Welcome to the first part of a series of Vue tutorials. We will be exploring the creation of landscapes, tackling a different environment each chapter.
The special thing about this series is that the tutorials will be very results-driven. This means that I will concentrate on pointing out the essential elements of landscape creation and a cost-effective way of getting great results, rather than getting stuck into the technical side of things. The reason I am doing it like this is that I want to write articles that are easy to follow and that are about the principles more than anything else. Working as an environment artist in the film industry, I know the pressure of production and that is why I feel the end result is the most important thing. The software is just the tool that will help you reach that result.
The series should be interesting for beginners and intermediates, but it will also be filled with enough great tips to keep advanced readers interested. I would like to start by recommending that you take a look at the work of Dax Pandhi. He is a very advanced user who creates stunning final results.
Choosing Your Subject
Starting a new project can be a bit difficult. But the most important thing is to set a goal. If you already have a brief, that shouldn't be too hard. If you don't, take the time to come up with one yourself. Working without one can be a lot of fun as a quick exercise, but when working on a bigger project the goal should be very clear from the beginning.
For the first tutorial we're going to create a Mediterranean-style coast scene. I know that I want to go for a result that looks pretty photoreal, so it makes sense to start by looking for good reference images as this is the key to creating realistic 3D environments. It is easy to get carried away into thinking that your image looks photoreal, but only by comparing it with real-life examples will you be sure of that. I will talk a bit more about this later on.
To build my coastline, I start with a procedural terrain (Fig.01). By editing the function that generated the terrain I create the result I want. The setup is based on a model created by Dax Pandhi. This approach uses two terrain fractals that are later combined. I use one of them to create the larger features of the terrain and then the second one for the more detailed shapes. The one that creates the large features has been filtered to give it a canyon aspect. I need that for the steep cliffs of the coastline.
The two terrain filters can then be combined with a Blender node. You have to experiment with the values of the nodes until you get the result you are looking for. This is where experience and technical training comes into place. You should know that by clicking on the Terrain editor window with the Function editor open, you will update the preview of the procedural terrain. So any changes you make to the nodes will be previewed straight away.
The last node I use is a strata filter, which creates the nice lines running across the full length of the coastline. There is just one thing to be careful with here: the scale of your ground. Having the right scale set up will save you a lot of trouble later. Go to the Size tab, lock the scaling proportion and then choose the size you are aiming for (Fig.02).
Setting up the Camera
Now that we have a general idea in place for the terrain, we can choose a nice camera view. Before I do this I create a sea layer, because the water level is going to affect how much I see of my terrain, and of course the composition of the image. After doing that, I am free to move around with the camera, and choose something I like. I want to see the nice steep cliff in the distance, the bay and have an interesting foreground, so let's go for something that includes all of that. This is a moment where you should spend a bit of time exploring your scene because you might find some great surprises. This is where the power of Vue becomes obvious: after just one hour of work, you are already exploring a full 3D environment.
Setting up the Lighting
After finding the view that looks right, there are still two things to worry about. The first, and probably the most important, is the lighting. Choosing the lighting scenario is very important so this is where having a good reference comes into play. Find a good image and aim to light your scene like that.
My advice would be to start from one of the default "physical" atmosphere setups. Choose a good direction for the sunlight that helps to show the volumes of your terrain. Usually a side light which is not too high will give you nice daylight results. Here are my atmosphere settings (Fig.03). Notice the lowered setting for the quality boost which improves the render times. Of course, if you are not planning to move the camera you can reuse the indirect lighting calculation to speed up your test times.