World Building and Blender - When a Picture Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words

A few weeks ago, I was spending a quiet Saturday morning in my cosy basement office outlining for a new story, but I was running into a brick wall. I decided to go upstairs for fresh coffee. My daughter was in the great room, building a tower with her construct-a-blocks and I did a double take. She had made a three foot high structure, straight on one side, rough and irregular on the other. It had a windswept kind of look and I stood there looking at it, feeling as if there was something on the tip of my brain. I grabbed an old pad of company notepaper (from my engineering days) and a sharpie and started sketching. The image was rough at first, but I kept adding in detail, based on my daughter's structure until she came over.
"You need a crayon," she muttered, wandering off. She came back with a dark blue and I ghosted in a hint of color for her sake, before deciding that the area in question might be actual glazing, rather than graphene panels.

World Building and Blender - When a Picture Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words

So now I had an example of alien architecture. I stuck it on the fridge and started getting a coffee ready. While I waited for the milk to heat, I stared at the picture and started asking myself questions about Lychensee (the planetary capital of Weirfall). Has their environment been damaged after centuries of industrial growth? Do their structures need protection against the prevailing winds? Perhaps the environment is no longer able to support the indigenous wildlife requiring that the top of each arcology or mega-structure be set aside as a wildlife preserve.

The milk had gone cold.
While I waited for the milk to reheat, I gave more thought to the wildlife on Weirfall. If their chief habitat was now indoors (and several hundred levels above ground level), they would need some way to travel from one structure to the next or the gene pool would suffer. I decided on pedways. They would need to be high enough to encourage birds to fly through, and wide enough to allow for streams and green space.
World Building and Blender - When a Picture Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Would the old city still exist? If cities on Earth grew to such extremes, we would likely make every effort to preserve the existing architecture, but how do you build a massive arcology over an older city? I could put them on pilings, but they'd have to be pretty massive. Would concrete do the job? I've managed high-rise construction and I've poured my fair share of 80 MPA concrete, but I didn't think it would be up to the job. The strength to weight ratio just doesn't work out.
So what about carbon? Weirfall is known for the production of carbon ships hulls. They mine several nearby carbon giants so they would have the necessary expertise and raw materials to build strong, lightweight buildings. So now I had a new city, supported by massive carbon pilings, with light bouncing down the glazed surfaces to the old city below.
World Building and Blender - When a Picture Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Hmmm... Without direct sunlight, the trees in the old city would probably be in a state of perpetual autumn. Chlorophyll is very common in our own terrestrial plants, but we have a lot more sunlight. The emphasis down in the old city would have to swing towards the accessory pigments.
Then I came back to the pilings that hold the new city above the old. It seemed like the best place for a fringe society to spring up. Metaphorically, it seemed like a good middle ground between two very different ways of life, and I could imagine a haphazard network of structures encrusting the gigantic columns like barnacles. These fringe communities would be fertile ground for new ideas. This could be pivotal.
World Building and Blender - When a Picture Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words

I gave up on the coffee.
I went back downstairs and put a couple of hours into modeling the city using Blender. I have a strong background in CAD programs, so I was unable to resist this free, open-source program that could run on my laptop and still provide a decent render. There are other programs out there, but the Blender community is very supportive. There are so many artists posting free tutorials that I never get stuck for long on a technical detail. As I went into Zen mode, arranging the geometry of the new city, my mind started to generate scenes based on what I was creating.
By the time I had a final render, I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to take the story. It struck me that this was a part of the 'research' phase that often gets skipped in my genre. As a science fiction writer, I can't book a trip to my settings to 'get the flavor' like a mystery or thriller writer can. My settings tend to be completely imaginary, but if I create the environment in a 3D design program, I can move through my settings and imagine the sights, smells and sounds.
Now that I've been to Weirfall, I can finally get the story going.
This is a case of a picture being worth far more than a thousand words. That simple starting image has led me to questions that I otherwise may not have bothered to ask. Answering all those questions has lent depth to the setting and impacted the flow of the story in countless ways. Though my final, rendered image has been valuable in the process of world building, most of the credit has to go to my daughter. Without her innovative flair for tower construction, I might still be scratching my head instead of writing.
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