Environments in Vue: Forest

Create a creepy forest scene with Massimo Verona, using Vue to form different ecosystem layers...

This project will be at an intermediate level of difficulty, going through the creation of a creepy forest scene. You should be used to Vue's ecosystem scattering and atmosphere editor, which are the program's two most powerful tools. We will create the shape of the terrain for our scene and then populate it with an ecosystem. Afterwards we'll have a look at the atmosphere settings to give the scene our desired mood. Lastly, we'll set up custom render settings to render the scene.

In this scene, I wanted to give the feeling of being in a forest where you reach a clearing and find this old little house...

Step 01: Main terrain

In this first step, I start with an empty scene, adding the main terrain where the hut and camera will be. Choose standard terrain for the left icon bar, and set it to roughly 200m long and 200m wide. The height is not really relevant at this stage, since we'll sculpt the terrain to the shape we need.

Creating the main terrain for the scene

Creating the main terrain for the scene

Step 02: Preparing the terrain

Open the terrain editor by double-clicking on it. Inside the terrain editor, delete the terrain by clicking on the first icon in the top-left of the toolbar. This way we'll have an empty flat terrain which I can start sculpting to the desired shape in the next step.

Preparing the terrain for sculpting in the next step

Preparing the terrain for sculpting in the next step

Step 03: Sculpting the terrain

In this step I begin to sculpt the terrain into the shape I have in mind: a small stream where the bridge will go over, and a little path that leads to the hut. For that, I raise the terrain resolution to 512 x 512 and start sculpting with the Raise tool. I raise the terrain to the height I need, leaving a free space for the stream.

Afterwards, I invert the Raise tool to sculpt out the path. For this, I use very low flow values in the Global Settings tab. When I'm satisfied, I go to the Effects rollout and press Diffuse a few times to smoothen the terrain.

Sculpting the terrain to the shape I need for the bridge, hut, and small stream

Sculpting the terrain to the shape I need for the bridge, hut, and small stream

Step 04: Texturing the terrain

To give the path a different material to the rest of the terrain, I use Vue's Paint Material option inside the Terrain Editor. I use a mapped texture downloaded for free from cgtextures.com for the entire terrain, but of course you can use whatever material you like best for this. After that, I double-click on the Terrain Editor again, and choose Paint Material from the Brush Preset rollout. I use this to paint along the path I sculpted earlier, just using the standard material that is applied to the brush when you select it. Again, you can use any material you like for this.

Texturing the terrain and painting in the path

Texturing the terrain and painting in the path

Step 05: Adding the props

Now that I've finished the base for the scene where the main story will take part, I'm ready to add the props. For this scene, I use Ravyn's 'Bone Man's Hut' and 'Bridge to Redemption' available from Content Paradise, but other house and bridge objects are also available there.

I position the bridge over the stream, where I sculpted the path earlier, and adjust it to the size needed to reach between the two sides. If necessary, go back to the Terrain Editor and sculpt the terrain some more to make the bridge fit. I also add the hut, positioning it so that I can see the entrance; I decide a three-quarter view of the hut looks best for my scene.

Adding the props that will be the main focus of the scene

Adding the props that will be the main focus of the scene

Step 06: Duplicating the terrain

Now I need to add more depth to the scene. For this, I just duplicate the main terrain and flip it 180°, positioning it to get a continuing stream. I duplicate and flip it 180° again, once more positioning it to get a longer stream. When I'm satisfied with the position, I simply group the terrains together and use the main terrain material to delete the extra path material, since we don't need it back there. We won't see much of these terrains, but we need them to get the illusion of depth for our scene.

Duplicating the terrain to get more depth

Duplicating the terrain to get more depth

Step 07: Adding the surrounding terrains

To fill up the scene and get the desired effect of being in a forest, I need to add more terrains, surrounding my main terrain. For this, I just create a standard terrain the length of almost all three existing terrains. In the Terrain Editor, I delete all the detail from the terrain by clicking on the first top-left icon, and then use the Raise tool to sculpt is as shown in the screenshot. Feel free to sculpt it to fit your needs for the scene.

Starting to add the surrounding terrains to fill up the scene

Starting to add the surrounding terrains to fill up the scene

Step 08: Positioning the new terrains

Now, to make my life easier without sculpting two new terrains, I again duplicate this new terrain two times, positioning them as shown on the screen grab. I group the terrains again and assign the same material as for the other terrains, just deleting the path material where it no longer fits. The purpose of this terrain is to give me the space to populate an ecosystem on them, so I get the feeling of being in a dense forest surrounding the small clearing which is the main focus.

Positioning the newly created terrains inside the scene for the final composition

Positioning the newly created terrains inside the scene for the final composition

Step 09: Water plane

The water I need for the stream will just be a simple cube. You can use the numbers for the size shown in the screen grab, but if you have made a scene with different sizes, just make it fit to your scene.

For the material, I use a standard water material with no physical transparency, since that will take much longer to render and I don't need physical transparency here. I change the fade-out color to a greenish brown and make it 135% murky. Since I have quite a low-positioned camera, I increase the Turn Reflective with Angle to 77% to make it a bit more reflective.

Note: if you use the photometric spectral atmosphere model as I do here, you also need to set the color of the water in the Color & Alpha tab to a brownish color!

Creating the water plane for the little stream

Creating the water plane for the little stream

The settings for the water material

The settings for the water material

Step 10: Adding static plants

For this last step of the layout for my scene, I add some static plants. I position them manually, since doing this with the ecosystem function won't give the exact distribution of trees that I need. I use some default trees that I like with some trees from Xfrog. (If you go to their site, you can buy objects or download lots of freebies from their Samples section.) You can of course use whatever trees or bushes you like for your scene. I position them in a way that makes the composition look good to me.

Adding some static plants to fill up the place

Adding some static plants to fill up the place

Step 11: Ecosystem layers

Now I'm ready to start creating all the ecosystem layers needed to make the distribution of vegetation look more believable. As seen in the screenshot, I start from Figure 1 to Figure 6 layering all the different ecosystems.

Figure 1 is a layer for the trees, where I use four different species to give some variation to the vegetation. When loaded in, I go to the Presence tab and use the values shown in the screenshot to prevent the trees being populated too low on the terrain, as I don't want them going in the water. In the Density tab, I use the values shown in the screenshot (Density Tab Trees! - M) to prevent the trees growing inside the hut. I use the same density settings for figure 6.

For all the other layers from figure 2 to figure 4, I use the presence settings you see in the screenshot (ecosystem layers main and rear terrain). You can use those settings too if you've made your terrain the same height as mine. (If you didn't make it the same height, you will need to adjust those settings in order to fit the height of the terrain!)

For the density, I just play with the settings according to the amount of vegetation I need and the amount of vegetation my system can handle! You need to adapt the density settings to your computer specs. I have 24GB RAM on this system so I can make the ecosystems quite heavy, but you may use lower density values for the grass, or enable Dynamic Population.

I save this material and load it in for the rear terrain, delete the path material, and populate it, so now the rear and main terrain have the exact same material except for the path.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

Step 12: Background terrains ecosystem

So now to the final step of the ecosystem distribution for my scene. As I have saved the material with the ecosystem in the previous step, I just load that in for the background terrains, and simply delete all materials except the trees and the grass ecosystem layer.

Those are the only two materials I need for these terrains, and there's no need to have the stones and other stuff in there. You can of course add as much vegetation as you want to!

Applying the ecosystem to the background terrains to finish up the distribution of the vegetation

Applying the ecosystem to the background terrains to finish up the distribution of the vegetation

Step 13: Hut light

I want to add a little interesting touch to the hut, so I decide to put a light inside it. For that, I simply create a point light, place it inside the hut, use the values you can see on the screenshot, and that's it!

Adding a light to the inside of the hut

Adding a light to the inside of the hut

Step 14: Atmosphere and render settings

Now comes the key step that will set the mood for my scene! For this, as in all my renders, I use the photometric light model with the option 'Allow overriding photometric settings' enabled, so I have more control over the lighting.

To get the same atmosphere I have, just follow the steps as seen in the screenshot from figure 1 to figure 3. Again, you can play with all those settings to get different results and the look you want for your scene. When I'm satisfied with the light conditions for my scene, it's time to set up the render settings for the final render.

Open the render tab and enable the user settings option in the Preset and Render Quality tab, and use the settings shown in figure 4 and figure 5. For the size of the image, just use whatever resolution suits you best! I always render my stuff in 2,500 pixels upwards, to get a decent render.

When the rendering is done, use the exposure control settings you see on the screenshot (Exposure control). Change the current display gamma to 1.8, and you're done! Now save your scene either as a TIF or PNG for further color correction, if needed, in any other application you like!

Adjusting the atmosphere settings and setting up render options

Adjusting the atmosphere settings and setting up render options

Final image

Final image