Realistic Pirate Ships Ahoy! (Part 1 of 2)

How to create a scene for your movie involving old fashioned sailing ships and pirate ships by using models and digital manipulation.

Arrrrg me maties!  Have your stories ever called for a shot of old fashioned sailing ships that sail upon the seven seas? So have mine!

Basically you would have three choices:  Stock footage, 3D animation or Do-It-Yourself!

Stock footage is pretty easy to obtain;  simply search for royalty free sailing ship or pirate ship stock footage online and you will be bombarded with search results of stock footage sites to check out.  This is your easiest option.

3D animation will work if you know how to do it.  Results depend solely on the skills and talent of the cgi artist.    

If you are more ambitious however and your hands are itching to create something cool from scratch, then our Do-It-Yourself solution may be more your fancy:

First, you need to get a ship.  Have access to a real one?  Cool - use that one. 

Otherwise, get a realistic model.  The bigger and more detailed the model, the better.  The ship we used in this article isn't all that spectacular but it will work to illustrate the idea. 

Some gift shops sell very expensive ones that are almost completely accurate models, and they look very realistic.  Those will work great, but if your budget is really more that of a modest person, then you could probably find cheaper models from people at market stalls and informal setups alongside busy roads.  I bought the one in our example from a hobbyist who built and sold model ships on the street for extra income.

Here is an example of a model ship you can buy online

Once you have your model, you may need to modify it slightly to your own specifications.  Usually the biggest problem with them is that the flags on them are made with hard material (sometimes stagnant plastic or cardboard) so that the flags stand stiff and immovable.  You may want to replace them with your own flags made from a very light cloth or paper.

Once your ship is ready, find somewhere you can see the blue sky as your background. If you want islands in the background, moutains or hills will do fine. For our example we'll just have a ship sailing on the horizon on the open seas.

Film your ship against this background. If you'd like your ship to move slowly forward, you can put it on a tablecloth on a table surface and simply pull the tablecloth carefully. If your ship needs to turn, stick it somehow onto a camera tripod and carefully turn it. The mechanisms under your ship will not matter, as long as they do the job right.

Film your sea. If you live by the sea, filming the actual sea from a tripod will work fantastic! If you don't have access to the sea, a large swimming pool will work, as well as a large dam (but check for tell-tale reflections from overhanging trees etc.).

If you have a camera like some of the high end Sony Consumer Camcorders, they also allow for some seconds of slow-motion recording. That will work great to make your water move majestically and make it look like a very large surface. Otherwise you might try slowing your video down in your editing software to make the scale of the water appear large.

Once you have the footage of your ship and your sea, the rest of the magic happens on your computer.  We will look at how to assemble it all together in our next article entitled "Realistic Pirate Ships Ahoy! (Part 2 of 2)".


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