3D grafiku převážně pro časopis VTM Science.

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