Creating Spaceship Exteriors – World Building Inspiration

While my current Starfinder RPG campaign ploughs into the void of space, I continue to collect inspiration and draft up new spaceships to fill the little sci-fi universe. The majority of spaceships my players will never visit and have exteriors they’ll never see, but who doesn’t love building up and fleshing out their sci-fi world universe.

Perhaps the most iconic ship?

You should be able to use this article to bolster your description, theme, style and even hull layout for your RPG spaceships. Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your next Starfinder or Star Trek RPG game, or are penning a new sci-fi novel – the following plethora of collated pics should really be something to draw from.

Spaceships exteriors come in every shape, size and function you can think of. From the sleek shiny lines of a Star Trek star-ship, to the mechanical and industrial mega-hulks seen in the early Alien films. The spaceship exteriors are just as varied as their interiors.

Below I’ve compiled a whole bunch of my spaceship inspiration pictures – this article focuses on the spaceship exteriors and the spaceship shape. Hopefully a future article will cover interior inspiration for space-stations, shuttles and spaceships.

Industrial Spaceship Exterior Inspiration

When I first started playing Starfinder, my immediate inspiration for my own spaceships was the Alien and Event Horizon films. Both of which, very grungy, industrial, dark and grim places to exist.

If you’re looking for inspiration for a dark, or even grim-dark, universe setting for your sci-fi RPG – the following pictures might help.

Below, in no particular order, are spaceship exterior shots of the Lewis and Clark (Event Horizon), Red Dwarf (Red Dwarf), Nostromo (Alien) and a few others.

Darkness, shadows, elongated super structures and protrodung aerieals, gangways and fuel tanks. That seem’s to be the route of most industrial inspiration for these ships.

Hard lines and sharp edges help bring a mechanical and functional element to these spaceships.

The lighting, or lack thereof, works well with the dull muted textures used. Where bright or direct lighting is used, make sure it casts deep or long eerie shadows across the spaceship.

Exterior shots of Fan Favourite Sci-Fi Spaceships

Below, you’ll find more inspiration in the form of some very strong fan favourites – Millennium Falcon (Star Wars), Executor class Star Destroyer (Star Wars), Serenity (Firefly), Galactica (Battle Star Galactica).

You’ll notice the Galactica, Millennium Falcon, Serenity and the Star Destroyer all share similar exterior inspiration for their styles; noticeable large grey areas of sprawling panels, broken up with a few areas of exposed engineering or mechanical greebles.

Sleek Spaceship Exterior Inspiration

Now not all sci-fi universes need to be dark, gloomy, dirty places of existence. Many worlds you build could draw inspiration from Star Trek, Farscape, Thunderbirds (!!!) or even the 60’s science-fiction classic – 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The design of these ships use curves, cylinders and circles frequently throughout their smooth sleek space frames. If you’re drawing inspiration from these spaceships, try to remove any dark shadowy areas, large ‘mechanical’ looking parts or sharp edges.

Symmetry works well for ‘realistic’ sleek spaceships, with multiple vessels using a symmetry of 3 in their design.

However if your spaceship is not designed to enter a planets atmosphere – aerodynamic forces like drag don’t need to factor into the design (unlike a convential aircraft etc). This means that symmetry (to balance out drag) isn’t required in your ship design.

Inspiration for Truly Alien Spaceships

Now I’ve used the word ‘alien‘ here, but what I really mean is just VERY different from what we, as humans, are currently building. All the above ships look like the draw inspiration from, or could be built by, near-future technology.

The following ships have inspiration far further a field.

These ships have flowing curves, plant or organic elements in their design. If you’re drawing on inspiration for a more biological form of spaceship, try encompassing brighter colours (like how I painted my Warhammer 40k Tyranids), contrasting elements and impossible shapes of engineering.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve got picture-wise for my spaceship inspiration – it should help inspire you for spacecraft from high tech AI personas, down to a living-breathing flying entity.

Hope you enjoyed and feel inspired. You may also enjoy my world building inspiration article for winter / cold locations, ideal for D&D, Star Wars RPG etc.

Sci-Fi Book Recommendation

Bargain book recommendation: How to Draw Science Fiction Art by Geoff Taylor

You may be interested in drawing some sci-fi scenes. If so, I can recommend a super-cheap book I bought, by Geoff Taylor, How to Draw Science Fiction Art. It covers a much wider spectrum than just spaceships – but also includes core artistic skills like colour-palettes, tone, composition and shading.

Read more about Drawing Science Fiction Art.

Big Disclaimer: I don’t claim to have any rights or ownership over these images or designs. They’re all collated inspirational pictures I’ve thrown together to help and inspire my own world building.

Most Iconic Hollywood Spaceships: If you’ve browsed the spaceship exterior inspiration shown here and want some more sci-fi spaceship goodness, GamesRadar have put together an article of the 25 most iconic spaceships in film – well worth a read.

Scientific Viability of Spaceships: If you’re curious and want to see the top 15 most popular spaceships ranked by their genuine feasibility, this Gizmodo article on the scientific viability of movie spaceships is quite interesting. Plus, it’s got a great spread of spaceships that have appeared in films (many also above), so you can get further inspiration for your spaceship exteriors.

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