Environment Series 1: Landscaping

Hey guys, today we are kicking off a new series!
This series is going to be based around nature and cycles.

Bear in mind that this is NOT a beginner series,
I will assume you already know what I mean when I say Duplicate the trees around the place and randomize the rotation and scale a bit.
Of course Beginners will still be able to follow along but be ready to do a bit of googling ;)

So the theme is: “Environments”

So we will be doing a 8 part series on modelling an environment scene, you may have already seen the teasers on facebook, but if not you can jump there now :D
So why so many parts for one scene?
Well basically this is going to be reference material, so you can just jump to a section you need to refresh on.
What will be covered?

1. Landscaping: The ground, path, river, and background
2. >Grass: The grass, flowers, and butterflies
3. Bridge: The old bridge
4. Well: The old Well
5. Trees: All the Trees
6. House: An old fashioned cottage
7. Ivy: We cover everything in Ivy
8. Finish: Touch-ups, Compositing etc

So Lets get started, For this tutorial you will need a current cycles build from graphicall.org, and it doesn’t matter if you can render with GPU or not, unless you have 6Gb of Graphics ram you are gonna be stuck to the CPU anyway. Currently cycles does not support strand rendering and therefore all grass is required to be poly.

1. Create a plane and scale it up to about 4 times the size of the default grid. (dimensions X:32, Y:32)
And in edit mode subdivide about 20 cuts (W->subdivide->cuts=10)+subdivide once more
and add in a multi-resolution modifier at level 1.
We are now ready to sculpt in some landscape

2. First you need to get the basic form of your environment.
In top view sculpt a crevice down the middle of the plane, this is going to be the river, don’t make it perfectly straight, perhaps give it a fork, doesn’t have to be perfect, the less perfect the better, also make the bottom a bit jagged, this will help if you are at the right angle to see through the water.
My river is about 4-6 units wide.
Next you will want to warp the landscape a bit, think about the scale of the scene and how big things should be, the same bump could be a hill or a mountain.
I have added some bumps on the left and the right has been left almost flat. because we will likely have the well and house on the right.
Note: Although dips are good, don’t make the lower than the water line.
Think about where your path is going to be at this stage, where will it cross the river (the narrow point), In my screenshot you can see I have applied the multi-res and highlighted the area I want my path (don’t delete your multi-res, this is just an example).

3. Now we need to add some detail. Don’t go overboard, most of it will be covered by grass anyway but the bumps control the detail of the grass. Take the multi-res up to level four and add a lot of bumps to the mesh.
The best way to do this is by using a clouds texture assigned to your brush.
Remember when your done to smooth out where your path will be, we don’t want that to be affected by lumps.

4. Before we texture the ground we quickly need to add in a background texture. in the world settings add a sky texture, bump up the Turbidity and Strength, and position the sphere where you want the sunlight to be coming from.

5. Now that our ground is modelled, we need to texture it. for this we need a brown dirt texture, and a rocks texture. You can find the rocks texture in the resources(I tried modelling by hand, too high poly so turned it into a texture :P ), and you can get an appropriate seamless dirt texture from cgtextures, You might want to darken it a little and give it a richer brown color so it blends a little better.
This step is going to be one of the most complicated in the entire series with a total of 35 nodes so read carefully. The previews are going to be more help :P

5a. In top view you need to unwrap your mesh with project from view. make sure you jump into the uv editor and make the uvs fill the whole grid.
We will start with the dirt texture.
Set up a basic texture with the uv’s, (Add texture coordinates and mapping nodes), you will need to mix together a diffuse BSDF with a Glossy BSDF at a factor of 0.1, this will give it a very slight bit of specularity, remember dirt isn’t shiny.
Lead your dirt image into both the diffuse and glossy shaders, and plug the mapping node into the image vector.
Also add some bump map by plugging the image texture into a RGB to BW node, and then into a multiply node, and that multiply node into the displacement input of the material.
Confusing? wait until we get the rest of the shaders in there.
Switch the viewport over to rendered and zoom into where abouts your camera will be, and check you are happy with the size and bump. you will likely want to adjust this in the node editor.
I bumped my mapping up to repeat 50 times by setting the scale on the mapping node.
It will probably not look good, but remember it will all be covered in grass soon enough.

5b. Now we need to make the stone path, you can either use a stone texture from cgtextures or the one provided in the resources.
First we need to make a map to use to define where the path will go. You can either do this in texture paint, or in an image editor like gimp/photoshop.
Remember: Black=No path, White=Path, Try not to fade the edges too much, but don’t have super hard edges either, a slight soft edge will make it look more natural.

for the path texture duplicate all of the nodes for the ground down below, Duplicate the image texture so we have three in a column, and replace them with the rocks spec, rocks diffuse, and rocks displacement respectively.
Unplug the image from the glossy shader leaving it white, and plug the spec image into the Factor value of the mix shader, this will control where the specularity is applied. You may wish to tone this done with a multiply node (math node set to multiply).
Diffuse goes into diffuse(funny that), and the displacement goes into the RGB to BW node.
You may wish to play with the mapping scale and bump amount for these.

Now we need to mix the tho textures together. To do this, add in a Mix Shader, and a color Mix, the mix shader is going to mix both the shaders together, and the color mix is for the bump. and connect the two mixed results into their respective inputs for the material.
Now to control the factors for where the shaders are applied, add in the path map image we created before and link the uv to it’s input, and the color output directly into the Factor values of both the mix shaders. Are you baffled yet? check the preview below(HD), I have grouped my nodes together with frames for easy reading.

5c. Repeat 5b for the river bed, I have faded the rocks up the banks a little, you can choose to have grass going all the way to the water, up to you. I have also made the rocks a little bigger.
Here is the complete node setup (HD):

And what it should look like rendered:

6. Ok so now we have the ground done, lets add in a river. Easiest step ever, add in a plane, position it and scale it where the river should be, moving it up and down changes the water level.
Give it a glass shader with a slight blue color, and a IOR of about 1.3.

I think we can push this a little further though, lets give it some ripples like a real river.
Add a lot of subdivisions, about 20 width ways and enough long ways to make the divisions square. add in a subsurf level 2, and a displace modifier. I used a clouds texture with a size of 0.0001 and a depth of 6. The displacement strength was set to 0.001 so it creates very subtle ripples. they will be hard to see now, but definitely add to the final result.

7. We are coming to an end of part one. All that is left to do now is to add a background and camera.
I will assume you know how to do this bit, but briefly, I positioned my camera first, and then imported the image with “import images as planes”, put it in the background somewhere where it looks good to the camera, gave it an emission shader with a strength of 1. (This is the equivalent of shadeless).
You can find the background in the resources.
So we are done!
Hopefully you got a good result, if you have any questions let me know in the comments below, part two will be out tomorrow night where we make it look a lot better with grass,flowers, and butterflies!
Here is the finished result from part 1

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