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Creating a realistic spaceship airlock

Creating a spaceship airlock

This sterile spaceship was inspired by surgical equipment

When you want to learn to draw (opens in new tab) a specific environment like an airlock from scratch, a key thing to remember is that it isn't going to be a standalone piece. It's part of a larger vehicle or environment, so this drawing tutorial (opens in new tab) shows that you need to consider not just the airlock's design, but how it fits in with your location's construction and purpose.

The airlock acts as both a passageway and a safety feature, so it needs to look like something that can be used by individuals, but also something that has a lot of visual density.

I like to focus on shapes early on in the design to convey the heaviness and bulk of the door, something that can withstand the pressure difference. Material choices are key, not just for function, but also to match your settlement or ship.

Material choices are key, not just for function, but also to match your settlement or ship

A docking station is likely to see a lot of back and forth, reflected in additional wear and tear. Whereas an outpost with a skeleton crew of scientists is going to be a lot cleaner and more sterile.

I pay special attention to readability, not just in the visuals but also in the elements in the scene. Most people aren't familiar with airlocks, so I need to convey the use of the surrounding equipment with simple and clear ideas.

Any aesthetic complexity comes from tailoring the scene to feel more technologically advanced. In this piece,
I want to create a scientific module, as part of a larger habitat – just one of many outposts in the galaxy.

01. Setting the scene

Creating a spaceship airlock

Characters were used in the thumbnail to create a sense of scale

Create thumbnails to establish design direction. Focus on big, bold shapes to establish your overall shape language. I want chose to show the airlock from the interior, to hint at its operation. Using line work will force you to resolve any design issues. Relying too much on photo reference at the sketch stage may act as a crutch for an unstable foundation.

02. Finalising the design

Creating a spaceship airlock

The equipment is built with crew members in mind

I've set up a 3D base with some minor paint and photo elements to refine as I progress. This helps me to discover and establish opportunities to improve the design. The idea here is to find a unique theme by spending a bit more time on one component. Once I'm happy with that component, I'll apply the same approach to the rest of the scene.

03. Lighting and details

Creating a spaceship airlock

The spacesuit is a clever way of establishing scale

I make another quick pass to ensure the design of each feature is clear and readable. More emphasis is placed on graphical design and user interface design – this needs to feel like a coherent, functional space. Once I'm satisfied that form follows function, I begin to work on refinement, tweaking the lighting and adding atmosphere.

This article was originally published in ImagineFX (opens in new tab) magazine issue 132.

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Marcel has been working as a concept designer for over two years, mainly favouring subject matter such as sci-fi vehicles, environments and prop design.