This simplistic part of the tutorial covers the procedural creation of 3D terrains. While its possibly the easiest terrain generation technique, you’ll have less control over the final result. Use this when you need to quickly create pseudo-random terrain for distant backgrounds or fly-throughs.
If you’re really into terrain creation, you should also check out Terragen or create your own Heightmaps in Photoshop or any other digital editing application.
Creating 3D terrain meshes usually requires quite a bit of polygons. Low poly, normal-mapped terrains can get away with 2000-5000 polygons but high-poly ones can cross the 500k mark. The techniques are more-or-less the same so we’ll focus on high-poly terrains.
To make it easier to tweak the scene, set your unit sistem to metric. Go to the “Customize/ Units Setup” and set the Display Unit Scale to Metric/ Centimeters.
Go to the Render Setup window, scroll to the Assign Renderer tab and assign mental ray as the default renderer
Create a Large (2000cm by 2000) plane in the middle of your scene. Set the Width and legth segments to 400 each. This will serve as the basis of our terrain.
Click the Systems icon and place a daylight system in your Scene. This is a quick way to add some decent lighting to your scene.
Click the Daylight icon and set the to mr Sun and mr Physical Sky. Scroll down to the mr Sky settings and set the height to -1.
Select the plane and click the Modify tab.Apply a Displace modifier to the plane.
The Displace modifier will .. well.. displaces the mesh it is applied to according to a given 2D map. The colors in the map define the displacement.
» Absolute White = maximum height
» Absolute black = minimum height (nothing is displaced)
» noise type to Fractal
» Size to 250
» Levels to 4 or so.
The size determines the size of the hills and the levels value determines the number (sort-of)
Press the Go to Parent button once. To create small detailed areas, add a Gradient Ramp map in the black map slot.
» Set the interpolation to Ease In
» Double click the left-most arrow and set it to absolute white and the right-most one to a neutral grey.
» Set the Noise type to Fractal, the Ammount to 0.11, the size to 1.1 and the levels to 6 or so
» The white-grey ramp determines where to apply the details. In this case we want them on the mountainous far side of our terrain. If you want them in the middle, switch the Gradient Type to radial.
» The actual details are created using the Noise settings. The settings are similar to the first noise map we’ve created. If you want your details to be all over the place, replace the Gradient map with a noise map.
» You can always add more details by creating a composite map with noise, smoke, and gradient ramp maps instead of the one gradient ramp.
You can now apply an Optimize modifier to the terrain to lower the poly count without affecting the terrain’s shape
Drop in a, temporary, small Dent Bump map until our texturing tutorial comes around, and render your final model.
And with some instant water:
You can follow our Realistic Water tutorial to get this effect.
The easiest way of getting realistic terrains would be to google-up some real grayscale heightmaps. But that wouldn’t be much fun now would it ?
With manually painted heightmaps, it’s very important to know what you want to create before-hand. Also, if you’re not looking to paint-in 1px details for the next 2 weeks, treat the heightmaps you create as height-bases and use a procedural map for detail work.
Now, we know the model doesn’t look like much without any textures but, our favorite motto is ” baby steps dear, baby steps”.
We hope you’ve picked up a useful tip or two from this simplistic tutorial. Remember to subscribe to our rss feed to be notified of Part 2. The second part of this tutorial will walk you through creating a realistic set of textures for the terrain you’ve created.
Author: Tudor Nita
Born from an unhealthy cross-over between a rat and a pet hamster. Likes cheese, and chewing his way through virtual cardboard walls.
Original photo: CGRats
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Programmer and 3D enthusiast. Teaches web design, builds games and maintains this site in his spare time.Personal portfolio
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2D/ 3D artist. Works as a print designer and does 3D art in his spare time.Personal portfolio