FlyByWire have uploaded a new video to their YouTube channel in which Mike, lead texture artist on the A380X project, takes us on a detailed tour of the work that has gone into creating a detailed 3D model of the plane and the high-resolution textures to go with it.
In the video, Mike describes the attention to detail in the aircraft as ‘second to none’. In our previous reporting and following conversations with the team at FlyByWire, we revealed that admittedly visuals on the A32NX project were of a ‘low priority in order to make way for the A380X. This video shows us for the first time in significant detail what we can expect to see in the exciting new double-decker freeware jet headed for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
The first thing that Mike explains to us is that the team agreed early in development that they wanted a 1-to-1 resolution scale for everything in the cockpit. This means that you wouldn’t see a highly detailed and textured knob placed onto a panel whose texture was warped or obviously not as detailed. Instead, we can expect to see very high resolution textures on every surface in the flight deck.
Mike explains this in the video to mean that, if you were to lay out a grid evenly across the cockpit, then each individual square would be the same texture resolution as every other square. In doing this, the user is more immersed in the cockpit. He also adds that the team have taken the time to ensure that the resolution scale on UV maps are normalised on every texture set in the flight deck.
Made in Blender
Mike goes on to tell us how the 3D model of the cockpit was actually put together in Blender. The software contains modifiers which have allowed the designers too, for instance, add consistent curves to things like buttons and knobs, which are then visible in the simulator. Mike says the team have paid “very close attention to the geometry of the cockpit”, giving the example of how the glare shield curves slightly differently on the left side and the right side.
Mike describes the textures in the A380X as “his best work” and the culmination of everything he has learned as an artist, revealing that he has spent about 3000 hours working on the A380X project so far with no intention of slowing down. That work is evident in the visual detail we can see in the textures – from the light fraying of the material we can see on the seats to the little ridges in the cushioned armrest which are only really visible in the correct lighting conditions.
The textures we see on the A380X are not a single coloured image, but rather multiple layers that have been placed atop one another in order to create a greater sense of depth and wear. In the MSFS SDK, these layers are compiled in channels, which Mike explains before showing us what he regards as the most important channel, the ambient occlusion channel. This channel is responsible for providing the information on how light should interact with a texture, and it determines the colours and the hues of each colour in different configurations of sunlight. Mike reveals that the ambient occlusion map has taken the most amount of work, saying it is one of the areas where if it isn’t done right, it can “make a super nice model look awful”.
Mike then shows us another of these channels, the detail or ‘roughness’ map, which is responsible for all the little bits of wear and tear which we see around the cockpit from sustained usage.
We get to see a close-up of the palm rest controller, which has wear markings and fingerprints in all of the areas where you would expect a human hand to be in continual contact. Mike also explains that various buttons have additional levels of roughness corresponding to how much they would be used in normal operations and the number of times that the pilots would press on them.
Mike goes onto show us some of the reference photos the team have been using to compile the textures. Divulging from the news for a minute, at first I wasn’t immediately able to even tell this was a reference image and assumed I was still looking at the 3D cockpit model – the details are so accurately modelled! Mike tells us that these reference images are 45 megapixels, giving the team a close up look at just how dirty the A380’s flight deck really is. All of this has coallesced into the model we are seeing in the video.
Mike goes onto reveal that, following community requests, FlyByWire have actually also developed a texture set for a factory fresh A380 with none of the wear and grime we’ve seen covered already. Mike suggests that this could be used should the user wish to simulate factory flights, and hopes that these textures can be attached to livery choices.
Mike says that the exterior has the same level of detail applied to it. From what we can see, he is right about that assessment. The famous aileron dance is present, although Mike remarks the flight controls are “being worked on”. He also goes a little deeper into the modelling of other systems behaviours, telling us that engine wobbling has been modelled and the flight controls are all independently and physically simulated for our flying pleasure.
Finally Mike signs off with a call to action for anyone with experience of modelling to consider joining the FlyByWire team and offer their skills to the project. He also says that 2023 “will be a fun year full of progress”, although based on everything we have seen in the video it would be wise to assume the aircraft is getting pretty near completion.
Finally, there is a nod to the sounds included in the A380, who are being worked on by Boris Audio Works, who also recently released a sound pack for the Cessna 172. Although you will have to watch the video for yourself to hear the incredible noises that come from 4 Rolls-Royce Trent 900s roaring down the runway
FSElite will continue to bring you all of the latest A380X news as we receive it!