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Stellaris Dev Diary #230 – The Art of Aquatics Ships & the Drake

The art of Aquatics Ships and the Drake is a brand new type of combat for Stellaris players. Join us in this dev diary as we explore how these ships came about, what they offer to our spacefaring empires, and why you might want to use them yourself!

The “stellaris dev diary #225” is a blog post by Paradox Interactive. The post talks about the art of making aquatic ships and the Drake, which is an aquatic ship in Stellaris.

stellaris dev diary 230 the art of aquatics ships the drake - Stellaris Dev Diary #230 - The Art of Aquatics Ships & the Drake

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Due to the Reddit 20 image restriction, several photographs have to be deleted from this Dev Diary. All of the photographs may be found in the above-mentioned forum thread.

Pavel Golovii and David Strömblad Lindh collaborated on this piece.

Hello! My name is Pavel Golovii, and I’m a concept artist that worked on the Stellaris Aquatics Species Pack with the art team. From the viewpoint of a concept artist, I’ll discuss the process of designing ship designs. I’ll discuss the early thought process, inspiration, visual language, and establishing specific ship classes’ looks.



A concept artist’s job is to offer a clear visual depiction of game elements, which is sometimes based on hazy notions and descriptions. Our aim at this stage was to find a style for the aquatic ships and build a visual language that we could subsequently utilize to construct the full aquatic ship set while staying true to the Stellaris world. The concept art team’s major pivot points were stated by our art director, Simon Gunnarson. The ships’ design had to represent the aquatic and sentient origins of the race who developed them, but artists had to be careful not to go too literal (e.g. converting sea animals into a spaceship). We had to clearly convey that they were artificially manufactured while trying for non-traditional organic shapes. These words functioned as navigational aids, allowing us to explore with art in a wide open space.


It may be both exhilarating and daunting to begin a new idea work. As a first step, I attempt to learn more about the subject since it makes me feel more grounded and ready to begin. I got a head start since the undersea world concept was always a part of my interests and passions even before I joined the project. Being a seasoned diver and hobbyist underwater photographer provided me with a wealth of personal emotional experience, which I used to drive my art. Modern architects like Zaha Hadid and Santiago Calatrava have provided me with a lot of inspiration. Their work exemplifies how organic shape may be perceived as constructive aspects. Nature, of course, is an endless source of inspiration.


Many ship components, especially the titan’s bow cannon, were inspired by Ernst Haeckel’s Radiolaria illustrations (left). Organic form interpretation is well-represented in modern architecture and design (right).

Choosing a look

I start with large design elements and attempt to figure out what proportions, forms, and patterns might identify aquatic species’ ships. Will they be slender and sleek, or rounded and bulky? What connections does that specific shape elicit in the mind of the observer? Molluscoid creatures already exist in the game, and they are partly tied to the aquatic theme. As a result, it was vital that new designs be interpreted differently and that they did not use the same form language.

Mattias Larsson’s style exploratory drawings.

Smaller aspects must be investigated when it is determined that major forms and proportions are resolved and work well for the topic. This is similar to expanding the visual language that will be used to ‘write the full tale’ – all of the ship classes’ designs. Many features, such as windows, engines, and greebles, will be common throughout ship classes. This aids in the spread of style and improves scale perception. On both a battleship and a corvette, a feature that is interpreted as a viewport should be around the same size. As a result, testing how these pieces perform for various ship sizes is a critical step.


Pavel Golovii’s sketch sheet exhibits an examination of different aspects such as viewports as well as an effort to acquire a sense of size for small, medium, and big ships.

Pavel Golovii’s material and color investigation drawings.

Color and material investigations are the last but not least. At this point, I’m attempting to determine the materials that will be utilized to construct the ships. How would the main and secondary plating appear? What is the size of the area that a certain material will cover? What texture will that plating have, and how will it seem when placed next to another material? These are the kind of questions I need to address in my sketching. Concept artists and 3D artists collaborate closely here. Because the appearance of the materials is heavily influenced by the game engine, it’s a good idea to evaluate the possibilities and constraints from both an aesthetic and a technical standpoint.

3D artists Anton Hultdin (left) and Tim Wiberg (right) experiment with different materials (right).

The art director compiles all of the creative discoveries from the style creation stage into a style guide, which serves as a major but not exclusive reference for the following phase.

Classes of ship designs

Once the visual language has been established, the next step is to ‘tell the tale’ in that language – creating a construction design for each ship class. This is where each class should have its own appearance within a style, as well as extra rules and constraints. Ships are made up of a number of replaceable modules, each with its own set of gun mounts. All of this has to be considered now, with modules having smooth connections to one another and gun mounts having a specified set size.


Pavel Golovii’s cruiser idea. This is an ongoing project that displays all module designs. Seams between modules are shown by orange lines. The corvette sketches (left) are there to keep size perception in check.

Each ship class has its own distinct features, which must be reflected in its design. The agile corvette is distinguished from the massive titan not only in terms of size, but also in terms of dimensions, profile, and distinctive characteristics. Proportions and silhouettes are the first things a spectator notices, particularly when looking at a ship from afar, as is the case with Stellaris. As a result, it’s critical to make a differentiation at this level. Some features may help distinguish a spacecraft from others in its class and reveal more about its mission.


Mattias Larsson’s rotating circular element, originally planned for the scientific ship (center), became a defining characteristic of various science-related constructions such as the research station (left, by Pavel Golovii) and the science module of the starbase (right, by Anna Windseth).

Because of the subject, marine life themes were employed in the design of several aspects. The difficult aspect of the task is to do it in a delicate, balanced manner that evokes a specific connection in the spectator without being overbearing. It’s OK to design a titan ship that resembles a large whale shark, but it shouldn’t appear like one, and it should maintain the impression that the ship was built rather than grown organically. Without overtly expressing the relationship, a viewer should be able to read that on some subconscious level.


Whale shark and manta ray themes were incorporated in the early designs for the titan ship class. The front cannon of the Titan was given a new appearance throughout the process, but the’manta’ theme was retained for the construction ship design (the leftmost image). Pavel Golovii’s sketches

A concept artist’s job include not just imagining how things may seem, but also figuring out how they might operate. With tentacles as its most notable feature, the aquatic colossus class design is highly ambitious. The physics of the tentacles, how they bend and pull out, have taken a lot of time and work to figure out. A 3D model was developed and animated to demonstrate the mechanics. Also, since colossus is expected to have complex special effects, drawings of them were included in the concept sheet as a starting point for our VFX artist.

Mattias Larsson designed the colossus class ship. The idea sheet includes VFX concepts as well as a full explanation of the tentacle design (lower right corner).


Tentacle mechanics shown in 3D software. Mattias Larsson and Hanna Johansson collaborated on this project.

It’s not just about ships.

Ships, like people, are arguably important players in the Stellaris game. However, the populated area of the game’s world is littered with immobile man-made things, such as space stations, which play a significant role as well. They may be considered direct successors of the ship in terms of design, since they share a lot of the same features and have the same aesthetic. Station development, on the other hand, has its own quirks. These are stationary objects circling a planet or star, which must be reflected in their proportions and form, which is more weighted toward the center and not directed in any direction. In addition, certain station types have a layout that varies and becomes more intricate when modules with diverse functions are added.



Is there anything left when the idea is finished?

The design is then handed on to 3D artists for modeling, texturing, and material setup once it has been approved by the art director. This might be an artist employed by an outsourcing firm. When a concept artist is unable to speak directly with a 3D artist, the idea sheet should be as precise as possible to reduce the risk of misunderstanding and further criticism. When the ship is planned for manufacturing within the Paradox studio, things are a little different. This allows a concept artist to immediately engage with a 3D artist by offering immediate feedback and any extra information that may be requested. As a result, a concept artist may be more flexible with his depiction and details.

Abraham Gomez created the model.

A concept artist for the titan ship was asked to execute a top-down sketch and paintover of the stern region.

There’s a lot more to say about the ship design process, but it’s beyond the scope of this diary piece. I hope you found the reading interesting, and that you will appreciate the ship designs in the future Aquatic species pack! Here are a few more ideas to help you pass the time till the pack is available.

Pavel Golovii’s battleship idea.

Mattias Larsson created the Juggernaut idea.


The Aquatic Dragon as a Model

My name is David Strömblad Lindh, and after finishing my internship at Paradox Development Studio, I just joined the Stellaris 3D art team.

My original goal was to re-skin the texture set for an existing dragon. Instead, our art producer had the bright idea of forming a small squad to work with the dragon, a type of strike force made up of artists and game designers from all disciplines. Bringing individuals with diverse talents together early on to work closely resulted in improved communication and a smaller gap between responsibilities.


My work began concurrently with the concept artist’s participation in a little pre-production. We’re pushing the limits of what our engine can do, and we’re putting concepts in the game to see what constraints we have with shading and lighting. Then, in 3D, sketch out concepts with the thought that anything may be scrapped to avoid devoting too much work to any one aspect. In complete 3D, what works on a flat 2D design may not function.

We began with what we already knew about the Aquatic artstyle and combined it with the dragon’s mythology to come up with a concept for how the dragon should appear. We intended to create a godlike dragon from an other galaxy. It must be an integral element of the system in which it exists.


It’s safe to spend extra time on completing the silhouette and adding details after the idea has been accepted. It may be intimidating to start with a blank canvas, and 3D sculpting is no different when attempting to add age and weathering to a baby smooth model. To get around this, I looked through old material designer files from prior projects for heightmaps I could project onto the dragon’s shielding surface. It doesn’t have to be flawless, but it’s a good starting point for adding extra information.


(1) Highpoly sculpt with ready-to-use topology for further details. (2) Add medium-sized details to the sculpt. (3) Lowpoly model with baked highpoly information and additional features. (4) Finished textured model with VFX placeholder.

It’s crucial to obtain a sense of how the final result will appear, which is why a model should be included to the game as soon as feasible. Even if it’s only a rough sketch of a lowpoly model with inadequately baked textures, you’ll get a sense of how the game’s lightning will effect it. From there, it’s simple to keep iterating on the model while exporting and assessing the game’s modifications. That way, you don’t waste time working on a model just to find out later that it doesn’t function.



It’s more crucial than ever while working from home to break your personal vacuum and interact with the rest of the company. I want to work closely with the VFX artist and animator who will continue the job after me, much as I did with the concept artist. As a result, rather of creating something that will make their task more difficult, I prepare the model to make it simpler for them.

Working as a 3D artist on Stellaris is intriguing because of this kind of job. I’m not only building ship after ship, but I’m also being pushed to do things I’m not used to.


See you all next week, when we’ll go through the creative process for the aquatic portraits in further detail.

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This is the last Dev Diary of the year. We will be taking a look at some of the ships in Stellaris and what they can do, as well as how to make them look good. Reference: stellaris dev diary 224.

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