3D Forests

As an artist, every now and then you need to pull your socks up and catch up not only with the competition, but also the tools you use each day. I had one of these mini-epiphanies late last year after winning a comission to prepare a set of images for a new development set in forested hills on the island of Grenada. Usually, when forests and planting are required I would prepare the buildings and terrain using 3D but then add the trees and planting in Photoshop using photomontage and digital paint…lots of it. On this project I wanted to achieve something new and so opted to gamble on an all CG landscape approach.

Despite having tried various CG solutions to landscaping in the past, I found that either render times became prohibitive or the solution I was hoping for just wouldn’t work for me as advertised – Vue XStream comes to mind. As far back as 2003, I bought the Onyx Tree/Storm plugins for Max – I’d been amazed by a Tree Storm animation of some palms blowing  in the wind rendered using Electric Image at Londons DMW in 1997 and could never quite let go of that imagery – but the hardware and rendering limitations of that time meant that, as sophisticated as its trees looked, they just weren’t viable for a project with a deadline and the software remained uninstalled and pretty much overlooked.

River View Detail

What’s changed? A few things. Apart from the availability of more powerful hardware and software, I would cite  Peter Guthrie’s work using Onyx Tree as a motivational spur. Around the same time, I had belatedly discovered the performance benefits of using Vray Proxy meshes. Finally, I was pointed in the direction of a fantastic Max plug-in from Itoo Software called Forest Pack Pro.

Forest Pack Pro allowed me to populate irregular terrain with Vray Proxy models of tree and plant meshes (or rocks in the case of the river bed) with relative ease and because it references these meshes rather duplicates them, it keeps memory usage incredibly low and render times fast and manageable. The whole scene (shown in the aerial shot above) amounted to just 1,650,843 polys.

Aerial View Detail

I could have painted all of those trees digitally in photoshop, but given the number and variety of images required on this project I don’t feel I could have done it as well or as efficiently. Besides, I quite enjoyed playing and scattering trees about the landscape without having to worry to much about Max keeling over.

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