Modeling a Plant

A lot of people have problems modeling plants. I found my own way and because it's an easy and fast one which gives a pretty
good result, I want to share this method with you. I am not going to make very photorealistic plants here, if you are going to do this, you should use references from a biology book, or elsewhere.

1. The Leaves

First of all, we need to draw the leaf's shape in a 2d programme. There is no need to have a mega powerfull programme, it could also be possible to use MS Paint. Well, I will use the freeware programme "GIMP", because it's very powerful, and easy to use.

Make a new file. I use the size 256 in the width, and 400 in the height.

Now simply draw a leaf. Use very thin lines for the outer shape, and a bit thicker for the mid-line.

It's important that you take your time, we will not only use it as a reference, it will still be used after modelling.

Now you we will make it a bit smoother. If your painting programme supports smoothing, smooth it twice, if not, simply download the picture.

Now let's get to the interesting part.

Open your 3D programme (I'm using 3DSMAX 5.1 here), and use your leaf as a background picture in the front view.

Under "Views"; "Viewport Background" make sure you have selected the options like here (red marked).

Now place a plane with one lenght segment, and 2 width segments on the reference, and right click on it, and under properties select "See-Through", you also need to make the viewport show "Smooth+Highlights" and "Edged Faces". Convert it to "Editable Poly" and make it fit to the reference, the mid-line has to be on the references mid-line, of course:

Now extrude the two lower edged downwards, and make them fit, again.

Keep doing it, until the whole leaf is finished.

Now open the Material Editor and create a new material, call it "Leaf_01".

In the "Shader Basic Parameters" select "2-Sided", and "Blinn".

In the "Blinn Basic Parameters" unlink the "Ambient" from the "Diffuse" color, and make the ambient color black. Also make the "Opacity" Value "90".

Now go to the "Maps" dialog, and chose "Bump", use the same picture for the bump, as you used for reference, and in the "Output" dialog choose "Invert". That's important, or the bump map will work in the wrong direction!

Now apply the material to the plant, and give it a "UVW Map" modifier.

Now select the "UVW Map's" gizmo, press F-12 and set all values to "0":

Now resize the gizmo, that it fits to the reference pic.

Make a testrender, it should look similar to this.

Not really good, yet, but that will change later.

You can now remove the background.

Convert it to editable poly again, and add a "FFD 4x4x4" Modifier, and move the very left, and right points backwards.

Now select the lower points, and move them backwards, as well.

Only add a "Mesh Smooth" modifier with Iterations "1" in the render values, and the modeling part is done.

It only needs some color, and the leaf will be finished.

Open the material editor, and in the "Diffuse" slot choose the "Mix" map.

In the "Color #1" slot use a "Noise Map", with similar options to these.

Get back to the "Mix Map" dialog, and copy the noise map into the "Color #2" channel:

Go to the second noise map, and make small changes to the color.

Now add the same map you used as the bump in the "Mix Amount" channel.

Get back to the "Maps" Dialog, and lower the "Bump Amount" to something around 10.

2. The Plant

Now let's go on with the plant itself. I will show you one way, which I think fits the leaves we have, and it's the easiest.
Simply create a Spline with 3 Points.

Now make these points "Smooth", make the "Render Mesh" visible, and add thickness. Also use less sides, around 8.

Now make the spline a bit straighter, also make sure, that it doesn't loose segments, and then convert it into "Editable Poly".

Open the material editor, and create a new material and call it "Stalk_01"

Set the basic parameters like in the picture.

Now only add a noise map to the "Diffuse" channel with following options.

Apply it to the line, and we are finished here.

3. Adding the Leaves to the Plant

Now we still need to add the leaves to the plant, this will be a fast job.
Select the leaf and fix the pivot at its upper edge:

Place the pivot in the lower-middle of the plant, and rotate the leaf like this:

Now Mirror it, and then simply copy it. Put the Copy up a bit, and rotate it, like shown here:

Now you simply need to copy these pairs of leaves until you reach the top:

Still looks very strange, but that will change.

Add a "FDD 4x4x4" modifier to the whole plant (but don't attach, or collapse the whole thing, that would cause more polygons because of the leaf's mesh smooth).

Then use "Uniform Scale" to scale the plant like here.

Your plant should look similar to this.

' '

4. Animating the whole thing

Now that we have a plant, why not animate it? It's easy.

First of all we need to fix the textures to the mesh.

Every texture that has to be animated may not have "World XYZ" coordinates, that would make them stay at the same place, while the object moves (only underwater animations use this)

So open your material editor, and set all your used textures to "Object XYZ", or if it uses a "UVW Map", like the Bump on the leafs, set it to "Explict Map Channel".

Now set the animation Key to 50, and use the "FFD" Modifier to animate the plant.

Look at the upper picture. The leaves are set off the stalk, you have to fix that by moving the second line more to the left:

Now select the first key, hold "Shift", and move it to the last frame.

If you render your animation it should look like this.

5. Be creative

Well, if you compare the plant you've just made with a real one, you will see a lot of differences, especially on the colors.

Well, I've only showed you the basics of modelling a plant, I don't want to make you feel that this is the only way.

Everyone has his, or her own style of modeling. It will not help you if you always use exactly the way I gave you!

Try to make some things different than I did, maybe you find a better way (for you).

Also I didn't use every detail, I use on other plants in this tutorial, because every plant is different, and has to be done in a different way, this is only the basic shape! Also the lighting, and the scene you put it in makes important changes on the plants look!

Here are some other plants I made using this technique, as you see every one is individual.

And here's a scene I used them in, again they seem to give an other effect.


It's the same with animations, the animation above seems to be very bad (if you look carfeully you see what happens if the map coordinates are set to "World XYZ"), but if you use your own style, it may be better, like this one, it uses the same kind of animation.

This one was made as a button for my Homepage.

I hope this tutorial helped you, and maybe gave you another perspective on modeling organic Objects.

--Thomas Rinsch

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