The makers of Deep Angel use the Internet and a high-tech hook to fuel a futuristic fantasy
By Jenny Donelan
At its simplest level, Deep Angel is a story about a man, a woman, a world at war, and a very fancy submarine. It's a story that could be made into a movie, a television show, a computer game, or a series of online animated episodes, but it hasn't been made into any of these—yet. What Deep Angel currently consists of, besides the premise, is a well-designed Web site with some attractive 3D models both human and mechanical, and a futuristic hook. However, Deep Angel's creators, Kacper and Krzys Kotwicki of k26 Design Group, have big plans for the property.
The story takes place in the year 2078. Giant city-states made of rock and steel drift across the earth's oceans. Many of these floating nations are at war with each other, and a principal player is the Kalithan Empire, which has been busy overtaking city-states in the Pacific. The only thing standing between the Empire and total world domination is the US Navy—and its state-of-the-art vessels.
A key aspect of this conflict at sea is the emergence of crafts that use an advanced, "supercavitational" technology to travel beneath the waves at extremely high speeds. Underwater dogfights are now possible; in fact, the Kotwicki brothers describe Deep Angel as "Top Gun under water." As the story unfolds, the Navy has just unveiled the USS Angelus (aka Deep Angel), its first supercavitating carrier, which is capable of traveling at ultra-high speed both on and under the water. Charged with helping to defend the Pacific aboard the revolutionary craft are Lieutenants Ryan Hunter and Sarah Summer.
Central to Deep Angel's identity is supercavitation, a real, though still somewhat far-off-in-the-future technology that is currently a hot topic among scientists and military personnel. It's a solution to a problem that has existed ever since early humans shoved off in the first water-borne craft—namely, that friction slows down objects in water. Or, as we learned as children, you can run faster on the ground with your legs moving through air than you can when you're waist-deep in a lake. Supercavitation solves this problem by enveloping an underwater vessel—such as a torpedo or a submarine—in a bubble of air that allows a craft to zip through the water with virtually no friction.
|Images courtesy k26 Design Group.
|Deep Angel is a sci-fi drama with heroes such as the US.Navy's Lieutenant Ryan Hunter (top); villains like the Kalithan Empire's marines (second from top); and a supercavitation vessel that can maneuver below (third) and above the sea (bottom).
That's the theory, anyway. Getting supercavitation to work isn't simple, though at least one piece of machinery, the Russian Shkval torpedo, is based partly on this technology. A Scientific American article about supercavitation ("Warp Drive Un-derwater," May 2001) also cited a possible connection between the accident that destroyed the Russian submarine Kursk and the testing of high-speed, supercavitating torpedoes.
By the time our story takes place, however, these sorts of technical difficulties have been hashed out. The USS Angelus is equipped with transducers that create a lubricating strip of air between her hull and the water, so that she flies along both above and below the ocean at thousands of miles per hour without ever actually getting wet.
The USS Angelus and the other 3D images on the Deep Angel Web site (www.deepangel.com) are modeled in NewTek's LightWave. The site includes the human characters, who are attractive, buff, and garbed in the kind of skin-tight clothing that is presumably necessary in the cramped quarters of a late 21st-century submarine. But the real eye candy isn't the people—it's the machines. The brothers have crafted entire fleets of highly detailed vessels belonging to both the US Navy and its foes. There are the S/A-15 Hurricanes, Special Operations Fireblades, S-16 Vipers, and a host of others.
After building the models from concept drawings, the Kotwickis texture them using Adobe Systems' Photoshop, then insert the models into 3D and 2D scenes. They haven't yet completed Deep Angel animations with all the characters, dialog, and scenery that would make the property ready for public consumption. But they have created animations of supercavitation in action, and this process has been both a boon and an obstacle for the Kotwickis.
On the plus side, general curiosity about how the technology works has helped gain them exposure. They created an animation showing supercavitation that aired on the PBS science and technology show Springboard: Exploring the Digital Age in an episode titled "The Future of War." And they are currently finishing up supercavitation animations for a program scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel later this year. "It's fair to say that hurtling underwater at thousands of miles per hour is counterintuitive, and many people are curious as to what it would look like," says Kacper Kotwicki. "To this end, 3D animations help greatly."
But animating a speeding craft that's interacting with water in an unusual way, while also making it physically plausible and realistic-looking, isn't that easy, says Kotwicki, noting that huge render times are required to handle all the necessary particle effects. Until recently, they were creating those particle effects and renders in LightWave but are currently in the process of migrating to Alias|.Wavefront's Maya. The latter, notes Kotwicki, is more suited to producing the kinds of bubbles and splashes that this particular project requires. The long render times, added to the usual difficulties of creating a large-scale 3D animated property while holding down day jobs (the Kotwickis are commercial artists) has made Deep Angel's progress slower than its creators would like. But they are banking on the novelty of supercavitation and the accessibility of the Web to pique the public's interest in the submarine saga.
The Kotwickis had already decided to create a story based on their interests in naval and aviation technology when they discovered supercavitation. They were looking for a credible way to make underwater objects travel at high speed and "we wanted a hyperkinetic environment for Deep Angel," says Kotwicki. "Supercavitation fit perfectly. We were then able to adapt the technology and extract a unique futuristic vision from it."
|Human models such as Lieutenant Hunter were modeled primarily in LightWave software.
People old enough to remember television shows from the 1960s may note that Deep Angel bears a superficial resemblance to Gerry Anderson's "supermarionation" sci-fi series of the period, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and The Thunderbirds. In both shows, as in Deep Angel, military personnel and the high-powered crafts they operate share about equal billing. And all are 3D, though in the case of the older shows, the effect is achieved through filmed marionettes. Deep Angel's creators don't claim these programs as inspiration, however, citing instead Japanese anime, and films by James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. "At the end of the day," says Kotwicki, "we're storytellers with pictures in our heads, trying to get them out as vividly as possible."
|The USS.Angelus (foreground) does battle with various enemy vessels from the evil Kalithan Empire.
Plans for the future include a Deep Angel game, which the brothers hope to have ready by late 2004 or early 2005, and eventually a television series or even a feature film. Short-term plans include finishing an animation trailer that can be posted on the Web site, then possibly a series of trailers. So far, even the static images and the accompanying text on the Web site have generated quite a bit of interest, according to Kotwicki. "For people wanting to get their vision out there without much start-up capital, the Web has proved excellent," he says. "We get a lot of positive feedback, which always pushes us to work harder. The Deep Angel concept naturally resonates with young sci-fi fans, but we also hear from people in all walks of life, and we've been visited by military and government officials from various countries."
The task that Kacper and Krzys Kotwicki confront is similar to that faced by naval designers the world over. The latter must figure out how to make objects move through the water faster; the former must make objects look like they're moving through the water faster. Says Kotwicki, "Sometimes we think it would be much simpler if we set the story in space—but that's been done before."
Jenny Donelan is a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.