A Virtual Fleet of Aircraft

Aircraft Fleet Case Study

Publication: Remove Before Flight
3D Designer: Nasos Vlachos
Client: 11 Aviation Publications

Project Summary

Illustrating the world of flight can be a tremendous challenge. Photographs can be the wrong angle, low quality or simply not available. For the aviation enthusiasts that read the Greek magazine “Remove Before Flight” the visuals are just as important as the technical articles. As Art Director of 11 Aviation Publications, Nasos Vlachos turned to Strata Design 3D CX, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to solve the problem.

3D Plane Models

The Challenge

There’s a broad array of aircraft that find their way into the pages of Remove Before Flight – but not an unlimited number. By building his own custom library of flight vehicles, Nasos believes he has greater control over the detail and quality than if he purchased a pre-made library. Once he has a particular model it becomes very easy to produce additional images, even though paint schemes and situations may differ greatly.

Aircraft Fleet Case Study

Nasos approaches each illustration as both a singular project and an opportunity to expand his virtual fleet of aircraft. In this example, the Concord supersonic passenger jet was the subject. The challenge here was to construct the aircraft and recreate a tragic chapter in the history of this jetliner.

The Solution

The process that Nasos follows has been refined to these seven key steps:


This step is critical. As Nasos puts it “The more accurate it is, the more successful the model will become.” Making sure he has high quality research materials translates into the quality of the illustration. This is true of the aircraft itself and the circumstances surrounding the event to be portrayed.

Outlining in Adobe Illustrator

Using his research material, Nasos begins the modeling process by creating outlines in Adobe Illustrator. He creates projections from the front, top and side of the aircraft. Additional detail elements are outlined in Illustrator for additional work in Strata Design 3D CX.

Taking it to 3D

Next, Nasos imports the Illustrator outlines into Design 3D. He places the projections on the X, Y and Z grids. “Building the model I’m always fascinated by the way the lines are transforming to objects.” He builds all the elements – from the small details to the full fuselage.

3D wireframe

3D Plane Models

Paint, Trim and Detail

Nasos describes this process as “giving life” to his models. He utilizes the powerful ability of Design 3D to link to Adobe Photoshop layered texture files. This makes it easy to make changes, whether for refining a model for an illustration or for making wholesale changes for reuse in a new project.

Setting the Scene

“More work in Strata, less work in Photoshop” – Nasos believes in: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; measure twice cut once; a stitch in time saves… you get the idea. Once you get it right in 3D you can reuse, change angles, and generally get the result you want because of the flexibility that Design 3D CX brings you.

Rendering the Image

With surfaces prepared, lighting set and the environment adjusted, Jon was ready to create the photo-real rendering. Using Strata’s award winning raydiosity rendering engine, Jon rendered out the image with the background masked out.


Nasos combines his Strata rendering with photographs and sometimes a little Photoshop painting. In the case of the Concord illustration, he added a background sky, ground image with motion blur applied and photographic flames, which were modified to work with the image.

One of Nasos’ key “tricks” in Photoshop is to use the “poster edges” filter. He uses this approach “…to make the aspects of different sources look homogeneous and to give a comic-like drawing feeling.”

The Results

“My intention was just to present a clear image of the tragic event, ‘speechless’, as we all were watching this on the TV.” Costas Gabrilakis, story author, technical consultant of the Greek Air Accident Investigation Board, was pleased that Nasos was able to capture the subject in a way that did justice to the event. Though out of service to the public, the Concord jet will continue to find service in the virtual aircraft fleet of 11 Aviation Publications.

Final Concord Render