The 3DCheapskate's Brief Guide To Landscape Software
This category covers software that is specifically designed to create expansive, photorealistic, natural environments . Bryce, Terragen, and Vue are the main examples I'm familiar with. And just in case you'd forgotten what this landscape software is capable of here's those links to the showcase galleries again...
But let's start with some generic concepts common to landscape software.
A Generic Overview Of Landscape Software
Although all landscape software does basically the same thing the user interfaces (UI) vary quite a bit. Even different versions of the same software can have very different UIs. Take a quick look at the screenshots below (click on them to see larger images) - they're the UIs for (left to right) Bryce 7 Pro, Terragen 2 Free, Terragen Classic, and Vue 11 Pioneer. And they all look very different.
But if you refer back to these pictures as you read through this page you'll begin, hopefully, to spot the similarities.
Get To Grips With The Basic UI Controls
To set up your landscape you'll need to add various items to the scene. You'll need to adjust them within the scene - move them around, stretch or shrink them, rotate them. Maybe you'll need to delete items. You'll probably want to look at your scene from different viewpoints, e.g. camera view, top view, front view, side view. You can often adjust each view independently by panning, zooming, rotating, orbiting, etc.
Unfortunately there's no universal rule across different software for which action has which result. It's just something you have to learn. But here are a few general pointers.
- Adding items is often done by clicking a button/icon.
- You can often select an item that's already in the scene by clicking it.
- Adjusting an item is often done by a click-and-drag with the mouse.
- (Left-)click, double-click, and right-click usually do different things.
- The scroll wheel is often used as well.
- Holding the Control, Shift, or Alt key down while clicking or dragging often does something different.
You might be able to work it out for yourself by just playing. Some software provides a sheet you can print out listing all the common functions and the keys you press to get at them (if your software doesn't, then it's well worth creating one yourself!). Otherwise you'll have to check the manuals and tutorials.
The Basic Elements Required In A Scene - Usually
Most landscapes you create will need the following things:
- Terrain: Unless you're doing a seascape with no land in sight you'll need some solid ground.
- Water: Even if you're not doing a seascape, how about a river or pond.
- Sky, clouds, mist: If you're doing an outdoor scene you'll need some sort of sky. Even in an enclosed space you might want some mist or fog.
- Sunlight, moonlight, starlight: Without a light source everything will be pitch black.
- A Camera: Don't forget the camera! The software needs to know where to take the 'photo' from, what field of view, etc. There's usually a camera already set up for you.
Have a look at each of the UI screenshots again and try to pick out any buttons, icons, tabs, panels, etc that you think are associated with each of these five basic elements.
Start Creating A Basic Landscape
A nice start with any landscape software is to see whether you can create a simple landscape. Try a small island in the sea, or a lake in the mountains.
A reasonable way to start is by adding a terrain and a water plane. You'll probably need to move the terrain or water plane up/down
Now's probably a good time to save your scene!
Play With The Lighting And Weather
The four images below were created in Vue 11 Pioneer. They all start with the same scene (the one on the left), and I simply selected a different atmospheric preset (and moved the eagle!).
So once you've got a nice simple landscape, try to work out how to change the lighting and atmospheric conditions. Have a look at UI screenshots again and look for anything relating to lighting, clouds or atmosphere. Have a play around with your scene.
If that was too easy then see if you can work out how to edit the contours of the terrain to a specific shape. Maybe see if the software has a little toy-box with some ready made trees, plants and flowers
(This section still to do)
Terragen Classic / Terragen 2 Free (Free Landscape software)
What can you do with Terragen Classic? Have a look at Planetside's Terragen Classic gallery.
Terragen from Planetside Software says it's "a scenery generator, created with the goal of generating photorealistic landscape images and animations". It has two free versions and is available for both MAC and Windows. The Classic version is the original fully-featured software. The Terragen 2 Free version has several limitations imposed, such as maximum render size. You can download the software immediately, no sign-up or anything. Terragen 2 Free Edition has a good amount of documentation online at the Planetside Wiki including a one page 'Quick Start' guide and an 18 page 'Creating Your First Scene' tutorial. Terragen Classic is the original, and should work on even the slowest, oldest computers. If you download, install and run it and select Help it says there's a user guide available online, and also for download - unfortunately there isn't (as far as I can see). But don't let that put you off - this is a piece of software that you really should just play with!
The picture here was created within 10-15 minutes of installing Terragen Classic, just playing around with no instructions.
Terragen 2 (Paid Landscape software)
What can you do with Terragen 2? Have a look at Planetside's Terragen 2 gallery.
Terragen 2 from Planetside Software says it's "a scenery generator, created with the goal of generating photorealistic landscape images and animations". The basic paid version costs around $300.
The picture here was created with the free version (I don't have the paid version), following the quick start guide to step 27, and then fiddling a bit.
The blurb for Vue from e-on software says it's "a great way to learn 3D. It's so easy to use that you'll be composing amazing 3D landscapes in no time.".
There's a free version and paid versions start at around $50. There's also a free trial of the top-of-the-range $1,300 version! And there are add-on modules for $40 to $150.
My recommendation would be to start by downloading the free Vue 11 Pioneer. Once you've got used to the way it works try downloading the free Vue 11 PLE too (you can run both the Pioneer and PLE together on the same computer). You can continue using both versions for free with no time limit, although I think that after 30 days the PLE puts e-on logos all over any pictures. This gives you plenty of time to find out if there's anything in the PLE that you really want but isn't in the free Vue 11 Pioneer. Then if you like Vue and decide to spend money, you can work out whether the best way to get what you want is by buying add-on modules or by buying a different version.
The picture here wascreated after a couple of hours playing with an activated copy of the free Vue 11 Pioneer. In that time I'd discovered some of the included content (the eagle), and worked out how to use the ecosystem feature which added lots of trees for me.
Vue Pioneer (Free Landscape software)
Vue Pioneer is the free version (currently Vue 11 Pioneer). Available for Windows and MAC. You can download it immediately (one 651MB zip) from the website. You need 'activate' your copy (by setting up a free account at Cornucopia3D, the content-selling branch of e-on software) to get rid of the e-on logos on the pictures you produce. There's a 654 page User Guide included in the download, which also covers software installation. It comes with a small 'toy-box' of trees, rocks, and a few bits and pieces. The first thing you should probably do is open each of the included scene files and render them - they'll give you an idea of what's possible.
The picture here is my first ever Vue render, created within 30-60 minutes of installing the software. I used an unactivated copy of Vue 11 Pioneer so it's covered in e-on logos. If you activate your copy you don't get the e-on logos, but still get the 'Rendered in Vue'.
Vue 11 Infinite PLE (Free Landscape software)
Vue 11 Infinite is for CG professionals and starts at $1,300. But e-on software provides a free trial version, the Personal Learning Edition (PLE). There are restrictions of course - non-commercial use only, after 30 days all images are covered in e-on logos, and its VOB-format files can't be used on other versions or other copies of Vue.
Vue (Paid Landscape/'Toy-box' software)
The paid versions are split into three categories on their website.
- For 3D enthusiasts ($50 to $100): The $50 packages seem to be mainly extra themed content, adding an elements of 'toy-box' software to it. The $100 Vue Frontier allows you to load and render DAZ and Poser characters.
- For 3D artists ($200 to $600): These appear to incorporate selected add-on modules.
- For 3D professionals ($1,300 upwards): Beyond the scope of this website!