Devise dramatic scenery in Vue

Örs Bárczy demonstrates the landscape creation capabilities in Vue, as he describes the processes used in creating his Above the Clouds image

Create the base mesh

The base mesh for the mountain is created as a procedural terrain. To create one, choose Object / Create / Procedural Terrain or select the icon that looks like a mountain with the letter ‘f' beneath it from the left-hand toolbar. To rotate the view, hold down [Alt] and the right mouse button. You can zoom in or out by scrolling, or hold down the scroll wheel to move the view. You can see also a rendered draft preview in the small box on the right.

Expert Tip: Built-in randomness

Even if you use the same parameter values as me, you will get sometimes a different result. Don't worry: that's normal.

The icon to create a procedural terrain

The icon to create a procedural terrain

The procedural terrain

The procedural terrain

Use the Terrain Editor

Left-click on the mountain to select it. It will go red. Right-click on it and choose Edit Object. The Terrain Editor window should appear. From here, you can sculpt or add details to your terrain. You can set your Brush Size and Falloff values from the Paint tab. I turned off the Zero edges option by toggling the icon at the top of the editor and raised the resolution of my terrain to 512x512 by selecting Double terrain resolution (the ‘x2' icon).

The terrain menu

The terrain menu

Editing the terrain

Editing the terrain

View the Fractal Settings

Let's edit the fractal settings for the terrain. These control the overall form of the mountain and its surface details. Switch to the proc. tab on the right of the Terrain Editor. Right-click on the sphere and select Edit Function. A new window should open showing the node graph. You can add new nodes and modifiers – for instance, texture maps – but for now, focus on the Multiply and fractal nodes. The fractal node is currently set to Simple Fractal.

Working with nodes

Working with nodes

Edit the Fractal

I choose Terrain Fractal from the drop-down for the fractal node, but the Rocky Mountains Fractal option is also very powerful. I set the Multiply value to 3.8. The information below explains what the different parameters for the Terrain Fractal do. These settings are very sensitive, so my advice is to set Smallest feature to 0, Gain to 10 and play with the Metascale, Roughness and Largest feature settings until you get the result you want.

Fractal Settings/parameters: Editing the Terrain Fractal

Let's look at what the parameters for the Terrain Fractal do. (Note that the overall Multiply setting has an effect on Roughness, which will decrease if it is low). Origin sets the point from which the fractal originates: change it, and the hills will shift around. Metascale controls the global variation in the fractal noise, and is a kind of overall scale control. Largest feature and Smallest feature indicate the scale of the largest and smallest details in the terrain: a value of 0 for Smallest feature is perfect. Roughness controls the overall roughness of the fractal pattern, and Gain controls the amplitude: it can be used to create very large features. Distortion adds distortion to the overall pattern, as if it had been smeared around randomly.

Setting the fractal

Setting the fractal

Perform a test render

The real-time preview doesn't display the fine details of the terrain, so you need to render the image to see the real result. Click the camera icon in the top toolbar. You should see that the fractal is generating a lot of fine details in the terrain, which was our original aim. If you aren't satisfied with the result, just go back and change the values you set in the previous step. I sculpted in a higher hill using the brush tools available from the paint tab.

Expert Tip – Setting camera views

If you navigate the scene in Perspective view, the camera won't follow. Once you find the camera angle you want, just click the Rotate camera button and the camera will jump to that view.

Checking the detail on the test render

Checking the detail on the test render

Understanding materials

Vue's material setup is physically accurate, and is quite intuitive. For instance, snow cannot appear on the mountain on the right of the terrain, since the slope is too steep, in contrast with the gentler slopes in the middle. Right-click on the mountain, and choose Edit Material. The Material Editor window will open. If necessary, switch from Basic Material Editor to the Advanced Material Editor by clicking the large button on the top left of the window.

Materials in Vue

Materials in Vue

Create rock and snow

Create a new layer (click the Add layer button to the right of the layer hierarchy). The Material Browser should appear. Select Snow from the Landscapes collection. Click Default, then double-click on the larger material preview. Add a second layer for Grey Rock from the Landscapes tab in the Material menu. Select the Snow layer. In the Environment tab, set its Slope range (the range of gradients on which it is displayed). The Fuzziness setting controls how sharply these changes are made: choose a small falloff.

Creating the snow and rock

Creating the snow and rock

Choose an atmosphere

Using the top toolbar, Copy and Paste the mountain three or four times, complete with material settings. Vary the fractal settings slightly for each copy. Position each copy: I pushed them back, rotated them, and sometimes moved them down below the default plane. In the top toolbar, select Load Atmosphere (right-click the Atmosphere Editor icon). A new window will open. Choose the Everglades option from the Daytime/Spectral Sunshine folder.

The everglades option

The everglades option

The atmosphere

The atmosphere

Set the clouds

The Everglades option doesn't include clouds. You can select them from the Clouds tab of the Atmosphere Editor. I used one of AsileFX's cumulus preset's, but the default cumulus will work fine, too. The most important settings are Altitude and Height. Choose a low value (10 to 100m) for the Altitude at which cloud appears: you'll need to type it into the box rather than dragging the slider. Height is the height of the cloud layer: 100 to 200m worked for me here.

Cloud Parameters: What the clouds settings do?

You can find the clouds settings in the Clouds tab of the Atmosphere Editor. Let's look at what they do. Altitude controls the altitude at which clouds appear in the scene. Height controls the height of the cloud layer. Cover controls what percentage of the sky is covered. Density controls how deeply light penetrates the clouds. It can be set higher than 100% - I used a value of 440% here. Opacity controls how far you can see objects through the cloud. Sharpness controls how sharp the edges of the clouds appear. Detail amount controls the amplitude of the cloud details. (Note: some of these settings are only available in when using the spectral atmosphere model.) To add a new cloud layer, click the Add button to the right of the hierarchy.

Cloud settings

Cloud settings

Set the lighting model

You can do this using the Aerial perspective value in the Sky, Fog and Haze tab of the atmosphere. I set it to 8, but the appropriate value depends on your scene. The Light tab shows the five different lighting models available. I choose Global Radiosity with a Quality boost setting of +4. This mimics the effect of light bouncing around the scene, resulting in a bluer overall tone, since the snow picks up the blue of sky.

Editing the atmosphere

Editing the atmosphere

KEY SETTINGS: Understanding Aerial Perspective

ONE: No Aerial Perspective. The Aerial perspective setting in the Sky, Fog and Haze tab of the Atmosphere Editor controls how ‘thick' the atmosphere is in your scene. The three images in this walkthrough should show you how it works. In the image above, I've disabled Aerial perspective entirely.

Example of no aerial perspective

Example of no aerial perspective

TWO: Two Much Perspective. In this image, I set the Aerial perspective value too high. The sky is now an unnatural blue. However, notice that contrast decreases with distance from the camera, separating the distant hills into clear visual ‘layers'. In the first image, everything looked like one big mountain.

Example of too much aerial perspective

Example of too much aerial perspective

THREE: Correct Perspective. In this image, the Aerial perspective is visible and believable, but not too strong. The sky is still a bit blue, but we can fix that by colour correcting the final render. If you want to try this for yourself, the Aerial perspective settings for these three images are 0, 20 and 8.

Example of correct aerial perspective

Example of correct aerial perspective

Choose render settings

Right-click on the camera icon in the top toolbar and the Render Options appear. I use the Superior quality preset. In the options in the top right of the window, I select an aspect ratio of 70mm, and rendered at a resolution of 2048x935 pixels. Select Internal from the Renderer option to use Vue's own render engine and Render off-screen from the Render destination options to render in a new window.

The render setup

The render setup

Select render passes

Turn on Enable G-Buffer and Enable Multi-Pass. This enables you to render each component of the image separately: for example, the snow, or the colour correction for the atmosphere. Click the Edit button. Use the tickboxes to select the render layers you want. I rendered all the available passes (nearly 25 of them!) but that was totally unnecessary: the seven or eight default passes would have been fine. I chose to save the render as a single multi-layer OpenEXR file.

The multi-pass buffer

The multi-pass buffer

Composite the EXR File

I composited the EXR file in Nuke 8. Vue 2014 comes with a comp set-up script (VUE Compositing.nk) that Nuke can use to import the most important passes and connect them with Merge / Multiply nodes. You just need to just connect them to the EXR file. Add any other nodes you want: I use Exposure, Gamma and Grade to adjust the brightness and contrast of the image, and Flare to add a bit of lens flare. Use Flare wisely: less is sometimes more.

Compositing the EXR file

Compositing the EXR file

Add final touches

After I had finished in Nuke, I add some more colour correction in Photoshop (for example, the sky was too blue to be realistic). I also add some noise to the scene (Filter / Noise / Add Noise): It's very important to reduce the overly soft quality of the rendered image. Real photos contain subtle noise, lens distortion and atmospheric artefacts that we need to recreate manually to achieve a truly photorealistic result.

Final touches

Final touches

Some closing thoughts

Vue is a very powerful tool, but you need to know exactly what you want to achieve with it. Don't simply accept the default values it suggests: for example, the default sky colour or the default brightness value of the clouds. You need to consider the final result you want, and add more detail if necessary. Achieving an image that is 90 per cent photorealistic is not too difficult: It's the final ten per cent that really takes time and effort.

The final image

The final image

Related links:

Check out more of Örs Bárczy's work here
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