• Making 3D Panels For X-Plane

    My Way Of Making 3D Panels For X-Plane

    By Gary Miloglav

    My Basic Setup

    • Windows 10 Home Edition
    • 16 GB RAM
    • Intel Core i7-7700HQ at 2.80 GHz
    • 64-bit operating system, x64-based processor
    • AC3D 8.3.30
    • Plane Maker 11.35r1 (build 113510 64-bit)
    • X-Plane 11.35 (on Steam)
    • GIMP 2.8.22

    I am, by no means, an expert in creative artwork, and I experienced many hours of frustration trying to figure out how to do this, but when I discovered how easy it was, I wondered why the X-Plane folks never bothered with a simple tutorial. With that said, I think the techniques mentioned here can be used to create very complex 3D cockpits (not just the 3D instrument panels). Also, the reason I wasn't satisfied with 2D instrument panels, as good as they are, is because I wanted to be able to use the mouse to change views, and "travel" within the simulation using the mouse. By that, I mean to go inside, outside, etc. without having to resort to the arrow keys and pre-built views.

    Whenever I start to build an aircraft (this first example is the Apache Attack Helicopter) I first create a file folder in the X-Plane "Aircraft" folder (...X-Plane11/Aircraft/Helicopters/Apache), and the next thing is to search the internet for specifications, like a technical manual and/or a pilot operating handbook. In this case, I was fortunate to find the actual U.S. Army Technical Manual/Operator's Manual (TM 1-1520-251-10). It has everything I could ever need, so I downloaded it and put it into a subfolder "Documentation".

    Once I have the basic X-Plane model created, and often before it is flyable, I create the 3D cockpit. I don't even bother with the 2D cockpit until I'm almost done with everything else and I need something that 3D can't do yet (like a HUD). At that point, I just cut and paste from my 3D cockpit to the 2D in plane maker.

    A good shortcut is to start with a panel supplied by X-Plane from the X-Plane11/Resources/bitmaps/cockpit/-PANELS- folder.

    In this first example, I chose the "Panel_Fighter_IFR.png" file. It most closely matched the actual Apache pilots panel when comparing it with the one in the Technical Manual. You can always modify the png file to your liking with a good image editor like GIMP.

    I copied X-Plane's panel into a new folder ".../Apache/cockpit_3D/Panels", keeping the name "Panel_Fighter.png". I opened it with GIMP, set the Canvas size to 2048x2048 so the final details would be clear, changed the panel size to 1/2 of the canvas, and created a block of gray color to become the side consoles:

    3D Panels     3D Panels

    In Plane Maker, fill in all the instruments you want. In this case, I added various instruments to both console areas. Obviously, I wasn't able (yet) to match what is in the technical manual, and don't worry about the "keyboard unit", that is a work in progress and not seen or mentioned again.

    3D Panels

    Next, I created an object in AC3D using the XP "Fighter_Panel_IFR.png". You can either create a solid object or just a surface. I usually prefer a solid object because I may want to modify it later, but in this example, I chose to make the panel a "surface". When adding the panel properties latter on, you have to modify just the surface (otherwise, your panel image will appear on all 6 sides).

    3D Panels

    Because the Apache has dual panels (Pilot and Gunner/co-pilot), I copied the panel and put it in front of the pilot panel. I also added two consoles (left and right), then copied those for the co-pilot. Then, I adjusted the angle using the "rotate" button to give the cockpit the tilt needed to fit the helicopter, and separately, the consoles a tilt that would make them more visible to the pilot/co-pilot. (First experiment with small angles until you get the correct axis - X, Y or Z).

    Next, "select all" (Edit, "Select all" or Ctrl-A) and apply the texture to the object surfaces. ("Object" button, then "Texture" from the pull-down menu, then "Load Texture" and browse for the Fighter_panel_IFR.png" file). Every cockpit object must be part of the same png file, although individual object surfaces can be adjusted to fit specific areas within the png file.

    Now, using the "surface" cube (3rd cube from the left, top left of the AC3D home screen) and select only the panel(s).

    Next, hit F10 to bring up the "Texture Coordinate Editor" and you will see (greatly expanded) the panel png. Use a mouse wheel to adjust the size or use the mouse to select either of the "arrow" keys in the upper right of the editor screen.

    3D Panels

    Use the sizing box to outline just the panel area using the square "handles". Note: include the transparency section, if any, you may have created in the panel png in GIMP as desired. In my case, the transparency is the upper half of the panel.

    Then select the console surfaces from the main screen and apply 1/2 of the left side "gray block" to the left console, and the right 1/2 side of the block to the right console.

    Do the same, if you haven't already, to the other panel and consoles. Sometimes, the result may be skewed, so experiment with the "Remap" controls and readjust using the sizing box.

    When all of the surfaces have been applied, click on "X-Plane" from the top AC3D menu bar to bring up the "X-Plane properties" screen. From the "Surface" pull-down menu, select "object". From the "Manipulators: Kind:" pull-down, select "panel". Optionally, you can select "deck" and/or "wall" to make the panel "solid" to prevent passing through when using the mouse in the simulator.

    3D Panels

    Back to the main AC3D screen, select all (just to be sure) and "File, save as" (whatever your panel object will be called). Make sure you save it wherever the panel png file is saved (Cockpit_3D/-panels- folder). Then "File, Export, X-Plane 8 Object File (.obj)..." in the same folder (Cockpit_3D/-panels-).

    Tags: 3d panels, panels

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