Animations & Models

Completion Date:

Voxel-like TARDIS

A TARDIS police-box exterior was modelled during an exploration of a voxel-like art style as part of a personal project


Blender, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator

This project delved into voxel design, a unique style characterised by box-shaped elements and the absence of smoothed edges. The inherent constraints of this style not only lend themselves to a distinct and stylised visual aesthetic and offer practical advantages by streamlining the design process. The primary objective of this project was to create a voxel model of the iconic TARDIS exterior from the television series Doctor Who, along with the intricate details of its interior doors. Furthermore, the project aimed to expand the scene by designing complementary objects such as a desk, table, chair, and door to create a cohesive and immersive environment. Given the precise nature of voxel design, accurate concept art was pivotal in ensuring the integration of each crafted object within the scene. As many TARDIS exterior designs are featured in Doctor Who, the chosen inspiration for this project derived from the era of the 12th Doctor (portrayed by Peter Capaldi), as its distinctive shape and style harmoniously complemented the voxel design aesthetic.

In 3D design, voxels are a unique approach to modelling and rendering objects. Derived from the words "volume" and "pixel," voxels are three-dimensional pixels that represent individual elements or building blocks within a digital environment. Unlike traditional polygon-based models, voxels capture the essence of an object by utilising box-shaped elements without smoothed edges, resulting in a distinctively blocky and pixelated appearance. One notable example is the popular mobile game Crossy Road, as its world and inhabitants are crafted using voxel-based models, giving the game a playful and whimsical feel. Embracing the voxel design style for 3D creations offers several advantages. Firstly, voxels' simplified and boxy nature allows quicker and more efficient modelling than intricate and detailed polygonal models. The reduction in complexity streamlines the design process, making it ideal for creating large-scale environments or designing numerous objects within a limited timeframe. Furthermore, voxel-based models often feature smooth animations and transitions, as their simplified geometry lends itself well to achieving seamless movements and transformations.

The design process for the voxel model began with thorough research and gathering inspiration from various media, including the examination of Crossy Road's art style. Crossy Road was a valuable reference due to its adherence to fixed rulesets within the voxel design. Voxels typically maintain uniform sizes, with rare exceptions for fractional voxels. This design focused on creating box-shaped voxels with allowance for slopes. A comprehensive mood board was compiled to inform further the design process, specifically showcasing the 12th Doctor's TARDIS from Doctor Who This mood board captured multiple angles, dimensions, materials, and inconsistencies observed across episodes. Notably, variations in elements like the white box housing the telephone inside the TARDIS door were identified, requiring a deliberate decision on which version to incorporate into the final model.

... Crossy Road voxel style by Hipster Whale
... Mood board with TARDIS doors from the inside and outside

For the voxel design, initial concepts were created using Adobe Illustrator. These illustrations experimented with concepts, colour pairings, sizes, and ratios to establish a solid groundwork for the art style. Designing concept art for elements like the doors allowed for exploring acceptable slopes and matching colours within the almost illustrated cartoon-like style. These concept designs' dimensions and colour palettes directly inform the 3D modelling process, facilitating a seamless transition from 2D to 3D. Additionally, practising voxel modelling with simpler shapes such as doors, desks, computers, and table settings provided valuable hands-on experience and sharpened skills in working with voxel elements. The voxel model of the TARDIS was approached as a single complex object rather than individual components. For example, the windows were not treated as separate objects that could be placed within gaps in the main TARDIS door model but were a part of the door. This approach posed a unique challenge and allowed for exploring the intricacies of the voxel art style.

... Desk with computer, keyboard, and openable drawers
... Table setting with chairs, plates, and cutlery

One notable observation in the chosen TARDIS design was the difference between the interior and exterior windows. While the two bottom window panes appeared as frosted glass from the inside, they appeared smooth and non-transparent from the outside. Incorporating this detail into the final model was essential. Additionally, the interior windows required a strong reflective property, enabling the possibility of creating an interior scene with visible reflections when looking at the stars out the window. To enhance the overall aesthetic, specific elements such as the whites on the exterior windows and the police box banner should emit light, giving the illusion of illumination. An important objective of the final design was to ensure that the exterior allowed for realistic animation of the doors and latches, mimicking the show's portrayal. This attention to detail aimed to create an authentic and immersive voxel model of the TARDIS, capturing its essence and functionality within the voxel art style.

... Original door concept art
... Alternate door design
Animation test of voxel model
... TARDIS concept art

The development process of the TARDIS model followed an iterative approach, gradually refining the design by adding details to carve out its distinct features. In Blender, the reference concept image served as a guide, allowing for the initial shaping of the model using a single cube and strategically placed edge loops to define different sections. As the modelling progressed, intricate details were incorporated, such as the thick edge columns along the sides of the box frame and the intricate layers and stacks of beams at the roof section. The creation of panel indentations on the walls further enhanced the model's realism. Leveraging Blender's mirror modifier, these details were added once and automatically replicated across the remaining sides, streamlining the process. However, a rookie mistake was made when adding handles and similar elements, resulting in excessive edge loops instead of focusing on clean edge flow and topology. This oversight made joining the model at the roof section challenging due to the abundance of unnecessary edges. Furthermore, the model's poly count, consisting of nearly 10,000 vertices, was higher than desired for a model of this nature, primarily due to the unnecessary loop cuts.

... Frosted glass with shader material in Blender

For the interior of the police box, special consideration was given to the inner door material, which needed to be white to replicate the show's depiction faithfully. Opting for the simple small version of the phone-housing box, as seen towards the end of the 12th Doctor's era, the design allowed for potential expansion to a fully functional box in future iterations. Extensive time was invested in Blender's shader editor to ensure the materials and properties of each element accurately represented their real-life counterparts. Notably, the frosted glass panes inside the windows required significant customisation, including creating a two-sided material. This allowed the outside plane to exhibit a luminous white appearance while the inside showcased a transparent material simulating frosted glass, complete with a pronounced reflection. This result involved utilising a random Voronoi texture to generate the frost pattern, adding impressive realism to the final model. The latches and separate door pieces were carefully designed to enable realistic movement.

... Interior TARDIS latch setup for animation
... Reflection of interior on inside window panes

Upon completing the modelling process, the final step involved designing textures for various elements, including text, colours, and symbols. Instead of embedding the colours directly into the shader materials, a texture approach was adopted. This would allow for easy customisation and flexibility, as a simple texture swap would suffice to change the colours used in the model when utilised outside of Blender. To create pixel-perfect art that matched the referenced design, the text incorporated the appropriate font and was meticulously scaled down to achieve the desired pixel size. To maintain clarity, the core shapes were recreated and traced to ensure the pixel font retained its authenticity, avoiding the repetitive appearance often associated with pixel fonts. Special attention was given to the St John Ambulance emblem, as entirely new pixel art was painstakingly created from scratch based on the referenced design. This ensured that even when reduced to a small size, the emblem retained its intricate details, meeting the necessary square shape requirements for the model.

... Call for help, pull to open sign
... All other textured elements in Photoshop

The exploration of the voxel aesthetic in this project was a success, resulting in a model that effectively captured the essence of the design style while remaining true to the original concept. The textures applied to elements such as the help panel, emblem, and top sign integrated with the overall style, lending the model a natural and authentic feel. Notably, the emissive glow on the white windows and text added a sense of life and emphasised the mechanical nature of the TARDIS, elevating it beyond a mere wooden box. The interior of the doors proved to be another highlight, offering full functionality with locks, latches, and the ability to view the outside through the windows.

However, the design did have its shortcomings. The flawed topology, notably the excessive use of edge loops and cluttered edge flow, posed challenges and could have been avoided with greater attention to detail during the earlier modelling stages. Additionally, the lantern atop the TARDIS needed more detail present in the referenced design, as it needed elements like a light bulb. While the lack of detail may take time to notice, a more refined solution should have been developed. Similarly, while the frosted glass effect within the window panes achieved satisfactory results, larger flakes in the frost pattern would have improved visibility and provided a closer match to the original design.

This project provided a greater understanding of the voxel style and the considerations for simplifying a design. The knowledge gained from this exploration can be applied to future projects, enhancing the ability to capture the essence of a particular aesthetic effectively. Preparing for the design through concept artwork and creating simple voxel models proved valuable, as it allowed for establishing key design elements before commencing work on the final product. For future TARDIS models, reliance on the TARDIS Builders site for exact dimensions and analysis of the different shapes and real-world parts used in the set will be instrumental in ensuring greater accuracy. To further improve the model, incorporating a more reflective material for the latches and locks would enhance the design's realism. Leveraging built-in reflections, as seen in tools like Substance Painter, would be beneficial in achieving this effect.

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