PNT205: 3D Plants and Digital Environments

Professor: eran dinur
Software Version: speedtree 6
Original Run Date: January 2013
Highly detailed animated 3D trees and plants can make a huge visual impact in digital environments and matte paintings, as seen in movies such as Avatar. Yet the complexity of trees and many plant species makes them notoriously difficult to recreate, and requires a move from traditional modeling techniques to unique procedural methods.

Taught by Emmy and VES award winning VFX supervisor Eran Dinur, this course explores the process of creating and integrating 3D plants, from modeling and texturing to lighting and compositing.

Working with SpeedTree (available on the VPN), the industry's leading plant creation application, we will progress from the basic concepts of plant design and node-based modeling to advanced procedural techniques. On the way we'll cover such topics as leaf meshes and fronds, forces, real-time brush sculpting, texturing, managing poly counts and LOD's, animated wind effects and physical plant-mesh interactions.

After establishing a solid modeling and animation foundation, we will move on to look at the bigger picture. By using Maya, Vue and Nuke together with SpeedTree, we will create a full shot that will enable us to incorporate a variety of our own created trees and plants in a coherent, realistic digital environment. We will explore lighting, shading, compositing and matte painting techniques to avoid the pitfalls of "the CG look" and achieve photo-real look and integration.

In addition to all this, we will also take a sneak peak at e-on's brand new (and much awaited) Plant Factory, and explore its most notable features and its integration with Vue.

Eran is VFX supervisor at Brainstorm Digital. He is the recipient of an Emmy award ("Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role") and two VES awards for his work on HBO's Boardwalk Empire. Before joining Brainstorm Digital, he was senior compositor at Framestore NY and ILM Singapore. Films and TV series he worked on include: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Men Who Built America, Boardwalk Empire, Clash of the Titans, Salt, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Surrogates, Terminator Salvation, Star Trek, Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He is currently supervising Brainstorm's team on The Wolf of Wall Street, The Heat and Gold Fever.

class syllabus

Class 1: After a short introduction, we familiarize ourselves with SpeedTree's interface. We then dive in and create our first tree from scratch, exploring on the way the basic concepts and workflow of procedural plant modeling.
Class 2: Leaves require a fine balancing act between detail and poly count, and in this class we'll look closely at two different approaches. First we create a ground ivy plant using meshes and have it grow on the surface of rocks, then we create palm leaves using fronds.
Class 3: Moving on to a more advanced technique for creating complex leaves structures like conifer needles, we build external meshes in Maya, while using SpeedTree as a texture generator rather than using photos or scans. We then explore manual editing and brush paint modeling techniques.
Class 4: Textures are crucial in plant creation, and we take a look at techniques for generating suitable displacement, specular and normal maps (and check out some useful tools for that). Then we dig deep into the sophisticated wind generator, using both grass and trees to check its parameters. Finally, we create vines around the trunk using mesh attraction.
Class 5: Now that we've covered a variety of plant modeling techniques, we start building our environment shot. In this class we'll use Vue to create base elements such as terrains, rocks and HDR sky, create a layout and camera in Maya and bring is all into SpeedTree.
Class 6: This class will be devoted to creating the foreground hero tree, ivy climbing on the truck and ground ivy, using a combination of mesh, zone, and directional forces.
Class 7: We now move to Maya, looking at the SpeedTree to Maya export/import process and using point caches for wind animation. In Maya, we first tweak the plant shaders then set up the lighting using the Vue sky.
Class 8: We leave our shot aside for this class to take a sneak peak at e-on's brand new Plant Factory. While it shares many concepts with SpeedTree, it also offers some unique features (in addition to the obvious integration with Vue), and we take a close look at those.
Class 9: Back to the shot. We create additional 3D plants and background trees to populate the scene, then set up render layers and render passes for compositing.
Class 10: Time to render out the full frame range for the necessary passes. This class is done mainly in Nuke. We add depth to the environment using a combination of fog, volumetric light and grading, using different render passes.