What good is the intricate Architectural modelling or realistic textures when the quality of the vegetation completely lets down the CGI… we’ve all been there. Read on to find out how to create realistic vegetation using SketchUpand V-Ray workflows.
Throughout our years in the ArchViz industry, this is a common question asked by CGI artists all over the world.
How do I create realistic vegetation using SketchUp?
We must consider what we can do differently to improve both the quality of the 3D vegetation models and also how they are distributed within our scene.
The best way to do this would be to go through the process step-by-step, and show you first-hand how we ‘vegetate’ our scenes!
Initially we must plan out our landscaping. We could do this by using landscaping PDFs or simple annotations (very simple in my case!)
A preference is to then begin resolving larger pieces of vegetation first, moving down to smaller planting with each step.
We held a webinar recently with the guys at Laubwerkwhich ran through the process from start to finish… more on this collaboration later…
First and foremost, let’s talk about sources. For us, there are two sources which account for most of our realistic vegetation models, the first is provided by our friends at Laubwerk.
The first step is to add the Host grouped surfaces which will have the plants scattered onto them.
After adding all of our hosts, we can see how they have been added to the list, and some strange red lines appear in the chosen areas…
We can adjust the density of these red lines by modifying the appropriate parameter within the distribution section of the Skatter interface
These red lines are going to be swapped out for the bushes, by adding the bushes as my Scattered objects. In doing so, we then see the red lines change to red boxes, which now represent our bushes!
As we can see, these are still in a grid pattern as the boxes are aligned to the axis…
To remedy this, we head down into the Random Transformation section and turn on the Rotate option.
After hitting the big, red Regenerate button at the top, this will then confirm the Skatter setup for us.
A great thing about Skatter, is that we have the option to edit pre-existing setups, and we can do so by right clicking on the new Skatter group, and go to Edit Skatter Group.
It is possible to adjust where the vegetation has been scattered – we do this by adding a Clipping area as shown.
We then paint onto our model where we would like the scattered plants to appear by adding a paint area, and unticking use surface boundaries as include area.
As we paint our model, with Live Preview turned on we can see how our plants appear where we have painted… a very satisfying process!
This is useful when working to specific views – we can very easily control where we need to see vegetation in accordance with the chosen camera angles within our scene.
For grass lawns, we use two different approaches…
At the drafting stage, we recommend using V-Ray Fur.
This is a feature which comes with V-Ray 5 for SKP, and allows you to grow strands of fur from grouped surfaces.
We have lots of control over the density, length, thickness, taper and bend of this grass, so it is perfect for the early stages of a project.
A great feature of V-Ray Fur is that each strand takes on the material of the image painted onto the grouped surface – a technique which allow us to simulate mown grass effects.
For the final image stage, we recommend using Skatter grass for a realistic result.
Let’s now open up the Skatter Library, and pick one of the cut grass options.
We are asked whether we want to import the full geometry or the proxies – we will opt for the latter to keep our SKP file lighter and more optimised!
Once we hit the Load button, the same Skatter window that we saw previously pops up.
As you would expect, this is the point where we would select the lawn areas as our grouped surface which we want to be the base for our grass. Once done, we then hit the Regenerate button!
We can adjust the Distribution settings in exactly the same way as before to make the patches of grass appear clumped closer together or more sparsely distributed.
Again, we want to ‘paint on’ where our grass will appear by using the Clipping Areas section of the Skatter window, as this enables us to remove excess plants that are not visible!
I highly recommend going away and looking through the Laubwerk, Chaos Cosmos and Skatter libraries to find other objects which we can skatter within our scene…
I’ve added some more planting from Laubwerk alongside some boulders and daisies from the Skatter library.
Hey presto – here is our finished scene!
We offer one-to-one training over Zoom which teaches the concepts discussed here. These bespoke 4-hour sessions are heavily tailored to you to really ensure that you are challenged and learning appropriate coaching points.
For those of you that want to step up your rendering skills, take a look at our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses. This 3-day course, which runs from 09:00 to 14:00 (UK time) at the end of each month, covers the basics of material generation, how to light your scenes and covers render management skills.
On our most recent webinar, which covered all-things vegetation, we gave you the opportunity to use our scene and show us your skills! Feel free to download the SketchUp scene hereand tag us and Laubwerk in your social media posts once finished!
As I said; we love hosting webinars and our next free one is on the topic of materiality and is scheduled for Thursday 5th August – sign-up here.
Have you ever wondered how to create a photomontage, completely from scratch?
Going from this…
… to this
Well – we’ve got you covered. Here’s how it is done.
Firstly, what is a photomontage?
A photomontage is a mix of two different media. A computer generated image (CGI) is overlaid onto a photograph to show a new design superimposed into its existing surroundings.
Whilst traditional CGI allows us to model the surrounding environment; photomontages offer us the opportunity to view the real-life surroundings as captured through the lens of a camera, which is often required when trying to win planning permission.
What is the recipe for a successful photomontage?
In it’s purest sense, we can break down how to create a photomontage into four fundamental steps…
Step 1: The photograph.
The photograph that we are to use for the photomontage can be considered as our ‘base’. All subsequent work depends on the initial photograph that we would like to stitch our CGI onto.
As a result, we need to ensure that it ticks all of the boxes before we progress…
The industry standard for photographing Architectural forms dictates that all of the verticals must look vertical within the image – ensure that the camera is not tilted up or down!
Consider the lighting conditions, as this is something that we will aim to copy within our CGI. Clear blue skies or a flat, overcast day – the choice is completely up to you.
The resolution of the photograph is important. We want the highest quality possible – we like our photographs to be 5000 pixels along their longest edge.
In terms of the composition, we need to remember that we will be overlaying a CGI on top of our photograph, which means that we need to ensure that we leave space within the frame to do so!
To maximise the quality of our final product, ensure that we can save out our photographs in RAW format.
Step 2: The SketchUp model.
Now for the fun part… let’s get modeling using SketchUp!
Once we have ourselves a detailed model, we need to roughly match the SketchUp camera angle to that of the photograph.
This is the perfect time to think ahead to our CGI and try to match the resolution to our photograph (remember to ensure that safe frame is ticked!)
A key part of this process is ensuring that we match the Field of View (FOV) – this is akin to ensuring that we make sure that we use the same lens within SketchUp that we did for the photograph in real life.
Within the metadata of our photo, it often tells us the focal length of the lens that captured the shot…
Within SKP, we then head up to View and then choose Field of View…
Here we type in our FOV value in mm, followed by enter – note how the camera within SKP changes.
The next step is to reposition the camera to match the photo. We do this by adding our photo as a watermark within the Styles panel of the tray as shown.
This image overlay acts as a guide as we adjust the camera so that our model sits perfectly within the photo! Hit ‘Add Scene’ to save this angle!
Step 3: The CGI
We now have a SketchUp model which is aligned to our photograph – let’s prepare our CGI using V-Ray…
In this example, we are importing Extreme Texture’s Antique Oak into SketchUp as a Texture, which will allow us to paint this onto a face.
Now is a great time to check the scale – within the Materials panel of the tray; use the global size settings to ensure that our boards are scaled appropriately. To help me do this, I like to draw a guideline that equals the desired width of the board, so that I have something to reference.
Here we can see how important it is for our material to be seamless. There is a vast collection of seamless materials available from the sources mentioned above!
We now have a high-quality, seamless texture applied to our model which is the correct scale.
The diffuse texture is what we see within our SKP model. This can be considered our ‘base’ texture and defines predominantly what the material looks like without lighting or roughness effects applied.
If light bounces off an object and is not absorbed, then one sees a reflection. V-Ray has the ability to control the intensity and glossiness of reflections of materials within the scene by using reflection or specular (see also; spec) maps. For example, areas on a texture where one would see a glossy finish would show up as white on a spec map, whilst matt areas appear darker.
Not all materials are as flat as a mirror; for this, we use a bump or normals map. Areas on a bump map that are darker are shown as depressions on the surface of the material when rendered, whilst the opposite occurs for lighter areas. Be careful with the intensity of bump or normal values – anything above 1 is normally not required.
Hold on… how does glass work?
As we can see, the lighter we make the refraction colour, the more ‘glass-like’ our material becomes.
We can deduce that the setting to use that controls the transparent properties of glass is called refraction. Like with the reflection glossiness, we also have the opportunity to create frosted glass by adjusting the refraction glossiness value!
What about fabrics?
Depending on the qualities of the fabric in question, we would advise taking a look through the preset textures within V-Ray…
Once a similar fabric has been chosen, you can edit the colour and tones of the diffuse, by right-clicking on the bitmap slot within the Diffuse, and wrapping it in a Colour Correction. Here you will be able to modify the hue, saturation, brightness and contrast, to your liking.
Fabric textures now benefit from a new feature in V-Ray 5 for SketchUp where you can add a translucent layer for extra realism.
What if my texture seems to emit light?
One can add emissive layers to all materials within V-Ray as shown…
You can also copy your Diffuse into your Emissive bitmap slot…
Now that you know how to create realistic textures; Wrapping is a term we give to the application of a material to multiple faces within our model – much like the wrapping of a present with wrapping paper. We cover this in great detail on our Access into V-Ray for SketchUp courses.
Learning how to improve the lighting in your CGI is not rocket science, but there are techniques that we use. By understanding a few key lighting concepts I want to illuminate you and show you how to better your CGI, but before we do; let’s talk about why the sky is blue…
Let there be light.
Under intense and unimaginable pressure, hydrogen atoms are forced together in a huge release of electromagnetic energy, of which visible light makes up a small portion of this energy.
This is the beginning of the journey of a single photon from the centre of the burning ball of gas that we call our sun until it reaches our eyes.
After its tumultuous birth, our photon then takes, on average, 6 minutes to leave the surface of the sun and fly across the vast, 150 million kilometers of hard vacuum until it reaches our atmosphere.
As our photon passes through the big air bubble that surrounds the earth, it bounces off and passes through nitrogen atoms which make up nearly 80% of our atmosphere.
Our photon is a package that contains all of the colours of the rainbow – it just so happens that light on the bluer end of this spectrum scatters through nitrogen most effectively… which is why the sky is blue.
On a physiological level, we have evolved not only to love light but to need it.
Light is the key component that enables us to see, gives us security, and stabilises our circadian rhythms which helps us to sleep deeper and more restoratively.
It improves our moods, decreases depression, and even increases cognitive performance such as reaction time and activation.
On a fundamental level, we have an innate and primal relationship with light that can be traced all the way back to the roots of our shared evolutionary tree.
“I sense Light as the giver of all presences, and material as spent Light. What is made by Light casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to Light.” Louis Kahn, American Institute of Architects Gold-medal winning Architect
Lighting in CGI.
Modern render engines and most real-time game engines calculate lighting in a way that aims to emulate reality.
By definition, rays are traced (note: ray-tracing), from light sources as they then travel through 3D space and bounce off or scatter through surfaces.
Ray tracing software determines the number of times that a ray can bounce off or through a surface – the bigger the number of bounces, the harder the PC has to work, but generally the more realistic the result.
As experienced and industry-leading producers of CGIs, we wholeheartedly recommend V-Ray as our ray-tracing program of choice.
We use this in conjunction with SketchUp and have done so for nearly a decade now.
Feel free to take a look at what our CGI production team is getting up to using this software combo!
These lights have to come from somewhere though, right?
Whether it is the sun, a light bulb, or a candle; it is the job of the 3D artist to add these light sources to the 3D space and program them to emit light realistically.
Check out our article on how to use Dome Lights to create night-time CGIs.
As humans, we respond differently to different environs and lighting plays a big part of that. Anything that we see has a direct link to the subconscious, and this is what CGI artists tap into when working with lighting in a visualisation.
How do I put this into practice?
If you have read this far, you already understand the power of lighting within a CGI.
We need a structured workflow to better enable us to generate realistic and emotive lighting setups within our work…
Day two of this three-day course is dedicated purely to lighting.
We explore what light sources that we have available to us, and how we go about adding these into a scene.
We then explore the concept of ‘Three-Point Lighting’, which gives us a fail-safe method of programming the lights within our scenes to work together in a photorealistic way.
If you already have a good foundation, and simply want to improve the lighting in your CGI, look into our Top-Up courses – the premise is simple:
You pick what you would like to learn
A bespoke, coaching session will be designed by us and then pitched to you before you commit to anything
Once you are completely happy with the custom learning material on offer, this is when we schedule a coaching session – we book these out in half-day blocks, to ensure that you have ample time for study and information retention.
The session is held online and is screen recorded – which means you can watch it back when practicing on your own.
Upon completion of the course, we extend a helping hand by offering an after-care period of 30-days, whereby as you take this knowledge into professional practice; you can come to us with any questions that you may have.
All of our courses, now taught online, aim to give you the tools to consistently advance your visualisation skills and improve the lighting in your CGI.
When extrapolated for the full working day; the everyday SketchUp user may spend upwards of 10 minutes simply searching for the correct tool to use.
Also known as shortcuts, hotkeys are a defined as:
A key (or combination of keys) which give you quick and immediate access to a particular function within SketchUp.
The particular function that the definition above refers to would be different for each SketchUp user – meaning that we need a way to manually assign certain shortcuts to assist us with very specific tasks.
Head over to your preferences window, and click on the shortcuts tab.
Simply search for the tool that you use frequently, and tap the key (or series of keys) that you would like to assign to activate the function.
A simple concept – but within a week, we guarantee that this will make you feel more fluent within SketchUp.
If you would like to hear about other ways that you can feel more fluent within SketchUp, why not try our Access into SketchUp course?
The second of our 5 time saving techniques for SketchUp or Vray is, in our opinion, components are THE best way of advancing the quality of your 3D scenes in the most time-effective manner possible.
How do they work?
Right-click on one of your groups within your scene, and ‘Make Component’
This simple process now gives this entity new editing properties. When you make copies of this component, you will notice now, that editing one of them enables all of the others to be edited simultaneously!
The sky really is the limit when it comes to the applications that this offers us.
How do we use them?
Make loads of copies of a piece of vegetation; randomising the rotation and scale as you go…
Here, we’ve used something called a V-Ray Proxy – which explains why our ‘vegetation’ looks like a box! When rendered, this box in-fact looks like a small patch of meadow grasses.
As you can see, the same principle still applies – an edit made to one of these affects each and every other instance!
We cover components in great detail on our Access into SketchUp courses, which tend to run at the end of every month. Click on the link to find out more!
3. Parametric Modelling
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way where, as if by magic, you could pre-program a set of rules into an intelligent program, which could generate a whole host of different modelling elements, with minimal input from the user?
Well, I’m very glad that you asked…
Rather than manually modelling, duplicating and generating profiles and components, take a look at parametric modelling plugins such as Skatter and Profile Builder.
When it comes to creating realistic vegetation, Skatter is the sharpest tool of the lot.
As the name suggests, this intuitive plugin allows you to scatter vegetation components around your model, allowing you to randomise the distribution in ways hitherto impossible using SketchUp’s native toolset.
As the name suggests, this intuitive plugin allows you to scatter vegetation components around your model, allowing you to randomise the distribution in ways hitherto impossible using SketchUp’s native toolset.
We have been using this plugin for years, and it truly is the cornerstone of our landscaping workflow, which enables us to apply and produce complex and detailed landscaped imagery.
Building complex, parametric models is achieved through Profile Builder 3‘s intuitive interface, which gives you the power to construct detailed and future-proof assemblies with labour-saving in-mind.
Download preset assemblies or create your own – we really do vouch for the efficiency of this powerful SketchUp extension!
We are often asked for bespoke training in these plugins – take a look into our Top-Up courses if you would like to know more.
4. Test Rendering
If you have done some rendering in the past, you will be well aware that this is not instantaneous… unfortunately.
That said, there are certain techniques that you can use to speed up this rendering process, depending on the quality of the output that you require.
When ultra-high quality is not necessary for the early stages of a project, using a Denoiser in conjunction with a low-quality draft enables you to understand the design without waiting a long time for the render to finish.
After running a few tests of our own – adding a Denoiser to lower quality drafts buys you time to spend elsewhere.
Another pro-tip is to use region renders whenever possible – as the name suggests, this allows you to test-render only a small portion of the overall image.
The same principle applies when interactive rendering when using the ‘follow-mouse’ technique. After pressing the icon highlighted below, the render engine will focus its attention on the position of your cursor – another very useful technique if you need a quick solution.
We cover rendering techniques in great detail on our Access into V-Raycourses, held in the middle of every month – check out the link to find out more!
5. Distributed Rendering
This time for V-Ray not Sketchup, one of our 5 time saving techniques Many hands make light work.
Imagine being able to harness all of the computing power of your office or home, enabling you to ‘borrow’ computing power from all the machines within your local area network…
Introducing the V-Ray Swarm.
Intelligent render engines like V-Ray allow the user to break-up and ‘distribute’ the rendering workload across many machines.
Depending on the number of cores within your CPU (the brain of your computer), you will have varying amounts of buckets (which are the small squares that can be seen above).
When you add another machine to your V-Ray Swarm, you will notice that the number of buckets increases – which means that your render will finish much faster!
Let’s have a look at a real-world application for this…
Whenever anyone purchases a new V-Ray license, you automatically receive a free V-Ray Render Node accompaniment.
Imagine that we have two machines in the office, one that we will work on, and the other that will act as our render node.
We then install V-Ray on both the primary machine, and also the render node.
Once we are ready to render, we then turn on the V-Ray Swarm at the bottom of our Asset Editor, and then go to add a new node. You reserve the right to name your nodes anything you like – if you are cool like us, you can also name all of our machines after characters within the Marvel cinematic universe!
Dome lights: how do I use them to create a night time CGI?
You may not know it yet, but a dome light is the answer to creating ever-more realistic lighting setups within your CGIs…
Let’s break it down…
In a day-time scene, we have direct sunlight to illuminate our scenes. Direct light also scatters through the atmosphere and illuminates our environment.
V-Ray considers both direct and indirect illumination as two separate light sources.
To create a night-time scene, we require a technique to remove direct sunlight, whilst being able to create a night-time environment.
To do this, we use something called a Dome Light
A Dome light is a type of V-Ray light that surrounds our entire model, forcing light inwards. Images can be loaded into these light sources, which enables the user to simulate real-world environments by using panoramic HDR images.
I like to think of a Dome Light as a giant snow globe – with our model in the centre. We can choose what the sky looks like by swapping in different panoramic images.
Now that we know what dome lights are; what does this mean for you?
Select the highlighted tool to add a Dome light into your scene. Putting this into practice is straightforward. Pick out the Dome light tool from your V-Ray toolbar…
Load in your HDRI…
Hit render! Don’t forget to rotate your dome light to adjust the position of the sun
Over the years we have come across many different sources for dome lights…
We would like to recommend just two…
For variety, we highly recommend taking a look at Poliigon. Besides offering free assets; they operate a simple, subscription-type service where, depending on your package, you obtain different amounts of credits every month to spend on HDRIs, textures or models
If you are looking for top-quality HDRIs, look no further than Peter Guthrie’s shop – PG Skies. This in-depth collection of ultra high-quality HDRIs contains skies for all occasions. The handy preview renders show each of these in action, to make picking out your favourite that much easier!
We have no affiliation with these guys – but we rely heavily on their models. Without a doubt; they are the place to go for high-quality SketchUp models of furniture, lighting, and accessories.
For over 10 years, they have worked with premium brands to provide photorealistic 3D models of their products – so that SketchUpand V-Rayusers like us can download and import these into our scenes!
All models are (or can be) made available in SketchUp format, and all textures are correctly applied to each model, meaning it is the closest thing to a plug-and-play technique that exists for our workflow for furnishings
Again, we have no affiliation with this website, however, we have really benefited from the vast 3D collection that they offer.
If models are not available on DesignConnected, we head over to 3DSky, safe in the knowledge that we will find something that we can use.
Rather than the standard SketchUp file-type (.skp) that we are used to; models from 3D Sky tend to be in a different format – a filetype called obj…
In a nutshell, they store the geometry and textural information that makes up a 3D model. Different 3D modelling programs use different file types to save models – however, the .obj file type is the closest thing to an industry-standard in this regard.
To import .obj models, we use an extension called Transmutr. The easy-to-navigate interface allows you to convert these into .skp files – for you to then import into your scenes.
If you are working under a tighter budget, without the capacity to spend much on 3D models – there is no better source than the 3D Warehouse within SketchUp’s interface.
If you own or have owned, SketchUp Pro – there is a very good chance you know about this already.
Use the sliders on the left to control the quality of the models within your search parameters.
Take note… these models are not quality-checked before being uploaded to the warehouse – which means that you can end up with a real mixed bag in terms of quality.
To be safe, we always recommend saving the desired models into their own files, rather than importing straight into your scene – as this protects your master file from any latent errors that may be present within the imported models!
Following the success of SketchUp at The Archilime Academy, based in Southernhay, Exeter, we cannot wait to deliver our new course: Access into V-Ray for SketchUp Pro. With its speed, efficiency and the future-proof nature of this cutting-edge software, we feel that this is the next generation of rendering. The course will be suited to those who have already completed the SketchUp course (or who have a basic understanding of SketchUp), and are looking to extend their skills further. V-Ray for SketchUp Pro gives you the ability to create amazingly photo-realistic renders. The course will give you not just the theory, but practical experience too, where you will be using a high-spec computer, delivered by our Head of Operations, Dan Stone. The aim of the course is to give you the confidenceand independence to be able to create your own professional, photorealistic images.
New Year Resolutions?
Here at Archilime, we consider the New Year to be a time where we think about how we can move forward, and consider how we can better ourselves as creative practitioners in an industry that we love. We would also like to help other practitioners from all backgrounds: from interior designers, architects, construction, hobby and film as well as craftspeople, to stay ahead of the game in the Visualisation arena. This is why we are so excited to announce the launch of this new course. We would like to enable others to share in its enhanced capacity to render still images quickly and easily: from 2D plans and elevations to 3D objects and interiors, all delivered with the Archilime coaching by Archilime Artists, personal support and guaranteed 30-day after-care that makes our Academy so unique.
Easy Access to The Archilime Academy
At The Archilime Academy, we welcome students from all over the country, from all industry backgrounds. Our Academy, based in the offices of Attention Media in Southernhay, Exeter is an ideal, easily accessible location and is comfortable and conducive to learning; with our dedicated training being delivered support in small groups. Once you have completed our 2-day SketchUp course, by moving onto Access to V-Ray for SketchUp, you are ensuring that you are staying at the cutting edge of the Visualisation industry. We will also share opportunities for future advanced coaching with you.
A Showcase Opportunity with Full Support
V-Ray for SketchUp showcases what you have created in SketchUp by bridging the gap between a 3D model and a photorealistic image. It will give you the tools to present complex, detailed and lit renders to enable you to effectively communicate your ideas to clients and colleagues. By the end of the two-day course, you will have had the benefit of lots of hands-on experience having been taken, step-by-step, through the techniques of the software, as well as opportunities to ask questions specific to your own role and industry. All course files can be taken away with you, and, when you leave The Archilime Academy, you are still not alone! Delegates are entitled to 30 days’ email/phone support from their trainer to help with any post-course issues or answer any questions.
To find out more, call the studio on: 01364 654267