Imperial Japanese Navy

3D Renderings

J. Ed Low

Editor's Note: Ed Low, 48, is a research scientist with a doctoral degree in pharmacology. He presently works for a major pharmaceutical company doing R & D. His interest in ships dates from the 1960s when he resided in Hong Kong. The Vietnam War was at its peek and and ships of the US 7th Fleet were frequent visitors. He toured many of them, and this evolved into a fascination with the World War II ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Ed has been collecting books on the subject for 35 years and his very comprehensive IJN bibliography is available at

I recently visited his website Mechanism of Imperial Japanese Navy Warships in 3-D and was astounded by his computer-generated images of the IJN destroyer Akizuki. Their quality and detail surpasses anything available in print. They are an invaluable resource for IJN modelers. Ed has been gracious enough to both share these images with Warship readers and describe the technology used in their creation. Virtual ship modeling is now a reality, and Ed Low's Akizuki has set the bar very high indeed. Thanks again, Ed, for your remarkable efforts.

I started as a plastic modeler and it is only recently in 1996 that I got into 3-D modeling. My intentions was to build 3-D IJN ship models. However, I knew that this was a little like trying to run before I could walk. Instead, I brought the 3-D modeling and rendering software Truespace 2.0 (since then upgraded to TS3 and TS4.3) and started modeling a tiger tank (all the models mentioned here are in the web site under "Non-naval 3-D models"). That took me about 200 hours. The model is detailed but most of the time was spent learning about the software, its  capabilities and  limitations. I chose the Tiger also because it was simple in structure i.e. mostly boxes. My next project was a TIE interceptor from Star Wars movie. I chose this because it had more complex  shapes. This took me about 300 hours. My third project was a P40 Warhawk. This took also about 300 hours. I choose it because of the complex organic shape of the fuselage - a real challenge. When this was done, I was more confident about my ability to build the Akizuki.

I began building this ship during December of 1998 and so it has taken me about 15 months thus far. Total time spent is more than 700 hours. It has more than 300,000 polygons and the size of the computer file that describes the ship is 30 Mb in size. Another one of my many hobbies is building computers and the ship is built on my home brew machine. It is a dual Pentium 400 Mhz with 384 Mb of RAM, a 9 Gb Ultra-wide 2 SCSI  harddrive, and a 21 inch monitor. Although it is not as fast as some of the new Pentium III class machine today, it is still a pretty high-end machine. A fast machine is absolutely necessary when dealing with models of this size. For example, even with this hardware, the ship has to be built in sections. These are only put together for the rendering of the pictures. Rendering is normally done at a resolution of 1280x1024 pixel, 24 bit color, and takes about 45 minutes. The pictures in the web site are smaller gif format files at 500x400 pixel, this is to speed up loading time. (continued below)

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Type940Ygunwithrack02.gif (74080 bytes) Type94Y-gunwithrack01.gif (79517 bytes)
Type 94 Depth Charge Thrower and Rack

Type 98 3.9" (100mm) high-angle AA Gun
TTquad.gif (45783 bytes)
Type 92 24" "Long Lance" Torpedoes in Quadruple Launcher
20mmsingle.gif (47523 bytes) 20mmsingle02.gif (41083 bytes)
Type 96 25mm Single Mount
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Type 96 25mm Triple Mount
Hull and Superstructure Views
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Akizukirenderingwithrails.gif (64451 bytes) Akizukirenderingbowdetails05.gif (64963 bytes) Akizukirenderingbowdetails.gif (39499 bytes) Akizukirenderingwithdegaussingcable.gif (79469 bytes) Akizukirenderingsternwithjack.gif (65355 bytes)
Akizukirenderingsterndetails.gif (70475 bytes) Akizukirenderingsternwithpropeller.gif (58475 bytes) Akizukirenderingbowdetails04.gif (79640 bytes) Akizukirenderingbowdetails03.gif (77468 bytes)
Akizukirenderingbowdetails02.gif (71992 bytes) Akizukirenderingbridge.gif (85664 bytes) Akizukirenderingbridge02.gif (81112 bytes) Akizukirenderingbridge03.gif (75314 bytes)
Radar, Gun Directors & Searchlights
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Radartypeairsearch.gif (61475 bytes) Radartypeairsearch02.gif (62065 bytes)
Type 21 "A" Air Search Radar
Type94highangledirector.gif (61460 bytes)
Type 94 High Angle Director
(for 3.9" guns)
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2.5 Meter Rangefinder
Radartypesurfacesearch02.gif (56367 bytes)
Type 22 Surface Search Radar
20cmsearchlight01.gif (80609 bytes) 20cmSearchlight02.gif (70517 bytes)
Type 92 110cm Searchlight
20cmbinocinfrared.gif (117736 bytes)
12cm Binoculars with Infra-Red Message Trasmitter
Captain's Launch
20metermotorboat.gif (67161 bytes)
11 Meter 60 HP Launch

The ship is almost complete. I started on the project by first gathering the reference material and doing a lot of research on the subject. All the reference material I used is listed in the reference section of my web site. I also procured line and cross-section drawings of the ship from Pacific Front Hobbies. A detailed description of  how I build a 3-D model of this complexity is beyond the scope of this short description, but I will use my experience of building the hull and gun barrel as examples.

How It's Done
Building the hull is also one of the hardest part of this endeavor. I started with a regular polygon. This is a 2-dimentional part which looks like a circle made up of point connected together with lines. A picture of a cross section of the ship close to the bow (made into a digital file using a scanner) is first placed in the background. The points of the polygon is then moved using the software, such that when your are done, the  circle now takes the shape of the hull cross-section. The next step is to use the software to extrude the polygon into a 3-D shape. The end result is a "tube" with the two ends having the same shape of the hull  cross-section. The size (length and height) of the "tube" is next adjusted by placing the "tube" lengthwise next to a lengthwise drawing of the ship. The "tube" is re-sized such that its height match the height of the specific cross-section in the drawing and its length match the distance between the cross-section in question and the next cross-section down the hull. Next, the points of the second face of the "tube" is moved to take the shape of the next hull cross-section. This second face is now extruded again and the whole process is repeated until you get to both the bow and stern. Although this sounds complex, it is unfortunately even harder than it sounds. It took me multiple tires to get it right. However, the technique is useful to build very complex shapes.

For less complex shapes like a gun barrel, one can start with a number of primitive polygons (ball, cylinder, cone, etc.) which is supplied with the software. For example, a cylinder would be a good starting point. This  cylinder can be stretch to get the proper length of the gun barrel and the ends tapered to get the proper geometry. It can also be booleaned (a technical term that really just means cut an object by subtracting from it the space occupied by a second object). For example, a real easy way to get a bore for the gun barrel is make another cylinder that is longer than the barrel but smaller in diameter. Now if this cylinder is placed "inside" the barrel, it should fit except for the two longer ends sticking out. The boolean function now allows you to subtract the volume of the cylinder from the gun barrel and presto you have a gun barrel with the proper bore.

Overall, building a ship using 3-D software is very similar to plastic model building. To get a realistic looking model, it takes painstaking research and the presence of details, details, details. One difference between the mediums is that it is much easier to get better details with a 3-D model because you can always zoom in on small parts. Whereas we are usually limited by the size of the parts in a plastic model, our eyesight, and dexterity. A good example is the details of the 25 mm triple AA gun in the Akizuki (the low-resolution pictures in the web site actually does not do it justice). It would be impossible to get that type of detail without going to a very, very large scale model. Anther advantage of 3-D modeling is that there is a lot more flexibility in the building process since you are not limited by the model in the box. Of course, this also means that you have to make everything from scratch. This includes color, lighting, texture, etc. Another distinct advantage of 3-D modeling is that although it is hard to make some parts i.e. the 25 mm gun, once you make one, it only takes seconds to make more copies. This repetitive nature of modeling I know drives some of us a little crazy.  In addition, once a model is made, because it can be replicated, make a variant of the ship is quite easy as it means only the difference need to be implemented.

A further distinguishing feature of 3-D modeling is that it is possible to get model perspectives not possible with small scale kits. For example, I can place a camera on the bridge of the Akizuki and see exactly the perspective the captain would see from that position. Because of limitations associated with the camera size (relative to the size of the models) and their depth-of-field. This is simply not possible using scale models and  cameras.

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