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nematode
12-29-2012, 02:52 AM
I don't do graphics for a living, and I'm not a student. I don't have much money to spend on software. So, I need to use inexpensive or free software to scratch my digital map-making itch.

Several years ago, I ran a game for my friends. I decided to set it in a city, and I created a map using Photoshop Elements. It was the first map that I made with a raster editor. I had not really used a raster editor before. It was a great learning experience.

The game came to an end, but the map continued to occupy my thoughts. Another itch needed to be scratched - I wanted to see if I could do a map of the place in 3D.

nematode
12-29-2012, 02:59 AM
The choice of 3D modelling software was straightforward - Sketchup. It's easy to use, capable, and free, since this is a hobby project. I had not used Sketchup before, so I guess it was a leap of faith that it'd be suitable. I was right!

Given that my goal was to depict an entire city, my renders wouldn't be close-ups, they'd be more like panoramas. So I decided early on that I would create the city using models with a low to medium level of detail. In due course, I learned that I made the right decision. Low-medium poly saves time, but even then, the model became so big that it bumped up against the limit of what was manageable on my system.

Another advantage of Sketchup is its model warehouse. I located models with some feature that I wanted to have in my city, and downloaded them for study. I didn't put downloaded models in my city. I used the downloaded models to learn how to make them myself.

The following pictures show my city model after a about two years of work, off and on. They were rendered within Sketchup using Maxwell Fire, which is the free plug-in version of Maxwell Render.

These renders are nice, but it wasn't my destination. I wanted something more moody and environmental. More to come.....

ManOfSteel
12-29-2012, 03:37 AM
As one who has been working on a 3D city for years, let me just say that is amazing.

mearrin69
12-29-2012, 03:48 AM
That, sir or ma'am, is impressive. Have some rep...and please post more.
M

Larb
12-29-2012, 06:33 AM
The time and patience you have put into this really shows and the result is pretty spectacular. Hopefully it'll inspire more people to give sketchup a try too. It is a very accessible tool, IMO.

nematode
12-29-2012, 07:34 AM
Terrain is hard.

The terrain-generation tools that are available in free 3D modeling software are mostly designed to create big terrains - mountain ranges, continents, and so on. But, my model needed a terrain that's maybe 5 miles by 5 miles. To complicate matters, for the terrain upon which buildings and streets would rest, I needed to be able to sculpt terrain with precision.

In my low-end software world, there was no one-size-fits-all solution. After a lot of research, I realized that I needed to use a variety of methods to generate my terrain in pieces, and import them into Sketchup (if needed) to scale them and fit them together.

Here's a summary of the different terrains that I created.

The mountains gave me fits. After lots of trial and error, I finally decided to create them using the fractal terrain generation tools in Bryce 7, which are blunt instruments at best. Getting the fractal mountains to make a plausible transition to a seabed *where I needed them to transition* was just wickedly difficult. That was the part of the project where I longed for feature-rich higher end software that lays out of my economic reach.

The little islands are also Bryce fractal terrains. These were much easier to make to my satisfaction. I used the "erode fractal" feature to make nice rocky promontories.

I exported the fractally created terrains from Bryce as 3DStudio format meshes, which I was able to import into Sketchup. I then used Sketchup tools to scale them and make them fit. Well, "make them fit" is a stretch. I smoothed out the most egregious seams.

The mound-like island, upon which rests the lighthouse and the gladiatorial arena and other city structures, was created from a mesh that is available in Sketchup called a TIN. I made a small-grid TIN and shaped it using Sketchup tools to accomodate where streets and buildings would go, and that took a lot of fiddling. But the results were good.

The gently sloping terrain, upon which rests the mainland portion of the city, was grabbed from a geospatial database, imported into Sketchup, and scaled to fit. The real world location is somewhere along the coast of Baja California. I was only able to make limited use of terrain grabs from a geospatial database, since the resolution of the databases to which I had access isn't very high. But the resulting mesh was perfect for wherever I needed a relatively flat terrain, like a sandy beach.

I also needed a seabed. I had thought, "Hey! I can grab a seabed from a geospatial database!" Turns out, I couldn't. Instead I used a large grid size Sketchup TIN. and shaped it without too much effort.

Oh, I wanted to say something about my seabed. I was looking forward to cool results from a seabed as seen through semi-transparent water. Mostly though, results were meh. Like, shadows cast on the bottom that were just distracting rather than cool, or depth-sensitive rendered water that resulted in a wierd looking seabed. I am getting ahead of myself, though.

Here are renders of the untextured terrain without a water plane, which makes it kinda hard to figure out what you're looking at. Once the water's in, it'll hopefully make sense. Pictures were rendered within Sketchup using Maxwell Fire.

More to come......

tilt
12-29-2012, 10:29 AM
looks really good nematode, great work.. looking forward to seeing more from you :)

nematode
12-30-2012, 06:09 AM
Next I needed to decide how to render the model.

There are a number of render packages that integrate with Sketchup. Those are nice because they ease the workflow. Also - they support rendering an isometric view. But, after trying several, the results weren't what I was looking for. I don't want to generalize - this is only my experience - but I found that the renderers that integrate with Sketchup are best suited for rendering architectural views for industry. I needed software that could let me produce a moody picture with lots of environmental qualities. That was a dissapointment for me, because integrated Sketchup render is a great idea.

So, I needed to find another renderer that a) is free b) supports render of an isometric view and c) allows me to import my Sketchup model.

I looked into Vue. Clearly, Vue is a nice product, although it doesn't feature an isometric view. But, the show stopper with Vue was, at least at the time I was searching, it wasn't free. In particular, I remember that the Vue file importer cost money, so Vue wasn't a viable option for me.

I next looked at Bryce. At the time, a basic Bryce product was free, and sometime later, Bryce Pro became free. Although I had some reservations about using Bryce (and still do) it had a couple of big things in its favor.

Bryce does a nice job rendering an infinite water plane. Given that water would feature prominently in my renders - it's a model of a seaport city - nice looking water was very important. And, Bryce includes a lot of textures. I was going to need textures, since textures will not export from Sketchup to Bryce.

However, like Vue, Bryce doesn't support an isometric view. I also looked at Terragen 2. It supports isometric view, and renders pretty terrain, but it didn't look like it would allow me to import my Sketchup model. By this point in my search, I had come to the conclusion that I was going to have to make a compromise somewhere. No render software met all of my needs.

So I decided to give up the requirement for isometric view. Maybe I could use field of view to simulate it. Or maybe I'd find that it didn't really matter. After all, I'm not making a blueprint.

All things considered. Bryce best fit my needs.

So I began the process of exporting my Sketchup model into Bryce. The workflow was basically - within Sketchup, create groups of objects that will need to receive a certain texture, export them in COLLADA format, import them into Bryce where they will appear as a group, and then apply the Bryce texture.

Exporting, importing, and texturing was a big job. It was also a big job to learn how to produce nice renders with Bryce. I have been working with Bryce for a couple of years now, and I have to say, the learning curve is steep. I consider my Bryce renders to be only average. There is a lot more to get out of Bryce, but getting to it is very, very hard.

Here are rendered images of my city from a top view, emulating a map. They are not an isometric view. They were done in Bryce 7 Pro.

More to come......

nematode
12-30-2012, 06:12 PM
What attracted me to a 3D project is the opportunity to create views of my model from other perspectives.

Larb
12-30-2012, 06:29 PM
Yeah you can pretty much do anything with it now... like that. =P

dhutchinson728
12-31-2012, 09:17 PM
Your map looks really nice, although it would be great for other people to be able to use your map in their games. Perhaps if it could be larger (for the first on the posts. The later images are truly wonderful too look at. Have you passed on your suggestions to the creators of the software you used. Perhaps with your feedback, you could help them develop better tools as well.

MSketcher
01-01-2013, 01:18 PM
Wow. I can't imagine the amount of time it took you to create this. The Renders look amazing. Have you checked out LumenRT (http://www.lumenrt.com/)? They are the same company that did the vegetation rendering for Avatar and pirates of the carribean. You can create a 3d fly through with it, it's pretty impressive. Good job!

Bogie
01-01-2013, 04:58 PM
Excellent, looks like a lot of work and a lot of fun at the same time.

Vellum
01-01-2013, 08:50 PM
Sketch up huh? That's impressive have some rep for that!!

nematode
01-05-2013, 09:08 AM
Thanks everyone for the kind words and encouragement!



Your map looks really nice, although it would be great for other people to be able to use your map in their games. Perhaps if it could be larger (for the first on the posts. The later images are truly wonderful too look at. Have you passed on your suggestions to the creators of the software you used. Perhaps with your feedback, you could help them develop better tools as well.



Thanks! I can composite an image that shows things in good detail, and that'd be a fairly large image. Guess I'll need to figure out what hosting file size limits are these days. If that works out, I'll make an image and link it here.

I haven't corresponded with software developers, but I'd be happy to.



Wow. I can't imagine the amount of time it took you to create this. The Renders look amazing. Have you checked out LumenRT (http://www.lumenrt.com/)? They are the same company that did the vegetation rendering for Avatar and pirates of the carribean. You can create a 3d fly through with it, it's pretty impressive. Good job!


Thanks, and you're right, those renders are great! Nice & atmospheric. I'd have liked to have made more use of render integrated with Sketchup for this project, because it's such a good idea. Pursuing that in the future will definitely be a goal.

Schwarzkreuz
01-05-2013, 09:38 AM
This is bloddy hell awesome! I wish I could do that. Long time I wanted to be able to do cities for my SciFi comic but never got the grip with sketchup, but saw some awesome works with it. Is there a possibility that you do a tutorial (or a series of such) on how to build houses and texture them and compose them to such great images? I fell realy awkward with 3D.....

anders_vb
01-05-2013, 03:06 PM
Really nice!

anders_vb
01-05-2013, 03:08 PM
Btw, how do you put textures on the models in Sketchup?

Xanuri
01-09-2013, 10:08 AM
Very nice job

nematode
01-12-2013, 03:21 AM
Hi guys, thanks for the comments!

I have been working on a panorama of my project. Bryce has limitations on the maximum size I can render, so I am breaking it down as multiple panels of 1500x1500 pixels to make the work manageable. Attached is a sample panel.


This is bloddy hell awesome! I wish I could do that. Long time I wanted to be able to do cities for my SciFi comic but never got the grip with sketchup, but saw some awesome works with it. Is there a possibility that you do a tutorial (or a series of such) on how to build houses and texture them and compose them to such great images? I fell realy awkward with 3D.....

Thanks for the kind words! I gotta say, I'm just an amateur who has figured some stuff out with some free software. I'm not opposed to the idea of writing a tutorial, but perhaps at some future date when I feel I have a more thorough grasp of the subject. For now I think my comfort level is more along the lines of the notes I've included in this thread, or answering questions where I feel I have a decent answer.



Btw, how do you put textures on the models in Sketchup?

Hi Anders, I textured my models in Sketchup the usual way, via the Paintbucket tool. I used default textures. These might be useful, links to some tutorials (including a YouTube video) that cover aspects of texturing in Sketchup.

Adding detail to your model
Adding detail to your model - SketchUp Help (http://support.google.com/sketchup/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=115430)

Paint Bucket Tool: Applying materials
Paint Bucket Tool: Applying materials - SketchUp Help (http://support.google.com/sketchup/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=94956)

How to apply and edit materials in Google SketchUp
How to apply and edit materials in Google SketchUp - YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1IpOnSI28k)

My texturing in Sketchup was very casual, since my project called for exporting the model from Sketchup, and importing it into Bryce. Since the textures don't import into Bryce from Sketchup. I used textures in Sketchup pretty much just as a visual aid to help me package my exports so they'd be convenient to texture once they imported into Bryce.

On the other hand, if I had used a 3D renderer that integrated with Sketchup, I might have been able to do all the texturing within Sketchup, which would have been a much simpler process.

amberroberts09
01-12-2013, 05:17 AM
Amazing pics...

ManOfSteel
01-14-2013, 01:02 AM
A couple of questions:

What do you mean by an isometric view? I mean I know what an isometric view is architecture, but in virtual photography via Bryce, what are you trying to do?

What things do you not like about the landscape terrains? You mentioned a transition to a seabed I think.

nematode
01-15-2013, 03:42 PM
A couple of questions.

What do you mean by an isometric view? I mean I know what an isometric view is architecture, but in virtual photography via Bryce, what are you trying to do?


This is good, because it motivated me to go back and refresh my understanding. It had been a couple of years since I last looked into these matters.

I should be using the term parallel projection. In various places, the terms isometric, axonometric, orthogonal etc are used to describe projections in which objects appear the same scale throughout the image. These are all types of parallel projections. By contrast, in a perspective projection, objects' scale decreases as they approach a horizon.

I looked for software that would support parallel projection for its applicability to map-making.

That's important to me. I want my maps to be geometrically accurate. But for this project, it was also important to render nice looking images.

If I wasn't able to produce a nice image in a parallel projection, then, OK. Maps don't have to be geometrically accurate to still be maps. A map can be defined in different ways, and a perspective projection can be one of those ways.

Upthread, I said that Bryce doesn't support isometric views. I was wrong. The top view, side view, etc in Bryce produce orthogonal projections. And in fact the first two Bryce-rendered images that I posted upthread are orthogonal projections.

Rather, the difficulty I encountered - and I ran into this in Bryce and Kerkythea, and others - was that I was unable to render an image using anyones' type of parallel projection that processed certain important effects, such as atmosphere and reflection. As an example, in my orthogonal Bryce-rendered images, there's no haze or fog, even though I set it up to produce some. And, the water is red. It's not supposed to be red. That's the seabed color showing through a water plane. The water plane should be more blue, but it isn't reflecting any light from the virtual sun.

I don't know why it behaves this way, but I don't think it's a bug. I think either it's the intended behavior, or I have failed to figure something out. Both are possible.

My conclusion was a couple years back, and still is, for this project, in order to produce 3D images of a quality that makes me happy, I need to produce perspective projections.



What things do you not like about the landscape terrains? You mentioned a transition to a seabed I think.

I needed terrain that could accomodate my model, and that would transition smoothly to more distant terrain. So I needed it pretty precise; in some places I needed it very precise. The tools to sculpt terrain that are available to me are either optimized for very large scale terrains, or very small ones. I ended up bending a lot of triangles up and down to get them into place. I'm not happy with my terrain, but it was too much work to discard and start over. Armed with this knowledge, I aim to design future projects to minimize these issues.

The seabed itself worked out well enough. The thing I am unhappy with has to do with the material properties of the water plane in Bryce. In my project I have numerous objects sticking up out of the water. I want the underwater portions of the objects to be visible for a short distance, then dissapear into the murk. I have been unable to achieve that effect. I am able to make the water plane either transparent, or opaque. I suspect the limitation might be the way I set up the project and height mapping, and not the software, but I'm unsure.

cfds
01-16-2013, 04:00 AM
What happens if you move the camera very far away and use a very small opening angle? The differences to a real orthographic projection should become small enough to not be noticed and the render engine should still show "normal" behaviour.

If scetchup had an option to export to OBJ (or a similar, easily convertible format) you could give povray a try. There the orthographic camera works with atmospheric effects and it is quite simple (ish) to get the water effects you are looking for.

ManOfSteel
01-17-2013, 02:41 AM
cfds might be on to something. Bryce's orthographic (aha! that's the word I would have understood had you used it in the beginning) views are intended mostly for the ease of placing objects in a scene and comparing size without having to deal with perspective. Even so, if you click on "Edit this Camera" in an orthogonal view, you'll see that the field of view is not set to 0 but rather to 10, so technically there is still some perspective being calculated.
But you can edit all the cameras if I remember correctly. Thus, as cfds suggested, you might try editing the director's camera or the perspective camera and experimenting with lowering the field of view to a very low amount. Bryce's default field of view is 60 degrees because it is assumed that you will be rendering wide angle shots of landscapes. However, I have both my director's camera and perspective camera set to 30 degrees because I often render interior shots or even portraits of human figures. A sixty degree field of view in those circumstances yields a distinct "fish-eye" view.

Regarding terrains...might I suggest making multiple terrains instead of trying to get intricate detail out of one terrain. I made a very complicated mountain shape in a fantasy image, but trying to paint the greyscale image using Bryce's terrain editor was futile. Instead, I made the mountain out of several mountains, so to speak. It worked beautifully. A lot can be done by using landscapes as components of an object. I've seen some people make building fronts and furniture out of Bryce landscapes.

Regarding the water...are you using a volumetric slab of water? There are two choices when you create water. One is a surface plane. The other is a volumetric slab that stretches out to infinity just like the plane. With the volumetric slab, you can assign changes in the material according to depth. Thus, you can have an object immersed in the water with part or all of it visible below the surface, and the deeper it goes, the more it disappears into the murk.

All of this is covered in the Bryce 5 manual, and probably Susan Kitchen's Bryce 4 software book that is still available through Amazon I think. But if you're a newer user of Bryce, how would you know as they stopped including actual manuals after Bryce 5? An excellent resource is the Bryce forum at Renderosity and the Bryce forum at DAZ 3D.

And me.;)

Kearnaun
01-19-2013, 06:39 PM
Love the city and your renders of it. Have some Rep for such an awesome project.

Will Brawner
01-24-2013, 09:01 PM
You are amazing! I love using SketchUp but I haven't gotten very good at it yet. I wish I could learn some of your magic. You have worked incredibly hard on this project and I admire it greatly.

su_liam
01-25-2013, 07:27 PM
Tom Patterson has a very nice explanation of Plan Oblique Relief here (http://www.shadedrelief.com/planimetric/plan.html). Best of all, he has the setup files for Bryce(Bryce 5, but I know they worked in Bryce 6). The effect is very similar to isometric, although less pronounced.

The most important thing to remember is to set the camera very far above the terrain with a very narrow field of view. This is similar to the old Wenschow shading (http://www.reliefshading.com/techniques/wenschow.html) method. Basically, they used to build a plaster model of a terrain, carefully light it and take a photograph of it with what amounted to a telephoto lens from a great distance. One problem with this method was that important relief features that were inadvantageously oriented with respect to the overall lighting sometimes disappeared. When I was doing this with Bryce 6(what are they up to 9 by now?), I experimented with spotlights to bring out more advantageous shadowing.

Since your city seems to have very tall even lanky buildings, I don't think you would need much or any vertical exaggeration, but I think you could just about substitute your model into Patterson's scene definition with little alteration and good results. From there, you could just jigger things about to taste.

BTW: To make your water a bit less troublesome, try reducing the transparency of the material considerably and possibly bump up the diffuse value. You could try upping the reflection strength, but that might just give you an annoyingly perfect reflection of the sky. Combining moderate reflection, moderate transparency and fairly high diffuse might give good results. I've been wrestling with Blender lately so my Bryce Fu is weak...

Midgardsormr
01-26-2013, 12:08 AM
Does Bryce have volumetric materials? For your water, you essentially want a volume fog rather than an ordinary shader. You could combine the two, getting your reflection from the transparent water surface and your detail attenuation from a volumetric object that lives right under the water plane.

nematode
02-01-2013, 08:37 PM
Thanks everyone for the feedback and advice!

I have been offline for the last couple weeks, digesting the advice that's been offered here, studying up some documentation and incorporating all that into a render.

I don't know what Bryce can do in the area of volumetric water - I haven't yet delved into volumetric materials, for example, clouds - I told myself I wuld bite into that subject area for a future project - but a water that acts like a volume fog is *precisely* what I had been imagining, without being previously aware that such a thing exists :) would work well here. I will certainly investigate that for the future.

Here's the result of my activites the past couple of weeks. It is a perspective view, with the virtual camera rotated about 89 degrees down, field of view 30 degrees, zoomed out.

I think that worked well: you see a little of the structures' facades, and I wanted a little of that, and the image looks natural. So! Good advice, thanks!!!

I retextured some elements within the model to attempt to ameliorate some of the overly red composition that the model had, and balance out the colors a little better. That was kinda an 11th hour decision, and I think that it worked out well.

I reduced the water plane transparency and upped the reflectivity a tad and that did help quite a bit! You can see some underwater details but they aren't nearly as prominent.

I used a combination of image based lighting and global sun to light the scene. Most of the light comes from an hdr that I built from the sky. The global sun was added pretty much just as a specular element to achieve the reflection on the water.

I began work on this project over two years ago. I had wanted to post here at Cartographer's Guild earlier in the process, but to be honest, I wasn't sure until pretty recently that I would actually complete it.

And I'm glad that I did, because you guys have helped me make my project better.

Thanks again!!

Midgardsormr
02-02-2013, 04:27 PM
That's what we're here for!

The volume fog trick for water is a little bit counter intuitive, since it's usually used for mist and dust, but the effect is exactly what you want for water. All you have to do is change the color.

If you want to really get an isometric-like viewpoint here, I'd say move your camera to between 60 and 70 degrees, move it way back, and reduce the field of view even further, something like 6 degrees. That will reduce the perspective even further, approaching an orthogonal viewpoint. Depending on the options you have in Bryce, you'll probably need to adjust your IBL sphere. Either increase its size to keep the camera inside it, make sure it's set to single-sided, or turn off its primary visibility.

You may also want to start thinking about adding some grunge textures, particularly to the green land and the mountains, just to break up the flat colors. Also, maybe hunt around for some farmland textures. I know someone here made some really nice ones a while back, but I'm not sure about the resolution and scale.

jugabyte
05-29-2014, 11:24 AM
Wow...

EDIT: I got a message saying that this post was too short and wouldn't publish, so...

...double wow.

Bogie
05-29-2014, 12:22 PM
Wow...

EDIT: I got a message saying that this post was too short and wouldn't publish, so...

...double wow. You have to type at least 10 characters to post, so next time try ...Wow....
Silly rules.