View Full Version : Best way to make zillions of little buildings?

11-06-2008, 11:41 AM
I really enjoy some of the great big city maps... Ptolus etc...

One of the most daunting things though is that all the detail in the map has to be put there in the first place :).

The excerpt is from another Ed Bourelle map and shows what I mean. Zillions of leetle tiny buildings.

What do people think is the best method for making these?

I tried making a palette of them and cut\pasting bu they very quickly got all pixelated. I was working at 300dpi.

Any suggestions for software, method, or magic?


11-06-2008, 02:14 PM
you could try creating a mask (black and white image) concentrating on the pathways than the buildings. here's a quick photoshop test - GIMP will probably have similar things

1: fill background
2: draw out streets

I used a brush to draw the biggest, then keep reducing the brush size for alleys ways etc. also used the circular marquee tool and then stroke white for the curved areas. with Photoshop CS2 and higher you can press shift when using a brush to create striaght lines.

My example is pretty slap-dash resulting in acute angled walls , whitch while do occur in real life in buildings, might be too extreme. more care at this point for more square structures will make a better looking city similar to the example you have.

You can also have a brush of a street, turn up the spacing for regular distanced streets - you'll need to adjust the angle as you go.

3: using 2, I turned it into a mask - putting it in the channels palette and so I could only select the black areas. created a new layer and filled grey.

on that new layer used the layer FX bevel and drop shadow.

4:played with filter High pass and Adjust levels.

it looks like that example uses photocopy or similar. I didnt spend long - about 30 minutes (working out a method, and typing this response inc) Obviously with more care you could get some L, H C shaped buildings.

If you do use Photoshop, you can also create the foot print of buildings even faster by openeing up the square brushes, and brush options. turn up the spacing , the angle a bit and the size jitter. though with this you can only have rows and collumns of buildings. If you have Painter, I think you can probably do the curves streets with this method. I havent used it much but I know it does have a brush to orientate to the angle of stroke. Coral painter usually has free tryB4 you buys to downloads.

You can also use Photoshop another way - rather than the square brush, make one detail, high res version of a building ( or half a dozen types) then turn it into a brush with size jitters and you can rotate it etc as mentioned above. your create a hi res version and so you can scale it as a brush without it pixelating and draw with it with spacing turned up. If you can shift click with this brush for a straight lines then you can create blocks pretty quickly.

hope it helps. I didnt spend too much time on this, so Im sure there may be better ways. for example I'm already thinking - get the Roleplaying City Map Generator (http://www.drachenzahn.de/city_map_generator/city_maps.html) to help create the mask and go from there.

or someone else might have a more simple approach still.


11-06-2008, 03:23 PM
Heh... I am sure YodA will have a GIMP script to do it from a B/W just like the Dungeon generator by the end of the day.

11-06-2008, 04:15 PM
On the Fogdown (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=3044) map, I drew it out by hand in Flash CS/CS2, then imported the vectors into Photoshop CS2 at a pretty high resolution (600dpi). I would strong advise against doing it by hand, unless you have have a lot of time and lot of patience.

If you look around this forum, I've seen a few people have great success with Campaign Cartographer 3.

Another trick is, when working in high res files, cut it up, work on the PSD in pieces, then put it all together when they are lower file sized JPEGs.

Finally, try experimenting with "chunks" of city, and then cut and pasting them in different arrangements. Then go through and cut out the streets.

I'm not in front of my computer with examples, but I hope that helps.

11-06-2008, 08:24 PM
I looked at Fogdown. Good Job.

How did you get the shaping and shadows on the buildings?

I liked the map but wanted to do one myself. Then my smarter\lazy self asked 'can I avoid some of this work?'

That brought me here.

I like the mask thing.

600 dpi or more seems necessary.


11-07-2008, 07:28 AM
That's a nice little tutorial, Jezelf. You should cross post it to the tutorials section!

Bear in mind that in real life, when city space gets compressed, individual buildings tend to develop into blocks containing a number of habitations. The way I see it, making a fantasy city with lots of buildings which looks credible is always going to take a lot of time, particularly if you want to imbue your city with a particular character. I had a play with the Roleplaying city generator and found the results to be pretty blah on their own, and slightly better when played about with an image editor. Unfortunately the image editor won't turn a bad layout into a good one, and it's the layout, density, topography and demographics which are all important factors in making a good city.

No easy answers from me, I'm afraid.



11-07-2008, 11:35 AM
I like the roleplaying city generator. If you haven't check out pyrranadon's? tutorial for using its random results in Photoshop (or Gimp) do so. Its a lot of result for little effort, but it doesn't quite reach the end result I will be content with.

I guess there's a lot of hand work ahead ....


11-07-2008, 12:34 PM
How about this? It's a bit of an attempt with the mosaic plug-in of Gimp with some gradients and bump mapping.


It's all automated so could be scripted. If it looks worth pursuing I'll see if I can refine the technique.

11-07-2008, 12:52 PM
For reference, I'll bring up this old thread - Techniques for street generation in cities.


-Rob A>

11-07-2008, 01:44 PM
I thought I'd seen it somewhere before. Anyway, this thread has caused me to think about mosaic filters again and here's a slightly morepolished version of the previous fill:

11-07-2008, 02:13 PM

Thanks, unfortunately I did draw every building by hand, using the pen tool in Flash CS3. As I mentioned, this took a lot of time, and is often not a necessary level of detail for most maps. One thing I learned, is that a lot city mapping is giving the illusion of detail, without the detail. Like clearly showing main ways, but hiding the details of alley way etc.

The shading and shadowing was done with filter styles in photoshop. Basically applying a harsh emboss and adding a drop shadow. Then I went through and individually colored building to mix up the shading.

RobA's link seems to be the direction I would take if I were to do it again. Make a pattern, twist it and rotate into appropriate angels, cut the streets, apply layer styles, and then go through and a the detail in areas you need it.

11-07-2008, 02:16 PM
Torstan - That has real potential.

Rotating seems to hurt the outline the most. How hard would it be to free up the individual mosaic bits to move around but not rotate? Move them around on a couple of layers and then add the layers for irregular shapes?

Redstar - I almost took your map and traced the buildings to steal for other maps. Then I felt bad.... :(


11-07-2008, 02:49 PM
What do you mean by rotating? I haven't rotated anything.

11-07-2008, 03:11 PM
The first thing I saw in your mosaic was a palate to pull building shapes from. Make a few mosaic sections and pull the bumps to where you'd like to make buildings.

Failing that you could at least select out unlikely bumps to make the mosaic sections more like the buildings of your imagination.


11-07-2008, 03:24 PM
Ah, so far the mosaic filter has been used within a predefined selection. So you would define the regions you want buildings in and then use the filter. You could use it with different settings for different demographic areas to get different sized buildings. The filter essentially just gives the roads and the colour variation. The bump mapping comes at a later step - so there is no problem with rotation. You just make sure that the rotation happens before you bump map.

Perhaps I should write up a short step by step and you can play with it yourself?

11-07-2008, 04:54 PM
i think to get it to look most pleasing (at least to me) you need to have the many small errors doing by hand ends up with... without the varied versons of the mosaic, which seems to be to little squared... it really all ends up with how much work your willing to do.

11-07-2008, 05:18 PM
Hmm, still fiddling. I think I have a pretty good order of steps down now. I'll post up something tomorrow.

11-10-2008, 10:15 AM
@ Sigurd

If it's for your own personal use and game, feel free to copy from it. If you end up posting it (but not selling it) a little shout-out is all I ask :)

11-11-2008, 11:51 AM
Okay. Done a short tutorial. The thread is here:

The result of the fiddling looks like this:

02-10-2010, 07:50 PM
I tried out doing houses with a brush in Photoshop (playing around with spreading etc) . I've made the brush so I just draw a line where I want the houses and they appear in a "line", varies a bit in colour, size and placement (see the image below).

Yeah, really ugly but it's just a test ok :)

This is the result so far:

02-10-2010, 08:51 PM
How do you get the shape variation on that? Now Gimp has an image pipe for the brush, but as far as I'm aware there's no such thing for PS. Is that just done through the size jitter controls?

02-10-2010, 10:10 PM
That's exactly how I have my house brushes set up (in the Mapping Elements section). You set the size jitter to vary the size of the square but if you also add in a roundness jitter it turns them into rectangles. Plopping them down gives you some houses with ells on them.

Aval Penworth
02-20-2010, 05:34 AM
What version of photoshop are you guys running?

02-20-2010, 12:55 PM
I use PS cs, quite old.

05-11-2010, 05:20 PM
I tried out doing houses with a brush in Photoshop (playing around with spreading etc) . I've made the brush so I just draw a line where I want the houses and they appear in a "line", varies a bit in colour, size and placement (see the image below).

Yeah, really ugly but it's just a test ok :)

This is the result so far:

I'd love to see a detailed tuorial on how you setup this brush. I've read several posts that discuss using brushes of buildings, but this is the first post with a an example of this type of functionality (at least that I have found). I've learned so much more about Photoshop's capabilities from this community it's ridiculous. I'll play around with the brush settings when I get home and see if I can replicate this, but I'd welcome any explanation you could provide.