TUTORIALS | Virtual landscapes

ON THE CD
● Full copy of WorldBuilder Pro 3.6 (3D World edition) SEE PAGE 114

Deep in the woods
FACTFILE
FOR WorldBuilder DIFFICULTY Elementary TIME TAKEN 60-120 minutes ON THE CD • WorldBuilder Pro 3.6 (3D World edition) • Full-size screenshots • Additional textures • Final scene file ALSO REQUIRED Photoshop (for image postprocessing work)

WORLDBUILDER

Turn the landscapes of your dreams into realities with Digital Element’s powerful WorldBuilder Pro 3.6 software. Use the full copy on the CD to create the magical forest scene above BY DANIEL P FERREIRA

W

ith a range of versatile features, WorldBuilder is a powerful standalone application that enables you to create and render detailed outdoor environments featuring all kinds of vegetation.

(flat planes) for the background elements, as they don’t have to be detailed, and a normal camera movement won’t reveal that they’re not 3D. Plus, they render extremely fast! For the foreground areas, we’ll create clusters of L-Systems (true 3D) trees and generate unique variations using the Random Seed control, before altering their orientation and textures. Finally, we’ll place different types of objects, such as stones and grass, using area scattering. We’ll use only one direct light source in the scene, although you can get fantastic results using several sources to simulate light bouncing or to highlight particular areas. To finish off the scene, we’ll arrange some close-up trees and manually place them in exactly the way we want. Then we’ll align them to the terrain, and the scene will be ready to render. Some postprocessing of the final render in an image-editing program such as Photoshop will give us a look much like the image above. Daniel P Ferreira is an effects animator working at Sony Pictures Imageworks. He’s currently working on Spider-Man 3, having just finished The Chronicles of Narnia.

It has multiple object libraries that help you build scenes quickly, and is compatible with most major 3D applications, such as 3ds Max, Maya, LightWave 3D and Softimage XSI. You can composite scenes together with any of these applications during render time, sharing lighting, shadows and cameras. In this tutorial, we’ll be using the full copy of WorldBuilder Pro 3.6 (3D World edition) on the CD to create the wooded landscape above. The software comes with extensive help files, and we advise you to work through these before beginning work. If you get stuck at any point in the walkthrough, refer to the settings shown in the full-size screenshots and final scene file included on the disc. First, we’ll create the base terrains using the skeleton lines that define the areas and elevation of the land, then we’ll texture them. Once we have an initial environment that we’re happy with, we’ll start to place the different layers of vegetation. We’ll use card trees

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Virtual landscapes | TUTORIALS

STAGE ONE | Creating the landscape

Let’s create the skeleton lines that will define the shape of our landscape. Start by selecting Create > Landscape. Go to the Top view and press [F12] to create a skeleton line. You can define the shape of the line using your left mouse button. Press the right button when you’re done. Copy the layout shown in the image above.

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The landscape will follow the skeleton lines, so you’ll need to adjust them in the Front view to define the height. A good trick is to make them rounded in the Top view (like the altitude curves in an Ordnance Survey map), so that the mesh is smoother.

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Several modification icons become active in the top bar when you select a skeleton line. You can modify a line with the commands to add, move and delete nodes. With Fractalize Skeleton and Defractalize Skeleton, you can add or subtract random line detail. Try all of the icons to learn how to work with skeleton lines.

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STAGE TWO | Camera, terrain, lighting and textures

Once you’ve drawn several lines as in the image above, create a camera with [Shift]+[C], so that you’ll be able to see the scene from a viewpoint of your choice. You can also create a Parallel Light: press [Shift]+[A] and move the origin to the place you want. Now go to your camera view via Window > New > Camera.

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To see how the grid of the terrain is working, perform a wireframe render with [Ctrl]+[3]. You can change the parameters of the landscape in the Scene Tree to the right. Click ‘Landscape0’, then choose Settings from the Properties list that appears below. You can use the bottom pane to set the grid resolution. You can also activate the function to have objects cast shadows here.

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To change the way the skeleton lines affect the landscape, you can go to the Skin properties pane (below Settings in the Properties list for Landscape0) and change the Evolution and the Roughness. Experiment with different values, and see the results of an OpenGL render in your Camera view by pressing [Ctrl]+[4].

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Once you’ve defined the basic terrain, you can add a sky from the library. From Window > New > Library, right-click inside the blank Library window and open the file sky30. It has a list of different skies that you can drag and drop into your scene. For our sample scene, we’re using rainy1, removing the clouds and sun and changing the gradient colours.

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Before performing a test render, you need to apply a texture to the landscape. Select ‘Area1 (full)’, which appears below Landscape when you press the plus icon. Go to ‘Default material’, then right-click, select Add and choose Texture. Click File in the bottom pane to import a file: we’re using T_N_4.bmp. Check the placement of the image, and be sure to activate Super Sampling.

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Now to set up the shadows under Parallel Light. Set the shadows to ON using Disable in the right-click menu. Set Generate Map to First Frame: it may go back to Never, so be sure to check when you add or change geometry. Set Size to 1024, and pick ‘Intensity interpolation’ with both the a-buffer and extra details active. We’re ready to do a Production Render of the Camera view with [Ctrl]+[7].

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TUTORIALS | Virtual landscapes

STAGE THREE | Landscape areas and objects

Now to start placing objects on the landscape, starting with rocks. First, you need to define areas where the objects are going to be placed. To do this, go to the Top view and select Landscape on the Scene Tree. Some icons will appear at the right of the top bar. Click the Create Area icon and draw a shape, then click the right mouse button when you’re done.

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Click the new area (it’s called Area 2 by default) and, under Properties, right-click ‘Area 2: ON’ and select Add. Select ‘Clusters of Shaded Objects’. Now open the Library and use right-click to open the stone20 library. Drag some of the stones into the Object List window of your ‘Clusters of Shaded Objects’ property. Once you have some stones, you’ll see that they’re distributed inside your area.

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You can now adjust parameters for the objects. In the Rotate section, set all the max angles to 180 and the min angles to -180 to get a random rotation on the stones. In Size & Density, change the minimum and maximum height of the objects, as well as the minimum separation. The Random Seed at the bottom is important, because it will define the distribution.

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STAGE FOUR | Dealing with trees and grass

To place trees at the back of the scene, create a new area far from the camera. Draw it on the Top view, but monitor it in the Camera view to ensure the correct placement. Using the method from step 11, add Scattered Vegetation to the area. Via the Objects List, add plants from the xplants library. We’re using WillowFamily.

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Once you have the trees in the area, adjust the Size & Density and Rotation as with the stones, but this time use only 10 degrees on the X and Y max angle, and -10 degrees on the min. That way, the trees will bend more naturally when rendered. These objects are cards (simplified trees), so they’ll render very quickly.

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Card trees would look unrealistic in the foreground, so we have to use 3D geometry. In the libraries, we have a choice of tree types that we can use in our scenes. Create a new area in the middle of the landscape and add Scattered Vegetation, then open the plants20 library and go to the ‘spruses’ [sic] section under Trees.

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From the Library, drag SpruceServian and SpruceSmall trees to the area’s Objects List. In each object’s Material Tree, select the firtrunk material, then right-click on Phong Photometry, select Add and choose Texture. In both the Texture and Bumping objects, click File and select Textures\greenbark.jpg.

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Under Placement, make Tiling 1/1 and Soft Edge 0.01/0.01. Use Pyramidal filtering with a scale of 2. Under Rotate, change the X and Y settings to 8. Activate the Cast Shadow option in Shadows & Reflections. Adjust Size & Density and Random Seed to suit, using Draft Preview renders to see how things look.

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The next step is to add grass. Create a new area close to your camera. Open the Library, select grass20 and drag the Meadow 2 object onto the area you just created. Now we’ll adjust parameters to achieve the right look. Start with Blades: set ‘Min angle to horizon’ to 50, so that they spread more.

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Virtual landscapes | TUTORIALS

STAGE FOUR (continued) | Dealing with trees and grass
EXPERT TIP
Incremental renders
A good way to get faster feedback from any changes you make is to use the incremental design step system built into WorldBuilder. After any render, you can select Tools > Incremental Design Step Forward. WorldBuilder stores all the information about the Z position in each pixel, freezing the render as a background image and hiding the rendered elements on trees. You can accurately render new elements on top of your previous render to assess how different settings work. To go back, just select Incremental Design Step Backward.

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Adjust the Clumps and Patches parameters, and keep doing Draft Preview renders to see if the placement is good. If not, change the seed until you’re happy with the results. Take care when performing a Draft Preview, as the grass may look different here than in the final render. Finally, under Colors, change the two Top Color options to get the look you want.

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Using the same technique, create another area in front of the camera to place smaller grass. To add more diversity, create an additional area that covers both grass areas, and add a cluster of vegetation using the CarexFlacca Plant variations from the plants20 library. The key is good distribution, so keep changing the Random Seed under Size & Density until you find it.

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STAGE FIVE | Final touches

The scene just needs a few final details. Tweaks to Ambient Light and Atmosphere usually work well: you can find both under Scene in the Scene Tree. For Ambient Light, choose a colour that’s slightly lighter than black. In Atmosphere, add a Layered 2-Color Fog. Adjust the parameters so the fog starts far from the camera and isn’t too thick. The colour should be close to that of your sky.

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Now to make some close-up trees. Open the Variator library and drag GrandFir to Landscape0 under Scene. This creates an L-System: a mathematical representation of a tree. You can adjust values such as trunk size, then click Run L-System to form a tree. Make several and drag them into the landscape. Orient each with Rotate, then press the Landing button in the toolbar to properly align it.

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Finally, we’ll add some elements to the foreground section. We’ll create four additional areas based on Clusters of Vegetation, which we’ll fill with objects from the plants20 library. Try the object variations from BIGPINE, StonePine, Weed (found under Extra) and Cabomba_Piauhyensis (under Water Plants). Create the areas and place the objects so the distribution looks nice and

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balanced. Remember to try out different Random Seed settings until you get the most pleasing distribution, and check the provided sample files to get any extra guidance you might need. Now you can select Render > Final Rendering and choose the output location for your file. If you want a high-resolution image, the render will be split into parts and then automatically stitched together. ●

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