The Hess Report
Mostly, the background is a subdivided and extruded plane, pulled around with PET. It is very large, though, as I tried to make it to scale. The trees, however are a good hybrid of modeling and texturing, so I'll use them to pull the modeling to texturing transition here. All of the trees are cards. Working on the complexity principles above, I decided that four different trees, duplicated judiciously, would produce enough randomness to keep the viewer from noticing they were, in fact, duplicates. But there was no way I was modeling and rendering that many high poly trees. Google Image search was little help, and I kind of wanted to do the whole thing myself anyway, so I fired up Arbaro, an open source java-based tree making application.
Using Arbaro, I made a fairly high poly tree, based on the Cottonwood template I believe, exported it as an .obj file, and brought it into Blender. I squared it up in front of an Ortho camera, did some basic texturing, turned on AO, and rendered a 400x400 .tga file with Alpha set to Key. Then, I applied the nicely provided Normal Map material and rerendered. I rotated the tree so it presented a distinctly different profile and rerendered both color and normal passes again. I did this two more times, until I had what looked like four very different tree images with normal and alpha information.
Left to right: color, alpha, normal.
I mapped the images to four different single face planes (remember to click Normal Map in the texture buttons for your normal map image!), then began placing them by hand. I made nice clusters of trees, then duplicated those, keeping a close eye on the camera view so that I only placed trees where they would be seen. Three scripts helped out, then. I used the randomizer script to give me all manner of short, tall, thin and wide trees. My Drop2Ground script planted the trees on the terrain, which would have been a huge pain to do by hand. Finally, my ZTrack script oriented the cards to face the camera while remaining upright.
Wireframe of the hills, covered with tree and grass cards.
I used the same technique to place grass cards in the distance, except that I rendered a portion of the grass I had already created for my base image.
Before I go in depth with texturing, I'll take a small break to mention the very simple lighting setup used here. AO plus a single ray shadow sun lamp. The AO was set to Add and to use the Sky Texture. The Sky, which I wanted to be simple, used the SunSky plugin. The addition of AO and ray shadows on sun lamps makes good outdoor lighting very easy to do in Blender.
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