Loving The Lite-Brite

“Movie era control panels; some refurbished and a few new attempts.”

Movie era console panels ranging from communications to transporter control.

“Lite-Brite, Making things with lite!”  That silly 70’s/80’s jingle runs through my head every time I give these pegged buttoned panels a whirl (total ear worm).  I say this because my previous attempts at modeling these input panels were based somewhat on the Hasbro toy.  With low definition screen caps and limited reference material, I simply tried to model what (I thought) I saw.  Those movie scenes which featured that particular form of interface always reminded me immediately of the popular toy (and that’s probably why I am still so fond of it now).  😉

Since the sickbay examination room I’ve been working on has control consoles with just such panels, I thought I would give them another go.  I decided while I was at it, I would just try to crank out as many of them as I could to be of use to me now and later.With some new and impressive reference material I’ve updated the peg buttons to my most accurate yet.  I’ve also updated the large indicator lights (which I refer to as “toggle lights”) that frequent many a movie console.  Realizing that some of those oval indicators I’ve placed in the UV graphics are actually recessed features on (at least) a few of the panels, I decided to model them where applicable.  And finally, I added those large, hexagonal, malfunction-warning indicators from a transporter control panel visible in The Motion Picture.

The very first version I modeled (below, right) was based more on the 2nd generation Lite-Brite pegs with the flat tops.  I knew the studio set pegs were wider than the toy, but for years I truly thought they were relatively flat at the tips.

Original “Lite-Brite” Version 1 (far right) and “Skittles” Version 2.

This model was successful enough at a distance on several transporter control consoles I rendered, but I eventually got better screen caps and realized that the tops weren’t nearly as flat as I had assumed.

Ilia pegs, with a slightly bluish light.  These tend to appear taller than they truly are in standard definition because of their reflections in their base panel. 

Spock pegs, with their unmistakable green glow.  These look remarkably flat even in high definition, so standard definition can easily lead one astray.

Here they look properly rounded, but are a good distance away.  This image however, is what clued me in to the recessed oval indicator lights.  Leonard Nimoy actually appears to punch them in The Wrath of Khan as if they were buttons.

In fact they looked far shorter and much more rounded at their tips than I realized, almost like shorter fatter version of the first generation Lite-Brite pegs (which I actually preferred)! They even sort of reminded me of shiny Skittles candies, so I dubbed this second attempt (on the left) the “Skittles” version.

High-Definition screen caps were eventually released and I even came across some really telling online images from the Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Authority.

Definitive reference material.

Suddenly I had the best reference material ever.  It settled all dispute regarding the shape of both the pegs and the large toggle lights.  The peg tips are clearly rounded but slightly flattened with an unmistakably sharp definitive edge.  The toggle lights alone were the most surprising find in the new reference material. For years I had gone with the idea that the toggles’ form was basically half of a ringed cylinder with those individual rings beveling out from the core at a fairly square angle.  I assumed the rings were wide and parallel to the overall cylinder.

The first control panel attempt with all UV texture graphics and minimal modeling except for buttons and toggles.

Closer shot of the early (inaccurate) toggle blinkie, simple ringed half-cylinders.

That latest (and fairly final) reference image shows just how far off that perception was.  As it turns out, the individual rings are actually angled as they jut outward, beveling into fairly sharp slender rims, not unlike a rounded bellows.

Latest version of the toggle blinkie (bottom left corner) with their more slender angled rings.

With the changes to the pegs and toggles finalized, I could now concentrate on duplicating a wide variety of different console panels that utilize these two specific forms, as well as turn out a few other features I’ve neglected up until this point, like the hexagonal warning indicators.

Though they appear to be red in the film, they are flashing during a malfunction, so I took the liberty of making them a clear translucent and glowing green during times of normal function.  Of trivial note, the hex warning indicators share the same surface settings as the toggle lights, so as I’ve changed the settings to refine the appearance of the toggles, the warning indicators have been noticeably altered as well.

The hexagonal malfunction warning indicators blinking red during… a malfunction.

Upgrades to the pegs and toggle lights, as well as all new hexagonal warning indicators.  Surface settings are still undergoing tweaking here.

On this new panel on the left, I’ve modeled all the detailing including text.  The right panel still has the original UV texturing across all the flat surfaces.  It is currently being updated (albeit slowly) to a fully modeled version.

White glow pegs?  Depending on the film and the format, they sometimes they appear this way, but actually they should have a hint of blue.

Minor preposting updates:

Refraction blurring and the edge transparency shader are coming in handy with the pegs and indicators.  I’ve also been experimenting with the fast Fresnel shader to better fake some of the transparent materials.

Refining the internal communications panel and beginning to upgrade that transporter control panel (3rd from the left) to mostly modeled detailing.  Continuing to tweak the toggle surfaces.

I was making some progress with the light refraction settings but I realized from certain angles the light was still just zipping on through so I had to switch the toggle button’s surface settings to double sided. I eventually increased the specularity, glossiness, and reflection settings somewhat dramatically, and I am finally (mostly) pleased with the results.

An earlier post I did on this subject with some other references: Button Love.


~ by starstation on August 23, 2012.

2 Responses to “Loving The Lite-Brite”

  1. These are looking great so far – remind me of some of your Phobos/Akyazi engineering shots which show a station here or there. Depending on the interiors in which you use them, hopefully the light refraction and other misc. settings aren’t too much of a pain to tweak.

    Definitely love the physical/tactile controls as opposed to the purely touch-based ones we saw later on.

    • Thanks. Yeah, I like tactile buttons too. Though I appreciate touch screens, I like the positive feedback one gets from buttons that seem a little more reassuring.

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