Nebula Skyboxes

This week I’ve managed to finish the sky boxes for EotS. I think these have gone through about a billion* incarnations so far, mainly due to the size of the stars in the background. The very first attempt, I spent hours hand painting in stars on an empty black screen. It seemed to take about 5 times as long as it was so beyond tedious. I then painted a nebula over the top to see how that would look. That was our very first sky box and, quite frankly, it sucked. 
OK, not a problem, I’ll just go back to the photoshopped drawing board. I learned a new way to paint nebulas which actually yields some pretty good results. First, take a large blank layer and go into filters and add noise. Leave it on the very lower end so it’s just creating speckles. Get another layer and do it again, upping the noise level very slightly, just to make some bigger stars. You then paint your nebula in using a soft brush to create blobs of different colours, then blue it, then use difference clouds etc to give you that nebula effect. It works and looks amazing. They look great for use as background images but unfortunately not as a skybox. The stars were still too big on screen, any smaller on the noise filter and you lose them entirely. 
I tried using that same star field as a 2048 by 2048 pixels square. The overall canvas I created was 8192 by 6144 pixels. I then put guides in to cut it up like so….    

The crossed-out squares we don’t bother out. The others make up our skybox, if you imagine folding them up together into a cube. I put a star field square into each of these squares. It worked better than before but sadly the stars were still a bit big. It was only when I drew in the new nebular that we really started to hit problems. The seams were showing badly. A lot of extra copying from the crossed-out boxes and painting over things to match it all up and it still didn’t seem to match as well as it could have done. There were also some very harsh edges when the box was put together in Unity. 
I found a tutorial on Youtube completely by chance that used my old pal Blender to paint a skybox nebula inside a sphere.  I’ve copied the link in here as I found it so incredibly useful and really should give the guy all the due credit.

I built the initial spheres, cube and particle systems and saved those as a template before going to paint 12 different nebula patterns. 

Basically, the cube acts as a 6 sided camera. And they all work. Good sized stars, no visible seams and more importantly, no harsh edge lines. Keep an eye open on upcoming screenshot Saturdays to see how they look and judge for yourself.