Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Turning a 2D World into 3D

Hello Bronies. Skyclimber here, and it's time for our first update in... nearly two weeks? Bit longer than I remembered.... In any case, on with the blog!

As you're probably aware, a good chunk of the beginning of this game takes place in Ponyville, a location seen in bits and pieces over the course of the show MLP:FiM. Unfortunately, the creators of the show have yet to release layouts of the various buildings around town, so it's up to us, the fans, to make sure we get it right.

Here at Thinking with Ponies our goal is to make sure that our representation of Ponyville is extremely accurate. We want you to eventually be able to walk, run, jump, and portal around the same Ponyville that your favorite ponies are living their daily lives in with no mistakes. Unfortunately, with periodically changing backgrounds and crazy perspective issues, this often ends up being a major challenge. Doable, but tricky as all get out. So how are we making sure that we're being as accurate as is humanly possible? With apples.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first step to this rather complicated process was to figure out what each building and room looked like and where they were located in relation to each other. To start out with, I would go through every episode, scene by scene, taking shots of each building (and, recently, each room) and storing them in my database of ref pics, keeping the episodes and/or the locations separate as I did so. Primarily, I kept an eye out for any new angles or shots, scenes that contained walls or objects that hadn't been recorded in our database previously. I'd usually try and piece together a basic layout in my head as I went along. Odd notes and annotations often made their way into the database if I spotted something particularly noteworthy.

After watching all 26 episodes that are currently available, I'd begin the process of "cleaning up". The first step was to reorganize all of the images into a more easily understandable format, removing any truly extraneous ref shots as I went. For the exterior guides, this consisted of sorting all the images by location instead of by episode (I didn't have a layout of Ponyville anywhere near complete until halfway through the season. How else was I supposed to sort them?). After organizing by location, all of these ref pics were reorganized again by sub-location (Shots of Sugarcube corner instead of everything inside of Sugarcube Plaza). The interior guides went through a similar process, but only needed to worry about the second step as they were already organized by house. While this reorganization went on, I made sure to add labels to each sub-group of pictures.

The third (and in my case final) step was to create a rough map of each location. After spending so much time staring at each location, I knew pretty much exactly where everything was supposed to go. Unfortunately, unless the casual viewer spends about the same amount of time as I did, they'd be rather lost at first. Thus, the maps. Usually they're a simple, very rough, top-down affair as all that's needed to localize where everything is. A few key landmarks that show up in several pictures, and perhaps a few extra labels to go along for the ride.

Unfortunately, these maps are very, very rough. They're not always to scale, they don't even come close to containing all the details, and the shapes aren't always right. Nowhere near being as accurate as humanly possible... but that's where Scraticus comes in. And the apples. Yes, they were relevant. As you are reading this, Scraticus (Scrat for short) is busy at work figuring out the exact dimensions of everything in the show. That's right. Everything. And he's doing it with apples. The average apple is 4 inches tall, right? Using Scrat's method, the average pony is 13 apples tall (14 if you include the horn on unicorns) and thus 52 inches or 4'4" high (56" with a horn). That's a fairly reasonable amount that matches up with real world ponies. Keep in mind that the official max height for a pony in the real world is anywhere from 56 inches to 59 inches depending on which rule book you're using. (Note: Source is Wikipedia. Not always reliable, but right 90-something% of the time.)

Thus, the apple/pony measurement has become a ruler of sorts, providing exact measurements as anywhere from dozens to thousands of apples are stacked on top of each other. For example, the following picture has 2,042 apples!!!

From this point, he's able to create the actual accurate minimap. Here's his work on top of my rough map. Notice how horribly off I was...

Quite frankly, he's got the hard job. I didn't have to worry about wonky perspectives as I was just matching shapes and items when making my guides/minimaps, honestly just trying to get "close". Scrat on the other hand has to make sure he's only using accurate perspectives (if he can) and adjusting the details if he absolutely can't. Fun semi-related fact: everything almost always fit perfectly inside the buildings! Even Sugarcube Corner with its "paradoxes" fits perfectly both inside and out (once you fix a certain door's placement...). Shocking, I know.

Not only is Scrat working on the rough shape of the buildings, but he's also creating the vast majority of the static models that will be showing up around Ponyville. You'll have to wait until next time to see them though. Gotta keep something in reserve after all. ^^

Before we go, I'll close with a few more interesting apple figures (with 1 apple equaling 4 inches):
Average pony: 13 apples high (14 with horn)
Average filly: 8.5 to 11 apples high
Nightmare Moon: 26 apples high (29 with horn -Scrat)
Luna: 18 apples high (21 with horn)
Celestia: 28 apples high (31 with horn)
tl;dr - Princess Celestia is just slightly more than twice as tall as the average pony! We knew that already of course, but now it's been scientifically proven. Huzzah! :D

'Til next time, this is Skyclimber signing off!

Edit: After what's happened today, I have to seriously heap some praises on Scrat! Not only is his apple system providing ~1 inch accurate measurements of everything, but he's making dozens of changes to the interior guide for Sugarcube Corner. He's allowing us to spot where things should be, then go back into the episodes and see if we can locate the proof. Practically every single time so far he's been right! I can't go into details without giving too much away, but let's just say that rough minimap I put together near the top has a lot of additions. Thank you Scrat!


  1. and the outline of the room is red for a reason, it's apples. Really interesting but tedious as i have to measure the shot from the show before i put it into the 3d package.

    it's about as accurate as we can get, however

  2. Woohoo! The Portal mod is alive!

  3. @Camisado Yeah, we WERE going to do an update sooner, but a certain SOMEPONY thought it would be better if we were to keep updates going slow to avoid putting pressure on the team to put out content that doesn't contain potential spoilers.

    Hopefully in the future we'll have more to show, but for now, remember that the mod IS alive if we aren't updating.

  4. Of course it's alive! We're not going to let something as splendiferously awesome as a Portal and Pony crossover go dead! It just takes a while to get new content out and about in a showable format.

    Also, just to clarify, not my call on the slow updates (and you should find a minor spoiler or two on here as well). ^^

  5. @Not A Good Username 360

    I hope you're not referring to me - it was merely a suggestion to save our sanity!

  6. Eyup; until we come out and say that the mod's dead, then we aren't dead yet!

  7. Am I the only one that thought "Yay, the Portal mod is 'Still Alive'!"?

  8. @Anonymous And believe me it is still alive.
    We're working hard and it is still alive.
    It looks fantastic and is still alive.
    When no one's here it will be still alive.
    Even if MLP dies it will be still alive.
    Still alive.
    Still alive.

  9. @VFX Kid Eh, history tells us otherwise. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's seen the parallels between bronies and trekkies, and we all know what happened to Star Trek TOS...

  10. Haha, we now know that the ponies are just over 4 smurfs tall.

  11. Why is Twi's horn yellow in the fourth image?

  12. Are the images available somewhere at their full size?