Creating landscapes…

I like to create CGI images and I use Poser to set up the model, add clothes and other props and then put them in a specific pose that would generate an interesting image. That sounds a bit complex and to be honest, yes! It is complex, because you have to consider many small things to get the best result. It’s a bit like programming, actually. You start to think about an interesting design and as you advance with the project, you’ll have to focus on smaller and smaller details. At first, it’s thinking about clothing and poses, next you have to check if the clothes fit good enough. Then you have to look even closer making sure no small items are poking through the wrong places. Nails from fingers, for example, when your model is touching something.

But hey, that’s one part of the whole process. I want to talk about landscaping! And for this, there are two interesting tools that are available for free! There’s Bryce from DAZ3D which happens to be a great tool. It’s available for both Windows and Apple’s Mac systems. I’ve downloaded it in the past, just never started to use it. Instead, I use Vue 10 Complete which is a bit expensive when you’re just starting since, hey! It costs money! So, if you want to start for free, get Vue 10 Pioneer instead! The difference? Well, you will be missing a few practical tools like importing models from Poser, and you’ll be missing some extra content. But, it’s a start.

Setting up a proper scene isn’t that difficult, although you will need a lot of patience, since rendering landscapes takes a lot of time. This is especially true when a lot of details in your image. I’ve rendered images at sizes 4000×3000 pixels with highest quality within 20 minutes, but those had just simple details and barely any reflections. I’ve also rendered a battle between a female warrior and a big dragon, far above the clouds with the landscape far, far away in the back. It took over 6 days to render and this is the result:

To be honest, the original size was 4000×3000, which happens to be huge, even when rendering with 64-bits software on a system with 24 GB of RAM. And part of the complexity are the clouds, which both reflect and refract light. And even though I didn’t much detail in the ground, the terrain that’s visible also happens to be a huge area.

So, problem one with rendering landscapes it that you need to be patient or just have to accept smaller images.

Would this image render faster if I hadn’t added a Poser model in the foreground? I don’t think so, since the model actually make the image less complex! It hides the items behind it, and those items would be harder to render because of transparency and shape. There are no shining items in the model, so it doesn’t reflect much, and the only transparent part happen to be the hair of the woman and the wings of the dragon.

Of course, the most complex part of landscapes are plants and especially grass. An image that I managed to render quickly just didn’t have much details. A starry night with a strange sun, one tree in the background and the top of some castle. This combined with a female warrior fighting against a lizard-man resulted within 30 minutes in the following image:


And why did it render that fast? Simple! The sky has no clouds and except for the tree on the right, the number of polygons happens to be very low. It’s not one of my best artwork but it’s a nice example of something that can be done fast, and tells us about the next problem…

Problem number two: the more polygons your image has, the longer it will take to render. And please do realize that plants will generate a lot of polygons. Filling your landscapes with trees and grass might turn a render-time from hours into days.

To solve this, try to cut the number of polygons in your image by, such as only adding details in front of the camera, and not all around the terrain. And putting simple objects in the foreground will remove the more complex details in the background, except when the foreground object is semi-transparent.

Although clouds can result in some complex images, they do become less complex when there’s just sky behind them. You could, for example, generate an image with a female warrior riding a dragon with a floating castle in the clouds, like this one:

It took over 10 hours to render, even though I’ve kept most of it quite simple. The reason for the delays were the clouds in this case, which had to show part of the terrain and castle. By avoiding a lot of plants and grass and just using a simple texture for the terrain, I did manage to keep the render reasonable fast. Also, not having too many light sources helped a lot.

Problem 3: each additional light source or glowing object will add to the complexity and thus to the total render time!

Still, you can reduce the influence of those lights by editing them as objects, and limiting the things that they would shine on. For example, you could add a light in the foreground which would only light up the dragon and warrior models, but not the terrain or clouds. That way, the objects in the foreground become more clear. (You might also want to turn off shadows for those lights!)

And so I get at the next complexity, which you’ll probably guess from this image:


I didn’t post the complete image, since there’s a naked fisher-woman who’s about to spear this fish, but you can see it clearly: water.

Problem 4: Water reflects and refracts and has a very variable shape. And fortunately, the original image at 3200×2400 rendered within 12 hours, simply because it only showed water, and a few naked models on top of a wooden construction. But I’ve decided to make the water very wavy, so the fish would rise up from the water. To add to the complexity, I added splashes around the fish. Yeah, more polygons. And because water reflects and refracts, it just takes some time to finish. For distant water, turn off the transparency to speed up the result, since at long distances, there’s no need to see what’s under the water surface. (Unless you’re looking from a great height down on the water surface!

So the four major problems with rendering landscapes are image size, number of polygons, number of lights and the complexity of water-like materials. There are a few more problems that will slow things down, but these are the ones you’d best be aware of when you’re just starting.

And of course, you could wonder if I use half-dressed or even undressed models in my art to cut the number of polygons, but no. A Poser model will probably add a few hundreds of polygons and my system can handle this. A single tree will be just as complex. Besides, the clothes would hide the model from view so it’s effects are small.

No, the reason for the lack of clothes in my models is because it’s easier to create them in Poser. As I said at the top, clothes adds complexity to the pose. Things always tend to stick through clothes, like parts of the arms or legs, belly, breasts and occasionally hair. Clothes can be too wide, too long, too rigid in shape to make them work with the rest of the pose. For example, I have a suit of armor for my model, but the chest size cannot be adjusted so my models need to have a specific chest size, else it won’t fit. I also use models with different lengths, and clothes are often set for specific lengths, forcing me to re-size the clothes and doing more checks. So, the naked ladies are just me being lazy…