View Full Version : Tips on Making a Town Map less Photoshoppy

10-24-2011, 11:43 PM
Hi all! I am new to the cartography game – just made my first two maps yesterday. One issue I am running into is that my maps came out looking very...photoshoppy. For example, using Bevel and Emboss'd roofs/walls look nice, but a bit artificial (see example below). They kind of look like bad 3D renderings from the 90s or something.

Any tips on increasing realism of the roofs/walls, wise cartographers? Help much appreciated!


10-25-2011, 01:53 AM
The general question is, what style do you want - more a 'map' style or more of a 'aerial image' many fantasy maps are somewhere in between. Often they seem to detailed for a pure map and the same time to simplified to be 'real'.

So tips depend on which direction you want to go. If you are looking for the more 'realistic' map, one idea might be different shadows which correspond to the height of the buildings. Towers have longer shadows than walls, two story buildings higher shadows than huts.
And the classic 'drop shadow' has one problem, it is not the shadow of a three dimensional object, but of a hovering plane...

10-25-2011, 12:02 PM
Right! So are there any quick and dirty solutions that address the shadowing, or must it be done manually? Thanks for your help!

10-25-2011, 12:31 PM
The quickest and dirtiest way I can come up with - not looking into the software, would be multiple shadow layers which are offset by only a small amount each - so not a 5 or 10 px offset, but 4 Layers with 2px offset each...

10-25-2011, 02:07 PM
For the shadows: Make a copy of your buildings, fill it with your shadow color (try a dark grey-blue, very low saturation), then give that layer a bit of a directional blur. Offset the layer such that shadows only stick out in one direction. That will solve the floating block problem. Give it a small Gaussian blur to soften the edges, probably.

More generally, I can see that one issue you have here is that everything looks a little plastic. Thatch and wood shingles don't really reflect all that much specular light. Try reducing the opacity of the highlights and shadows so that your shading is a bit subtler. Look at the shading on your hills to give you an idea of the level of light you want to see on the roofs. The shadows will be a bit deeper due to the steepness of the roofs, but the highlights should not be any stronger than what you see on the grass. From the looks of things, you might want to simply turn the higlights off entirely and let the bevel be carried entirely by the shadow.

Ultimately, the only way to make something look less filtered is to paint it by hand. Yeah, that means that towns are a heck of a lot of work! There are procedural solutions to some things, but nobody's found a silver bullet yet. You might take a look around the forums for Ravells' work. He's been looking into city generation techniques harder than anyone else I'm aware of.

10-25-2011, 02:43 PM
Give it a small Gaussian blur to soften the edges, probably.

Don't overdo on shadow blurring, real sunlight makes pretty crispy shadows...

10-25-2011, 07:13 PM
On shadows, I often copy the layer several times overlaid with black. I then bump the layers away from the original layer progressively (the first by a couple, the second by a couple more, etc.) and use the gaussian blur filter on each layer with a higher setting the further you get from the original layer. Then I'll flatten them all and set them (usually) on multiply with a low opacity. For buildings of varied height I might do this several times to create the effect using just portions of the building layer (i.e. the first floors will make a shadow layer followed by the second floors, etc.) If I've got something odd like a ship with masts or a steeple then I'll do separate shadows for that as well. Remember - if you use multiple shadow layers you'll probably want to just keep them "live" until you're done. If you have several overlapping layers on multiply blend mode you may end up with strange effects that don't work well.

Regarding sunlight and crisp shadows...the shadows are always more crisp near the source of the shadow and the object receiving the shadow (e.g. tree trunk and the ground next to it) and fuzzier when the source and receiver are further away (e.g. tree top and the ground 25' away). Go stand outside if you want to see what I mean. The shadow near your feet is crisp-edged but the outline of your head will be blurrier.

10-25-2011, 10:56 PM
Thanks for everyone's suggestions, going to try to implement them on the map ASAP!

10-26-2011, 02:27 AM
Shadow blurriness is based on the size of the light source relative to the shadow caster, and the diffusion of the light. Bright sunny days with low humidity near noon will cast very crisp shadows. As the sun drops, the rays are diffused more, and you'll get the fuzziness mearrin describes. As humidity and cloudiness increase, so will the blurriness of the shadows. At full overcast, you probably won't even be able to see the shadows, they'll be so diffuse.

For light sources other than the sun (which for all intents and purposes casts parallel rays), blurriness increases as the light source size decreases and as its distance to the shadow caster decreases.

All of that may be rather academic here, as I think there are other places where this map will benefit more than from extremely detailed shadow-casting.

By the way, I really dig your water.

10-26-2011, 06:10 PM
No help for photoshop, but I did make the gimp script to apply thatch/texture http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?4293-GIMP-Script-Thatch

-Rob A>