Tip of the week: Create stunning 3d landscapes

Are you impressed by Hollywood matte paintings and landscape that look stunning? Have you wondered if you can attempt to create such masterpieces as a 3d artist? While most intermediate 3d artists with some experience can make landscapes, there are some things that make a 3d landscape scene look “Stunning”. So let’s take a look at the elements that you need to add and use to your advantage. These tricks will not only make your landscape look beautiful but also help you mask the small limitations of 3d software.

3D surreal landscape

1. Basic design: Design a landscape that mirrors a real world. Sculpt a terrain that resembles a real world example but don’t be shy of experiment if it helps your goal. Floating islands don’t look real but if your theme is fantasy, then they can be a “must have”! You also don’t need to sweat it out. Use terrain height maps if you are not able to draw your own with ease. There are tonnes of those but do check licence terms before use. Planting trees in groves, running water in the lower areas and using water plane to simulate real physics can make things easier. If you are using Vue, using automatic eco system can save you day of work. You can easily pick type of vegetation, rocks, grass, trees and other nature inspired parameters in the tools and then random build a whole ecosystem in minutes.

2. Sky: Use a sky that suits the scene or the terrain, use a physical sky if you must. Although HDRI skies can do the work without much render load. You need to define a sky light with the right tint to do the magic. Talking of magic, setting the tone at white temperature of 3500K matches perfectly with the “golden hour”

3. Reflectors and additional lights: use additional lights with varying power to highlight or soft highlight parts of your scene. Adding a light just for those spring flowers on the meadow can be a treat and add lots of eye candy to the scene.

4. DoF: Adding simulated camera bokeh, or gaussian depth of field can help you focus on the relevant parts of the scape. Just don’t overdo it. Using very shallow DoF can ruin a shot. Landscapes do not have a shallow DoF but help you artistically blur only the very far or near objects. A low poly leaf in front of the camera can look unwelcome but when blurred with the right DoF can be so beautiful. Some software can help you choose start and end range of the blur for more control. Usually these settings lie in the camera’s panel.

5. Fog: Fog can help you hide some nasty seams, help give body and bring the user’s attention closer to the highlighted area. If fog is useful for your landscape, do not hesitate to use it. Make sure the color and density is right for your application.

6. Bloom: The glowing dreamy bloom effect can beautify most of the 3d scene setups. However, watch out for not overdoing this effect either, as it can lead to loss of detail when abused. Use bloom effects in the lowest quantity that adds to the scene. The moment you find it takes away details and messes the colors, best to stop at that point.

7. Vignette: This effect can help mask the corners so that the user’s attention be drawn to the subject. Also helps create the “classic movie” effect more than anything else.

8. Shadows: Most software will allow you to change the indirect light strength, number of bounces and number of photons (when using ray-trace) using higher photon counts will definitely add more quality and details. While using lighter indirect shadows in the right degree will give your scene a beautiful “HDR” look, using darker shadows will help a gloomy scene look “gloomier”!

Haunted Tower in the Swamp

Other than these effects, a 3d artist should learn to use new and upcoming features that help gain new skills. Today there can be a dozen textures for the same object. Recently I started working with game assets and there is a plethora of textures ranging from height maps to occlusion, normal to metallic and what not. What used to be done in 3d modelling earlier can today be done in texture painting tools. So go on and try painting some 3d landscapes and do upload your work on dreamstime. When you use new tools and tricks, you always learn more and open more possibilities for yourself!

Photo credits: Algol, Kirsty Pargeter.

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August 27, 2020


Useful article, thanks 

August 11, 2020


Thank you - easy to read and well organized to use

August 09, 2020


Wonderful article, great ideas and tips.  Thank you.

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