I’ve recently started offering some of my 3D resources on The3DStudio.com. I spend a lot of time creating 3D textures and models, so I’m going to start offering some of these to other artists. Quite often 3D artists, particularly production artists, need a complex texture or model for their project but don’t have time to make it themselves – so they buy what they need from a 3D site. Example: they need to show a car in their scene but don’t have time to build the model themselves, so they find one online that they can buy. It’s like stock photos, they buy the model or texture they need and download it.
The3DStudio.com is one of the largest and oldest companies on the Internet offering resources to 3D artists, and is one of the most well-known and trusted names in the industry.
I’ve got two texture packages up now and will be adding more. You can find them here.
As part of a 3D scene I am currently working on, I wanted to add some plants. Modeling plants in 3D is an interesting proposition. Obviously, trying to individually model every leaf would be an impossible task, and would make the model far too complex and difficult to render. But just inserting a flat “plant” shape wouldn’t have realistic volume and lighting. Fortunately, there is a way to rapidly model plants and achieve a great degree of realism. Let’s see how this works.
Modeling the Tree Trunk
I wanted to insert a palm tree into the scene, so let’s start with the trunk. I began with a simple cylinder shape. then edited the shape to create the cluster of trimmed stalks that you usually see at the top of a pruned palm tree. But tree trunks are not often straight and symmetrical, so I added a bit of a bend modifier to tilt it to one side, and then a noise modifier to give it a bit of irregularity.
Adding Texture to the Trunk
The next step is to add a realistic material to the trunk. I created the material in Photoshop based on photographs of real palm trees. The bottom part is the bark material, and the upper part is the image of chopped-off palm frond stalks. I added a bump map to the material to give it the appearance of having a raised texture. Then I applied the material to the trunk model. I then placed the trunk in a scene – a bed of mulch and a wall in the background. So far, so good. Now for the palm fronds.
Creating the Palm Frond
The first step in modeling a leaf – in the case, a palm frond – is to make a flat plane shape, the size and proportions of the future leaf. Then get the palm frond texture. This is just a photograph of a palm frond. It has to be clearly set against a white background so that you can pull a clean outline shape for the next step. The palm frond image is then placed on the flat plane shape. (Note to 3DS Max users – be sure to click “double-sided” in your material parameters.)
Creating and Applying an Opacity Map
The next step is to create an opacity map. This tells the 3D program which areas of the image you want to appear as transparent. Anything black in the image will be invisible, while the white areas will be visible. Using the image of the palm frond from the last step, the clean white outline is converted to a black silhouette in Photoshop. When the opacity map is applied to the plane, you get just the palm frond shape. You can see that even the shadow is now just the palm frond shape. (Note to 3DS Max users – be sure to select “Area Shadows” in your light.)
Giving the Palm Frond Shape
So far. all we have is a flat palm frond – not very convincing. So let’s give the leaf some shape. The first step is to divide the plane in half and then fold it slightly, like a book. This gives the frond it’s divided, symmetrical shape. Next, apply a bend modifier to give the leaf a natural, three dimensional curve. And there you see the result – a palm frond that “reads” in 3D.
Adding Leaves to the Trunk
Position the finished palm frond at the top of the palm tree trunk, so that it is curving naturally downward. The next step is to make a number of copies of the palm frond, changing their position, rotation, and bend to create a realistic cluster of palm fronds at the top of the trunk.
The Finished Model
And there is the finished model. You can see it sits well in the scene, looks fully three-dimensional, lights well, and creates realistic shadows. To complete the scene, I’ve added ferns at the base, created using the same steps as above. With the ferns, there is no trunk, but the fronds are clustered around a center. As a note, I haven’t gone deeply into describing the 3DS Max interface here, but all of the techniques described here are covered in basic manuals and tutorials. I highly recommend the tutorials at lynda.com for learning any kind of software.
I like to set myself up with a problem or challenge when I’m learning something. For a 3D scene I’m currently working on I wanted to add a waterfall. Sounds simple, but I wanted it to be animated, to really look like water was moving through a channel, over the edge, and then plunging down.
Most of the online tutorials I found approached it from the viewpoint of looking up at the waterfall, so you never had to see the water flowing up to the edge and over, all you saw was the falling spray. The falling spray is pretty easy to animate using a particle system. You just set the particle system up to spray out particles like a fire hose and put one or more at the top of the waterfall. Great. But I wanted to see the water actually flowing up to the lip and over.
Creating a water texture in 3DS Max is pretty simple. You just create a material, make it mostly transparent, and give it reflection and refraction maps. Then you apply it to an object in your scene, like the surface of a pool. You can then apply a noise modifier to the object, and animate the noise. Presto, realistic rippling water.
But the water doesn’t flow anywhere. It doesn’t move. So I started trying to figure out how to make that water look like it was moving. I figured out that the best way would be to apply a noise modifier to the bump map of the water texture, then figure out how to make the texture move across the object. A bump map, which I talked about here is basically a way to add the appearance of roughness or texture to a material. So I added a “turbulence” noise modifier as a bump map to the water material. I even animated the turbulence so it swirled around. Looked good, but it still didn’t move or flow.
Then I thought of a solution. The key is, in 3DS Max, you can add a film as a material texture. Say you have a TV screen in your scene. You can insert a film playing on the TV screen as a texture. That way, when you animate the scene, it looks like there is a film playing on the TV screen. Well, I thought, why can’t I create a film of a flowing noise texture, and then insert that film as the bump map texture.
How the filmed texture was made: The turbulence texture was applied to a long strip, which was then run under a camera and rendered.
Creating the film was straightforward. I created a plane in the shape of a long strip, and applied an animated turbulence to it. Then I placed a camera over the strip, pointed down, and moved the strip under it. Then I rendered the scene as a video. Voila, a flowing turbulence texture, seen here:
I then took this video and inserted it as the bump map texture on the water material. It worked like a charm. The water flows along a channel with a natural-looking turbulence.
The waterfall object with the water material applied to it.
I then made a waterfall-shaped object (left) and applied the water texture to it.
And there it was, the water appears to flow along the channel and over the edge. I adjusted the size of the material mapping so it was taller than it was wide, so the water movement appeared to travel faster as it plunged over the edge.
I then added the particle systems at the edge to make the sprays of drops as the water goes over the edge. And there you have a pretty good waterfall! Still needs a bit of tweaking, but the essentials are there. Now to the rest of the scene.
I’ve been doing some online courses in 3D Studio Max at lynda.com (which I highly recommend). I just finished nine hours of training and learned some new 3D skills, among them, particle systems.
This 30-second video is my first attempt to use a particle system in 3DS Max. A particle system is a feature in 3DS Max that is used to create and animate a large number of particles. It can be used to simulate rain, snow, fire, dust particles, streams of water, explosions, and many other effects. In this sequence I am simulating a rainstorm at night, using a simple industrial set.
I also used the 3DS Max “Scatter” modifier to create grass. This is a 3DS Max function where you can create one object,such as a clump of grass, and then tell the program to scatter many copies of that object over a surface area. It’s a fast way to create many objects on a surface such as rocks, leaves, plants, or any other object you make.
I am really impressed with the new 3D imagery on Google Earth. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Rome, Portland, Seattle, Avignon, Munich and many more. I got to wondering how on (Google) earth they were doing this. There is no way that someone was sitting at a computer and making individual models of tens of thousands of buildings and trees – 3D models of entire large cities. And in fact they do have a new way of making these city models – automatically.
Previously, if Google wanted to create a 3D model of a city, they had to individually model each building in a program called Google Sketchup, a very simple 3d modeling program. Someone had to painstakingly make the model, then find photographs of the outside of the building and map them onto the sides so it looked like the real building. It was massively time consuming, so Google crowdsourced the job, enlisting thousands of people all over the world to do it, many just hobbyists. The results were spotty and inconsistent. Some looked realistic, others were cartoony. The lighting was uneven. Placement of the buildings was often inaccurate, and not all buildings were modeled – often there were just a few buildings popping up in the middle of an otherwise flat city.
Now they’ve announced a new technique for creating 3D city models, called stereophotogrammetry. They now have, believe it or not, a fleet of planes that fly over cities, sort of like a flying version of their street view cars! Cameras are mounted on the planes that shoot high-resolution images at 45 degree angles, from directly overhead, and from multiple directions. The stereophotogrammetry process then automatically compares the various aerial photos to calculate the geometry of the buildings and trees and landmarks and create a textured 3D mesh of the entire city, including not only the buildings, but also trees, plants and even cars and trucks!
The result is a remarkably accurate 3D model of the entire city and its surrounding area, complete with accurate photographic textures. All of the buildings and structures are accurately placed, and the quality, lighting and shadows are consistent over the entire model. And because it’s automatic, it can be rapidly rolled out to cover large areas. Google’s Peter Birch expects this new technology to cover “communities of over 300 million people” by the end of the year.
Here is a gallery of some of these amazing images. But explore these cities yourself, you will be amazed.
My fascination with 3D started when I was about ten years old. My parents bought “us kids” a Tru-Vue stereoscopic viewer. If memory serves (which it occasionally does), it was this one (at right), a model number 502. It was the kind that had no internal illumination, you had to hold it up to the light. It took rectangular cards, like the one shown below, rather than the discs used by the ViewMaster. You advanced through the pictures by pressing the red lever. Each of the cards came in its own envelope, and as you can see in the picture, cost 49 cents! In 1957 the Tru-Vue viewer cost about $2.00.
To give a bit of history, the Tru-Vue company was founded in 1931, and grew and flourished through the 1930’s and 40’s. The original viewers were created as a “modern” update of the 19th Century stereoscopes, and were designed in the “streamline moderne” style. They used 35mm filmstrips, generally containing 14 stereo views, which were pulled through the viewer using a lever. By 1939, they were selling over a million reels of film. In 1950, they introduced their first color films, to compete with their main rival, View-Master, made by Oregon-based Sawyer’s Photo Services. The View-Master had been introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, originally intended as an alternative to the scenic postcard. The main subjects of View-Master reels were popular tourist locations like Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon.In 1951, Tru-Vue was purchased by Sawyer’s. In addition to eliminating their main rival, the takeover also gave Sawyer Tru-Vue’s licensing rights to use Disney characters.
That’s where I came in. I didn’t care much for the “scenic” views. They looked kind of flat and unreal. But I loved the Disney scenes with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Lady and the Tramp. I liked the characters, sure, but what really caught my imagination were the ingenious cartoon sets they appeared in, the cartoon streets, cafés, houses, shops, back alleys.
Before computers, before CGI and computer games and 3D Studio Max, this was my virtual world. Of course, analytically I knew these were models made by Disney artists, but in my imagination, the streets went on and on. I imagined walking down that cartoon street, turning that corner, and discovering a whole new scene. Disney artists had supplied the Tru-Vue scene, my imagination took off from there.
And I realized that, yeah, you can pretty much create anything you want. Whatever you can imagine, you can create. And once you’ve created your own 3D street, maybe someone else can walk down it and turn that corner…
One of my favorite 3D tools is called “bump mapping.” It’s a way of adding a lot of detail to an object without altering its basic geometry. Let’s take a common object in a 3D scene, a brick wall. One would normally create a brick wall by creating a rectangular, wall-shaped object and then mapping a photograph of a brick wall on top of it. This looks sort of like the picture, below. There is a photograph of a brick wall, and there is the photo mapped onto a rectangular object. It’s OK, makes a pretty convincing brick wall, particularly in the background.
But to add more realism, you can add what is called a “bump map.” Bump mapping is a technique in computer graphics for simulating small bumps, indentations and wrinkles on the surface of an object. Actually modelling all of those tiny indentations would take forever and would consume a lot of computer memory. Bump mapping is a way of creating all those tiny surface details without actually changing the surface of the object.
Here, I’ve created a bump map for the brick wall, by making a black and white, high-contrast version of the brick wall, then inverting it so it is a negative image. Anything designated as white will appear to stick out, and anything designated as black will appear to recede.
Here I’ve applied the bump map. The difference is subtle, but if you look closely, you can see that highlights are now added to the tops of the bricks and shadows underneath. And the brick wall looks much more convincing. It really makes a difference in creating a convincing object or scene.
Here’s a scene with a lot of bump-mapped textures. You can see it adds a lot of seeming detail to a scene with relatively simple geometry. (You can see the animation of this scene here.)