Aron Kamolz talked about the way he produces incredibly realistic landscapes with Vue and World Machine, compared Vue and SpeedTree and more.
Hello, my name is Aron Kamolz. I’m a freelance architect and self-taught 3D Artist from Germany with a focus on building digital landscapes. My interest in 3D graphics started in high school where some friends played with an early version of 3ds Max, but it was later during my architecture studies when 3D became important to me again. I had to do a site planning with lots of vegetation and stumbled over Vue Infinite. I was amazed at what beautiful landscape renders can be achieved. I gave it a try and since then CGI became important to me again. I decided to dive deeper into it and learned different software solutions, watched every tutorial I could find that interested me. After my studies, I began to work as a freelancer doing mostly architectural work, but besides this, I also did my first steps as an Artist in CGI. In the beginning, it was mostly archviz, but I tried other things more and more like plant creation or landscape renders for book covers and advertisements.
Landscape Production: Using World Machine & Vue
I want to show you an artwork which makes extensive use of World Machine and Vue.
For those who don’t know, with World Machine you can built beautiful terrains. You have a node-based workflow where you can combine various fractal noise functions together. To further refine the terrains you have filters to achieve different looks like terracing, canyonizing, plateaus, erosion, weathering, snow device and many more. So with a good knowledge of it, you can build almost any terrain you can imagine.
My WM workflow often starts with a terrain painted in Vue’s terrain editor that I export to bring it into WM. Or I start with a blockout directly in WM with the layout generator. This is a node where you can paint shapes (boxes, circles, polygon, lines) to make a base for further refinement.
I then use WM fractals, erosion and filters to break up the painted shapes and get some details in. Since WM is a heightfield generator only displacing on one axis it can’t produce overhangs or caves. To do this I use 3DCoat in Voxel-mode, so I can sculpt without boundaries. Or I combine the terrain with baked displacements from Vue or Plant Factory.
In my artwork Blue Haze Gorge, I combined a WM canyon-terrain with some baked displacements from Vue. For that, I tried to mimic the overall look of the canyon terrain with the displacement setup in Vue. After that, I baked the displaced objects so that I can better assign materials to them. When placed well they integrate pretty easily into the scene and with some vegetation on top, you can hide the parts where WM terrain and baked displacement intersect with each other. In the Vue screenshot, you can see the combination of the WM terrain and the displaced objects (marked red). With the same material assigned they blend nearly seamless.
Plant Factory vs. SpeedTree
As I started to create digital landscapes I used plants that came with Vue or took them from Xfrog plant libraries. But soon I felt that I wanted to build my own plants. It was just at that time when Plant Factory entered the market and I chose it because of the good implementation inside Vue. At that moment, I was not concerned about how good that package was at creating game content, as I just wanted to do my own plants and be more flexible.
This year I worked on a project where SpeedTree was used. The team gave me a short crash course and thanks to my previous work with Plant Factory I was able to learn it very fast. Although both software solutions look and function differently when it comes to the basic core features they kind of work the same.
I think there are different reasons why SpeedTree is used way more often than Plant Factory. SpeedTree was earlier on the market and could grow a bigger user base. The release of Plant Factory was a bit of a struggle. Their EULA made it difficult to use the program commercially, there were many bugs and bad export functions. But a lot has changed, Plant Factory is very stable now and the export options were greatly improved. In direct comparison, SpeedTree is easier to use, but Plant Factory has more functions to work with. You have all the nodes that come with Vue’s function editor: for example, fractal functions like Perlin or Voronoi which is very handy for displacements. You can even use them for procedural rock creation which is pretty cool.
So to me, Plant Factory is very flexible. Some artists use it even for modeling some parts like a procedural bridge. So it’s definitely a package that deserves more attention.
Mimicking the Nature
When it comes to mimicking the nature, the key points to me are the lighting and breaking up the repetitive patterns in the environment that come from textures and plant distribution. Let’s say we have a mown lawn (something that’s quite often used in the architectural renders). Even a well-kept lawn is not free from other small plants, the colors vary and won’t be the same over the entire area. There are different grass blades: thick or thin, bending, dried out or dying, fresh green, etc. You have to know its structure and how it works to build it in 3D realistically. By modeling only from photos you won’t learn everything. For that, you have to go out and study nature with your own eyes. This way you can better see how plants grow together, examine the transitions from meadow to wood or how light and shadows sculpt the forms of nature. It’s very hard to read all this information from a picture. So if I want to model a new plant species, I first try to go and find a real living example of it which I can study.
I was asked many times how I get my trees so real. To me, the key for that is scale. Mostly all digital tree models I have seen so far are not scaled properly. Their leaves are too big and the branching structure is not dense enough. I understand that it’s not (yet) possible to get such quality in a game model but in the cinematics, we have now reached the level where polycount doesn’t matter that much anymore, so there are no excuses for it.
When it comes to modeling other stuff besides plants, I mostly use a combination of Vue or Plant Factory and 3DCoat. For rock cliff structures, I often start with a baked Vue or Plant Factory displacement. I import that baked model into 3DCoat where I refine it further or clean artifacts from the displacement. The voxel mode is perfect for this as I can sculpt freely without the limitations of polygon modeling. And since I most of the time don’t need any UVs (Vue has great procedural shaders) and in Clarisse, I can use a combination of procedurals and triplanar mapping, I can sculpt without thinking of polycount that much.
So far I have used Vue as my main tool to create natural landscapes, but recently discovered Clarisse which is also a part of my pipeline now. As I have mentioned I started with Vue during my architecture studies. We had to plan a driving range and for that, I was looking for a solution where I could easily load in my driving range model and do all the necessary plant scattering and rendering. Vue was the only solution I could find where I could do all that without the need of external plugins.
What makes Vue stand out is the whole package it delivers. You have everything inside to start building landscapes without the need for an external software solution.
- You have a terrain editor where you can procedurally or manually generate terrains (or use a combination of both). Recently they also added erosion effects like in World Machine. They are not as fast as WM’s ones, but with a bit of patience, you get pretty nice results.
- Then you have a scattering system, called Ecosystems. It can be controlled by various settings like slope, height, sea level or with fractal noise functions. If you have plant factory items to scatter, you have additional controls like the level of detail for saving resources.
- And at least an atmosphere editor where you have all the controls for setting up the sky like fog, haze, aerial perspective and a cloud layer system. With all these controls one can achieve some pretty nice atmospheres.
I always try to reduce post-processing to a minimum and rather invest my time in optimizing the scene. At the beginning, this stage takes more time since you have to dive deeper into the software and examine the render settings. You have to know what all the adjustment options do and avoid relying too much on render-presets. Once you’re familiar with the tools, setting things go pretty fast and the renders don’t need much post work.
I usually do a bit of contrast work cleaning up some fireflies and a bit of color correction. Sometimes, I paint in effects like fog, dust or clouds to save the render time.
Advice for Learners
When I started learning Vue there weren’t that many tutorials to find. Geekatplay.com was where I started to learn. They have plenty of tutorials on their website and a lot of them are free]. AsileFX is also a good source, though maybe designed for a bit more advanced users (yet, there are some beginner courses as well). Another resource is the E-on website. They have a bunch of Vue tutorials and links to other Vue learning content like the ones I mentioned above.
When it comes to Clarisse, all I know about it was learned from their website. There you can find a lot of videos and the forum is also very informative.
If you found this article interesting, here’s a related Unity Store Asset that may be useful for you.