By: Elyse                Categories: 3D AnimationAnimationGeneralInspiration

Po Andersson explains how to create a landscape with a central, waterbased feature and surrounding wildlife.


I was working on a series of scenes of wildlife some time ago and realised that I wanted to do some from Africa. I have always liked elephants so it was natural that I would create one that featured them. The important point was how to feature them. A typical scene would be in a herd but I decided I would go for a more fun image with them playing around a waterhole. This is one of a series I created around this concept. Unlike many artists, I don’t sketch out ideas, I just form them in my head and try to work them out in practice. I used a couple of reference photos of elephants playing at waterholes, just to get an idea of actions and the setting, but mostly the ideas were self-generated.

Some original photos of elephants playing and drinking at waterholes and rivers.

TOP TIP – Lighting schemes If your scene is taking a long time to render because it has a high polygon count, and is high resolution, then one way to cut the time down is to use a less demanding lighting scheme if it doesn’t require sophisticated shadow detail.

The Final Image – The Waterhold by Po Andersson

Step 1

Creating the initial foreground The first thing to do was to create a landscape terrain at 1024 * 1024 resolution. The ground was then built up from the beginning with landscape brushes. Some unevenness was added to the edge of the water hole and new material was painted in at the edge.

TOP TIP – Posing objects For animals and human figures, it’s much easier to pose them in apps like DAZ3D and Poser because the figures come ready-rigged. All you need to do is get the pose right and export as compatible format.

Step 2

Selecting materials The materials chosen for this scene were Real Sand 10 and, in the Vue Ecosystem, grass from Silva 3D, Ryegrass and Phragmites in different varieties were used.

Step 3

Editing density functions The Advanced Material Editor for the Real Sand 10 material was launched and the density set to 60%. The Function Editor was used to set a variable density and the Grainy Fractal procedure was selected to generate the random distribution of material.

Step 4

Scaling the material The overall scaling for the material was set to Large 15, because such a large terrain was used. The basic scale of the material was also changed to 2.8 to suit the size of the terrain.

Step 5

Configuring the water The water in the waterhole itself was simply the Vue default but the colour was changed to a browner version that more represents the kind of muddied water you would find in real life.

Step 6

Tweaking the water Aside from making the water browner the depth was set to 10m. The water had standard features like Physical transparency and used direct volumetric light to scatter the light rays around in the muddy depths.

Step 7

Colour of absorption In the Transparency tab the Refraction index was set to 1.72 and the colour of Absorption and Scattering to green. This was to make the underwater colouring have more of a vegetation-feel to it, rather than just being plain mud.

Step 8

The foreground terrain The next step was to add the foreground. The terrain was a standard one that was scaled down to fit. Here two materials were mixed together. In the Function Editor the Grainy Fractal procedure was used to distribute the materials. These were Real Sand 10 and Dakota Plains (from Quad Spinner).

Step 9

Foreground Ecosystem In the foreground terrain the Ecosystem Painter was used with AsileFX and Silva 3D grasses. The scale was set to 0.33 and the density to 36% to make sure it would populate the area without overloading it or becoming too dense.

Step 10

Adding the background mountain Some rocks and stones were positioned around the scene using the Vue Simple Stone. The material for them, though, was changed to Mokalate from Quad Spinner Mineral Infinity. The materials were mixed up and changed so that the top were light and the bottom were dark to represent sitting on a wet surface. To make the wet part of the rocks more visible they were scaled up.

Step 11

Add ing the background mountain Then it was time to add the background mountain. Here a mountain that I have as a vob object in my object collection was used. The material was changed to the Mokalate material – the same as the stones – but without changing the colour. The mountain covered 10km * 10km and was about 2km high.

Step 12

Background mountain vegetation In the Ecosystem for the background there was Old Eucalyptus Tree and Rural Maple Tree. The density was set to 74% and Scaling to 3. Altitude range was set to -1 to -0.18 with fuzziness (top) at 41%. This gave a fairly thick coverage.

Step 13

Placing of trees At this point it was time to place some trees. The Umbrella Acacias, which are included in Vue, were used, with five of them placed into the background where they could be seen. There’s also one to the left which casts a shadow into the scene.

Step 14

The elephants So now it was the turn of the stars of the scene – the African elephants. These were posed using DAZ 3D Studio. To make it easy for myself I simply used the preset poses that come with these figures, with a few little tweaks. There were six elephants used in the scene, with adults drinking, pushing, spraying and walking. There was also a baby elephant eating and drinking.

Step 15

Adding atmosphere With this scene being an African waterhole, it was important to create a bright, glaring day with thin atmosphere. To achieve this the position of the sun was moved and some Turbulent Cirrus clouds were added with an Altitude of 2km, Ambient lightning: 50%, Cover and Density: 100%.

Step 16

The Sun To get the sun into the right position it was set with the azimuth at 98.09 degrees and the pitch at 20:58 degrees. Remember to untick the Attach sun to camera direction option to get it positioned properly. The sun itself isn’t visible in this lighting setup.

Step 17

Light and Sky, Fog and Haze Using the Atmosphere Editor the lighting mode was set to Global Radiosity with Sky dome lighting set to Gain 1 and Gain 0.2. GR lighting is the most complex but also the most realistic. Additional global lighting adjustments included Balance: 33%, Light and Ambient Light: 80%. On the Sky, Fog and Haze menu the Quality Boost was increased to 4 with volumetric sunlight for extra quality.

Step 18

The final render Now that the scene was pretty much finished it was time to render it out at 4800px wide and 3300px high. Thanks to the complex lighting model the render time was a fairly hefty 11 hours.

Step 19

Post work in Photoshop There were quite a few post production touches, starting with making the elephant legs look a little wet. The brush tool was used in the Colour blend mode to paint a darker colour up the legs and on some on the bodies of the baby elephants.

Step 20

Adult elephant In order to create more realism the spraying elephant also needed patches of damp and wet skin. These were painted all over the torso and the trunk as well. A separate layer was created for this alone.

Step 21

Breaking up the shadows The next step was to break up the outline of the shadow from the elephant. The brush was used in Normal mode and dark and light areas were painted in so that the shadow had a more natural look. A new layer was created for this as well.

Step 22

Bank shadows It’s one of the weaknesses of Vue that shadows can often be far too rigid when falling onto a moving surface. After adjusting the one on the water from the elephant the same process was used for the shadows falling onto the bank, to break them up and look more natural. A brush in Normal mode was used at Opacity: 20% for this.

Step 23

Making edges natural The models for the elephants are quite good but you still end up with sharp angles and no protruding hair which you would find on a real animal. The Liquefy filter was used to make the edges less uniform. The edge of the elephants’ ears in particular needed attention. The aim was simply to give them rounded or uneven edges that didn’t look like 3D models.

Step 24

Water spray As the elephants were playing and drinking in water the image needed water spray and water itself running from their mouths. Different brushes were used with water effects that were placed on separate layers so anything which didn’t look realistic could be redone or removed. For the first layer of spray a custom brush set called Ron’s Splashes was used.

Step 25

Warping the water I continued using brushes from Ron’s Splashes to add the water that flows from the mouths of the elephants. The water was adjusted using the Transform warp. As this was done using a number of layers the individual opacity of each was reduced so the effects would blend together more naturally.

Step 26

Water ripples The final effect to add was concentric water ripples from where the water from the elephants fell back into the waterhole. Then the colour and contrast were tweaked and all the layers merged down to complete the image.


Excerpt from Digital Mayhem 3D Landscape Techniques edited by Duncan Evans © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

About the Book

The secrets to creating stunning landscapes are at your fingertips with Digital Mayhem 3D Landscapes Techniques. Compiled by Duncan Evans, launch Editor of 3D Artist Magazine, Digital Mayhem features a variety of beautiful art from some of the finest digital artists working today.

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