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vue masterclass

Environment Creation with Alex Popescu


the bay - Page 04


the reef - Page 14


the cave - Page 22


river valley - Page 30

the bay

Vue Masterclass Chapter 01: The Bay

Chapter 01 - The Bay

Software used: Vue

Welcome to the first part of a series of Vue
tutorials. We will be exploring the creation of
landscapes, tackling a different environment
each chapter.
The special thing about this series is that the
tutorials will be very results-driven. This means
that I will concentrate on pointing out the
essential elements of landscape creation and a
cost-effective way of getting great results, rather
than getting stuck into the technical side of
things. The reason I am doing it like this is that I
want to write articles that are easy to follow and
that are about the principles more than anything
else. Working as an environment artist in the
film industry, I know the pressure of production
and that is why I feel the end result is the most

photoreal, so it makes sense to start by looking

should know that by clicking on the Terrain

important thing. The software is just the tool that

for good reference images as this is the key to

editor window with the Function editor open, you

will help you reach that result.

creating realistic 3D environments. It is easy to

will update the preview of the procedural terrain.

get carried away into thinking that your image

So any changes you make to the nodes will be

The series should be interesting for beginners

looks photoreal, but only by comparing it with

previewed straight away.

and intermediates, but it will also be filled with

real-life examples will you be sure of that. I will

enough great tips to keep advanced readers

talk a bit more about this later on.

interested. I would like to start by recommending

The last node I use is a strata filter, which

creates the nice lines running across the full

that you take a look at the work of Dax Pandhi.

The Terrain

He is a very advanced user who creates

To build my coastline, I start with a procedural

be careful with here: the scale of your ground.

stunning final results.

terrain (Fig.01). By editing the function that

Having the right scale set up will save you a

generated the terrain I create the result I want.

lot of trouble later. Go to the Size tab, lock the

The setup is based on a model created by Dax

scaling proportion and then choose the size you

Pandhi. This approach uses two terrain fractals

are aiming for (Fig.02).

Choosing Your

length of the coastline. There is just one thing to

Starting a new project can be a bit difficult. But

that are later combined. I use one of them to

the most important thing is to set a goal. If you

create the larger features of the terrain and then

Setting up the Camera

already have a brief, that shouldnt be too hard.

the second one for the more detailed shapes.

Now that we have a general idea in place for

If you dont, take the time to come up with one

The one that creates the large features has

the terrain, we can choose a nice camera view.

yourself. Working without one can be a lot of

been filtered to give it a canyon aspect. I need

Before I do this I create a sea layer, because

fun as a quick exercise, but when working on a

that for the steep cliffs of the coastline.

the water level is going to affect how much I see

bigger project the goal should be very clear from

the beginning.

of my terrain, and of course the composition of

The two terrain filters can then be combined with

the image. After doing that, I am free to move

a Blender node. You have to experiment with

around with the camera, and choose something

For the first tutorial were going to create a

the values of the nodes until you get the result

I like. I want to see the nice steep cliff in the

Mediterranean-style coast scene. I know

you are looking for. This is where experience

distance, the bay and have an interesting

that I want to go for a result that looks pretty

and technical training comes into place. You

foreground, so lets go for something that

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Chapter 01

Chapter 01: The Bay Vue Masterclass

includes all of that. This is a moment where you
should spend a bit of time exploring your scene
because you might find some great surprises.
This is where the power of Vue becomes
obvious: after just one hour of work, you are
already exploring a full 3D environment.

Setting up the
After finding the view that looks right, there are
still two things to worry about. The first, and
probably the most important, is the lighting.
Choosing the lighting scenario is very important
so this is where having a good reference comes
into play. Find a good image and aim to light
your scene like that.
My advice would be to start from one of the
default physical atmosphere setups. Choose a
good direction for the sunlight that helps to show
the volumes of your terrain. Usually a side light
which is not too high will give you nice daylight
results. Here are my atmosphere settings
(Fig.03). Notice the lowered setting for the
quality boost which improves the render times.
Of course, if you are not planning to move

Final render preset, and press go. Here is the

if it was for a movie. Im trying to keep the

the camera you can reuse the indirect lighting

result (Fig.04). It isnt the most photoreal thing

elements as neutral as possible, with a lot

calculation to speed up your test times.

youll ever see, but we still have a way to go.

of range for changes. Our final result is an

image, which means that I will do all the final

Before starting the first render there is one

Building The

last thing we have to take care of: the material

The next step is to start working on the

of our terrain. For the first test I use one of

materials. Im happy to keep the lighting as it

the default materials, Rock and Grass, from

is and the terrain also looks like it could work

One of these things is the distribution of

the Landscapes option. It helps you read the

for now. What you have to keep in mind when

materials. This is where we get to see the power

volumes of the terrain well. I leave the water

reading this is that my approach is influenced

of the Vue Material editor. One of the things I

with the default material for now, choose the

by how you would work with this kind of scene

use most is the altitude distribution. With the

The First Render

tweaks in Photoshop, so the important things to

concentrate on now are those elements that I
cant control there.

correct settings, you can create a complex

material that simulates real ones very closely.
In the case of this image I start by working on
the cliff material. By using the mixed material
and altitude distribution I create three big areas:
the cliff, the beach and the underwater sand
(Fig.05). I also modify the parameters of the
water to get it closer to the look I want. Its
looking way too transparent and reflective at

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Chapter 01

Vue Masterclass Chapter 01: The Bay

the moment so lets concentrate on those and

sharp or a progressive transition between the

specific environment, like this one, I tend not to

change the overall hue. This is what Ive ended

two. In this case I want a sharper line to get a

use automatic distribution, but paint the areas

up with (Fig.06).

better feel of that area where the water touches

I want the vegetation to grow on. This way I

the cliffs. I apply the same technique on all the

have a lot more control over the vegetation

terrain segments. It is also noticeable that Ive

and on the composition. Adding vegetation

It could get a little tricky now because of the

changed the color of the water to create a better

can be a very tricky task though. Recreating

large scale, but I want to further refine the

sense of scale. Having deeper blue for the

the natural variation is not easy, and a lot

materials. The obvious solution is to try to split

water means having deeper water and therefore

of time must be spent trying to improve the

the terrain into smaller pieces that will be easier

automatically a bigger scale (Fig.09).

look of your ecosystem. Because of the more

Control is the Key

to control creatively. So I duplicate my ground

dont need. This makes working on the scene a

Adding the

lot easier in the long run (Fig.07).

Im happy with the terrain now so its time to

three times and then sculpt away the parts I

Focusing on Specific

general approach of this tutorial, we will not go

into that, but keep in mind that this is a very
important point when you are creating your 3D

start working on the vegetation. The ecosystem

technology is what revolutionized Vue a couple

A lot of the time you might need to create

of years ago, and it is a very handy tool. In a

custom plants, or even use outside models to

The next natural step is to focus on improving

each piece of the terrain. So I start with the far
cliff, working on the material. I add another step,
trying to create a darker line along the area
where it makes contact with the water (Fig.08).
This idea came from looking closely at my
reference images.
Please keep in mind that when working on a
specific area you should always use the render
region option to reduce the time wasted in the
test renders. You might have to test the values
of the mixing amounts in the Material editor
a couple of times until you get what you are
looking for. An important detail is to specify the
way the two materials blend and if you want a

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Chapter 01

Chapter 01: The Bay Vue Masterclass

get the look you want. Again, I have to repeat,
having good reference images is essential
But as I said, I want to keep it simple and so I
only use a type of tree, the Springtime White
Birch. Here is how our scene looks after the
ecosystem painting (Fig.11). The beach seems
a bit too empty so lets add some bushes using
the same technique (Fig.12).

Adding Details to the

Now that the general elements are in place, we
can concentrate on making things a bit more
interesting. The far cliff looks a bit boring, so
lets modify the terrain a bit on the far edge.
Here is how the terrain looks after Ive worked
on it a bit (Fig.13). When making these kind
of changes always check the result through
your render camera. There is no point in
making it look cool in the terrain editor if it is
not interesting in the final image. I know there
are some artefacts here and there, but there is
nothing that cannot be fixed later (Fig.14).

Rendering the Image

At this point, Im happy enough to start a serious
render. Not everything is perfect and it doesnt
look photoreal, but I have faith in the way

Its time to prepare everything for Photoshop

object masks, material masks and any other

things were going. This is another step where

now. Its not just about the render at this point,

thing you think might help. Be careful though;

experience will tell you say if its the right time

its also about all the things you can use in

this will increase your render time, so if there is

or not to go to post-render work. On the other

Vue that could help the tweaking process later.

a time constraint, keep it under control.

hand, you can always come back and tweak

Enable the multi-pass render, and start adding

stuff, so if you feel like throwing your renders

stuff that you think could be useful. You should

Be careful with the output PSD file. All the

into Photoshop and playing with them give it a

always render passes like ZDepth, Indirect

layers will be locked and there will be a lot of

go and see what happens.

Illumination, Shadows, Reflection etc, plus

information in extra channels (object alphas,

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Vue Masterclass Chapter 01: The Bay

etc). When you open the PSD file look around

way too much time to render. However, having

Only one question could arise. Given the fact

and try to think about the way that you could

the water as a separate element in Photoshop,

that we are processing the image in 2D, arent

use the extra passes. They will have several

allows us to do that extremely quickly. So we

we losing the power of 3D? What if you have

blending modes which can be changed by

can be flexible and creative, and most of all,

a moving camera in your scene? Well, at this

default, so take a look at how they look in

results driven. Having good references will

time, this is not our goal. We just want to create

Normal mode you might be surprised at the

come in handy again, because right now we can

a good looking image using the power of Vue.

effect (Fig.15). Here is the render with some

actually have the two next to each other.

And that is still in reach. But, dont worry; there

extra passes on the bottom. So the work is done

now, surely? No, not even close (Fig.16)!

The Photoshop
As I said earlier, what Im actually looking for
in my Vue render is a good base to work with.
That means that I want all the elements in place,
I need the lighting, I have all the extra passes,
so all I need to do is tweak all this information
to get the best result. In film visual effects, the
result of the CG pipeline is what we have at
the moment and its the role of the compositor
to make all the elements fit together nicely. Of
course, this is just a simplified description of the
actual process, but the principle is the same.
The reason behind all of this is simple: speed.
At this point our render times are already a bit
slow. A change in the color of the water will take

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Chapter 01: The Bay Vue Masterclass

are a lot of techniques to do exactly the same

I choose a very typical daylight sky, because I

use the indirect illumination pass and mask the

thing using this process. Its not the purpose of

dont want the image to look too dramatic. The

ecosystems alpha to get rid of those and add to

this tutorial, but I will probably talk about this

goal is still a natural looking image (Fig.17).

the natural feel. I add depth to the far cliff using

subject in a later article.

The Sky

Color Corrections

the depth pass, and lower the contrast in the

foreground. When doing large scale outdoor

The image is really coming along, but at this

environments, it is important not to have too

I am sure youve noticed that I havent talked

point, Im not very happy with the tones and

much contrast, because that doesnt really

much about the sky at all. Well, there is a

the values of my CG elements. So by having

happen in real life (Fig.20).

reason for that. Even though Vue skies look

the reference images on top of my render I

good, in most cases there is simply no need to

color correct my cliffs and my water to match

The next thing I do might look a bit strange,

use a CG sky. There are tons of amazing picture

those from the photographs. This way I know

but it is actually very easy to do and efficient. I

libraries that you can use, and the result will be

I will be closer to real values (Fig.18 19).

add a bit of extra detail to the overall image in

well, photoreal. This is what you would do in

In the next step I take advantage of the extra

the places that look a bit too clean to me, by

real-world production where time is an issue, so

passes I rendered earlier. For example, I think

creating adjustment layers and then painting in

unless you have a good reason for it, I wouldnt

that the trees are a bit too shiny and the hard

the masks. For example, on the far cliff I create

spend too much time trying to get it to look right.

light makes them look a bit too plastic. So I

a Hue adjustment layer that makes it green, and

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Vue Masterclass Chapter 01: The Bay

then invert the mask. By taking a small brush
and painting in the mask you can reveal a bit
of the green in places of your choice. I use the
same approach for the beach (Fig.21).
Going back to Vue for a bit of extra help painting
bits of grass on the cliff is easy, but some
other stuff might not be so. This is true for the
water. I feel it needs a bit more underwater stuff
around the far cliff, but painting those in could
turn into way too complicated a job. So lets go
back to Vue and do a fast render of the ground
with the underwater sand/vegetation material
everywhere (Fig.22). This can now be used as
a pass, multiplied and revealed around the far
cliffs and shore (Fig.23).

The Finishing
The image is starting to look pretty good, right?
But there are still a couple of things to do. First,
if you look closely, you can see there are still a

Time to add a bit of fun to the image! Its a

populated, and a detail like this can make your

few places where the render has some issues.

shame to create such a nice place and have

image more appealing (Fig.25). The tiny boat

Just took the Clone brush and sample some

nobody to enjoy it, right? So lets bring in a

on the left really looks great, and helps the

places next to the problem areas. This can be

couple of human elements to add a bit of life

composition too.

done around the far cliff and the vegetation on

to the image not to mention scale and a bit

the beach, which looks a bit too big (Fig.24).

of a story. People love to see environments

Speaking of composition, there is one last thing.

When I do a Vue render, I tend to render a
bigger area then I initially intended, just to get
more space to play with. In terms of this image,
I think cropping the image will make it look a
bit better. So after adding a bit of chromatic
aberration, and de-focussing some areas, I crop
the image and its done!
This concludes the first tutorial about Vue
environments. If you got this far it must have
been a pretty interesting read, so if you have
any questions feel free to email me. Cheers!

Alex Popescu
For more from this artist visit:
Or contact them at:

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Chapter 01

Chapter 01: The Bay Vue Masterclass

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Chapter 01

Vue Masterclass Chapter 01: The Bay

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Chapter 01

the reef

Vue Masterclass Chapter 02: The Reef

Chapter 02 - The Reef

Software used: Vue

For the second part of the Vue environment
tutorial series I have chosen a beautiful and
interesting subject matter: a coral reef. I think
everybody can enjoy a nice underwater scene,
and Vue is great at allowing you to create
wonderful results in a small amount of time.
The quality of the resulting image depends on
creative choices rather than the technical side
of things. That is why there will be a couple
of steps where I will take some decisions that
might seem strange but are actually just ways

lot of big shapes which will create my depth, but

scale. This will save a lot of trouble later when

of simplifying the workflow and getting faster

also a lot of tiny details. This means we will most

setting up the atmosphere and vegetation.


probably use a procedural terrain that combines

two types of fractals, one for our big shapes and

After doing a bit of research online looking at

Creating The Layout

another one for creating the details.

First of all I need to choose a format for my

image. Because I want to create a canyon it

underwater photography, the ideas will start to

flow and an image will start to form in your head.

The usual approach for creating the terrain

seems wise to choose portrait format as it I will

For my image I will try to combine two things:

would be to build the canyon from the beginning.

give enough vertical space to show the depth

a deep underwater canyon or cave, which

But because I want a lot of detail and shape on

of my environment. Given the fact that the

conveys a sense of mystery and scale, and a

my canyon wall, a standard approach in Vue

image is being created for a magazine I choose

beautiful coral reef, with its amazing colors and

would make this a difficult task. I want to be as

a standard paper vertical format. The camera


efficient as possible, so I choose to do it in a

is a pretty wide one (24 mm) so I can fit a lot

different way. I will create a regular procedural

of elements in the foreground, while creating

The Terrain

terrain then I will build my canyon walls by

a strong perspective as the canyon fades into

Once I have a clear idea of what I want to build

rotating it 90 degrees. I can even duplicate

the distance. For both sides of the canyon I use

I can get to work. The first natural step would be

the same terrain a few times, because the

the same terrain and just rotate it 180 degrees

to start building the terrain so I can set up the

perspective I will be using will allow me to do

so there isnt any repetitions After playing a bit

camera and choose a composition I like. Given

this without the viewer noticing the repetition.

with the camera position, this is what I decide on


the fact that I want to create an underwater

canyon and have a good sense of scale and

Lets start creating the actual terrain. As I said I

depth, I am going to need a terrain that has a

am using a combination of two fractals: a terrain

is creating my big shapes and I am using a

Setting up the
Lighting and

multiplier filter to exaggerate those, while the

This is probably the most important part of

terrain fractal will give me all the tiny details

creating a good environment. If the lighting

and shapes I want for the close-up. The two are

setup doesnt work then your whole environment

combined using a blender node. Note that the

will not be believable. That is why I suggest

Zero Edges option is turned off (Fig.01).

taking a bit of time to study the reference

fractal and a basic repeater. The basic repeater

images you have gathered, and trying to

When I am happy with the general shape of the

its obvious but for an underwater setup (in

scale and set the values to match a real world

replicate a lighting setup that you like. Maybe

terrain I need to make sure to go to the objects

most cases) you need to start with a top light

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Chapter 02

Chapter 02: The Reef Vue Masterclass

so I move the sun to a position that will create

caustics would create a nice lighting effect, but

some nice shapes on my cliff walls, illuminating

there is no need for something like that in our

everything from the very top. Of course to make

case. This is a decision you can make based

it interesting its not exactly on top of my cliffs

on studying reference photos and deciding

but in a position that will mean the right wall will

what works best in your case. So instead of

click on it, even when you are still playing with

mostly be in shadow, and that there will be more

water I will just set up my atmosphere so the

the sliders. To get a better idea of the overall

highlights on the left wall.

scene looks deep under the sea. Here are my

look I would not recommend rendering with the

atmosphere settings (Fig.03).

default material. It can behave strangely in the

Now we reach a point where I make an

light setup and once you switch on your final

interesting decision. I am creating an

The First Render

underwater scene, but do I actually need the

Its then time to start testing the scene. In the

Always use a simple material that is close to

water? In this case the answer is no. This

light setup I do a lot of fast test renders to

what you need in the end. That will give you a

would only increase our render time and we

get the look I am after. When setting up the

better idea of how it will behave in your rendered

wont really feel the difference because of the

atmosphere the render preview window is a

scene. In this case I just choose Orange rock

depth we are at. If it was a shallow water scene

great help because it refreshes every time you

from the default rock materials. Here is the

materials the light setup wont work anymore.

result of my render (Fig.04).

Building The
At this point I am getting anxious to start work
on the coral reef. I know it is going to be a bit
of a challenge and that the image depends on
it, so I go forward with it. The plan I have is to
create the coral structures from Vue rocks with
interesting displacement materials. The good
thing about an environment like this one is that
you will get away with a lot of cheats, because
the regular viewer is probably not an expert
diver. So rather than creating an exact realistic
type of coral, what you need to do is convey the
idea of a coral reef as this is enough to make it
believable. So I start by setting up the rocks to
get a nice layout. I use different sizes and rotate
them around until I am happy with what I can
see through the camera (Fig.05).

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Vue Masterclass Chapter 02: The Reef

Then I start working on the coral material. The
first attempt is very straight forward. I choose
one of the Vue preset rocks as a base (the sick
rock). Then by changing the color and activating
the displacement with a high enough value I
get very interesting results. This is the beauty
of Vue; you can get great results in a very short
amount of time (Fig.06).
To see how things are looking I need to look at
it again through the camera. I am not trying to
create a realistic type of coral because I dont
really have to. An object that gives the right idea
will do the trick. So at this point my corals might
look weird, but keeping the whole environment
in mind I am pretty confident that its going to
work (Fig.07).

Improving The Reef

I am happy with the base of the reef, but it id
going to need a lot more work to get it to the

The look of my coral material is still a bit off. I

material. That is why I add another light source,

point I want it at. First I start to add vegetation.

feel the light interaction is not good enough. Im

a point light set up to give me exactly that:

In the Vue presets you can actually find pieces

not getting the organic feel I want. But its easy

some specific light on the foreground coral reef

of coral. They look exactly as you would expect

to change that in Vue. Just activate the sub-


coral to look and they will help me sell the

surface scattering (Fig.09).

The light coming from the point light is set up

environment. They look nice placed around and

with a few changes to the color I am getting nice

I am probably going to need a bit more light

to attenuate very fast, so it doesnt affect my

results (Fig.08).

to take advantage of the new translucent

overall top light setup. Here is a render of my

coral reef after all these changes (Fig.11).

Adding The Ecosystem

Now that I have the foreground corals sorted
I need to start to think about the mid-ground. I
use a few Vue default plants and I start adding
them on the canyon walls. For the coral I am
changing the color from time to time to make

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Chapter 02: The Reef Vue Masterclass

the image look more varied. In this type of

Rendering The Image

environment you should vary the color as much

Now I am ready to start the final render. Again

as possible, to create a natural look and feel.

I cannot stress enough the importance of

If some colors are going to be too out of place

rendering extra passes that can be used in the

they can easily be taken out in Photoshop

post-processing of the render. The Z-Depth

(Fig.12 13).

pass, the direct light pass, the shadow pass

Balancing The Image

and masks for the separate objects are always

useful. Up to now the render settings have been

At this point I feel my elements are pretty much

low so I dont waste the time on test renders.

there, I just need to balance everything. I add

Now its time to boost the render settings a bit to

coral structures on the right wall and a couple

get the best results. Here is my final Vue render.

of extra lights to make them pop out a bit more.

It produces interesting results but it still needs

I also feel the rock texture is a bit too light and

some love (Fig.14).

clean, so I change that material for something a

bit darker looking.

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Vue Masterclass Chapter 02: The Reef

The Photoshop
As I said in the first tutorial, the final Vue render
shouldnt be considered the end of the work.
There are a few more steps to be taken until the
image can be called finished. In this example,
the whole scene is created around the illusion
of being underwater. That is why the most
important extra pass that Ive rendered is the
depth pass. With this one I will be able to control
the depth in the image and tweak it to a point
where I am happy.

Using The Z-Depth


Color Corrections

The first thing I am going to do after getting the

rendered, I play a bit more with the colors in

render in Photoshop is use the Z-Depth pass

my image. The most obvious change is in the

to get the look I am looking for in the water. In

mid-ground where I have changed the colors

our render as we move further into the distance

of some of the corals to make them a bit more

the water is getting darker. I want to create an

obvious. I really like the way the yellow corals in

image with a bit more of a tropical look, where

the foreground look. I should have made more

the water gets lighter in the distance. But there

of those (Fig.16).

is no need to do that in the render; I want to

Using the object and ecosystems masks I

color corrected depth pass as a mask for a solid

Enhancing The

color with the value I want for the distant water.

The image is looking good, but the top light I

Here is the result of that on top of the render

created at the beginning doesnt look powerful


enough. Because we have it as a separate pass

keep my lighting as it was. So what I do is use a

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Chapter 02: The Reef Vue Masterclass

we can enhance it. Fig.17 18 shows the direct
light pass and the image after it is applied in
screen mode on top of our current image. This
already feels very good.

The Finishing
The last things that needs to be done is to
exaggerate the way the light behaves in our
environment and add a bit of life to it. To
make the lighting a bit more interesting I use a
gradient from top to bottom, where I overexpose
the top and darken the bottom. I also add a few
schools of fish around the corals and a diver in
the distance. I make sure that the size of the fish
and the diver work well with the size I want the
environment to look.
As always the last tweaks are adding a bit of
lens blur because in underwater photography
the result is rarely extremely sharp. I also
add a bit of photographic grain and chromatic
aberration. The result is a beautiful underwater
illustration, with enough interesting elements to
make it eye-catching for the viewer (Fig.19).

Thank you very much for reading this article and

Alex Popescu

I hope you found it an interesting and visually

For more from this artist visit:

entertaining read. For any questions about the

tutorial please drop me an email.

Or contact him at:

page 20

Chapter 02

the cave

Vue Masterclass Chapter 03: The Cave

Chapter 03 - The Cave

Software used: Vue

When I first started this series and was thinking
for subjects for each of the tutorials, I tried to
think of challenging environments and unusual
setups that would push our skills. I think that is
what this chapters tutorial is going to do. The
subject is a very complex one: a cave.
There are so many things you need to take
care with when dealing with such an unusual
type of 3D environment, from complex lighting
to complex terrain and materials. That is why
I will be concentrating more on the techniques
used to approach this challenge. Some of

The Terrain

very complex. I decided to go for an open cave

the most interesting points will be the use

As always the project starts by looking for

because I felt it was a bit more interesting to

of Hyperterrains, Hyperblobs and unusual

reference images. There is a lot of cave

combine the usual light in an underground cave

ecosystems. So lets get to work.

photography on the web and the subject is

with an over-exposed gateway to the outside

The first thing was to start building the cave
walls. I used the same approach as in my
previous tutorial creating the walls as separate
terrain object rather than having one big single
item for everything. This way I was able to keep
the control I was going to need. In the terrain
editor I used a technique that should already be
familiar to you guys: combining two fractals, one
for the large shapes and another for the finer
details (Fig.01).
Then I adjusted the size to fit the scale of the
scene I was thinking about. I used the same
technique to create the wall on the left and
right. Remember to add a back wall behind
your camera, otherwise you will get unwanted
light coming from behind (unless you are
actually looking for that). For the ceiling I used
an inverted terrain, with a sculpted entrance,
rotated 180 degrees (Fig.02).

Creating the Layout

I did spend a bit of time thinking about the
format of the image. I started exploring the

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Chapter 03

Chapter 03: The Cave Vue Masterclass

landscape for options. Quickly I came to the
conclusion that a vertical format would create
a more interesting viewpoint. I wanted to
show some stalactites and stalagmites, so it
would need to show both the floor and ceiling.
I also wanted to see some nice walls that
demonstrated some depth. I concluded that a
vertical format would suit this better. For the
camera I used a 24mm lens.
As I wanted the cave to be open at one end I
retained an opening at the back of the cave. I
also decided to have a bit of water at the bottom
of my cave to get some nice reflections. Here
is my viewport with my cave walls in place

your scene further using the simple lighting.

renders. I went with the brown rock from the


Then once youre happy, refine it by adding

default rock presets. Here are two renders, one

some extra lights. Here is my atmosphere setup

just with the sun light and another one with the


added outside light (Fig.05).

This time the lighting setup was very

As I said I just used something simple to light


experimental. I wasnt sure what I was looking

the scene at this point. I just added an extra light

At this point we are getting to one of the main

for because a standard atmosphere setup was

outside my cave; a very powerful one that would

topics of this tutorial. We are happy enough with

not going to work. So I used the sun and the

create some highlights and shadows all over the

our lighting setup to start worrying about the

Vue atmosphere setting to get the dark mood

terrain. I chose the position of the light by doing

rocks themselves. Of course there are many

and then decided to use extra lights for my

lots of fast renders until I was happy with the

ways of building the cave walls, but Vue allows


light and shadow shapes on the walls.

for a very interesting and effective method:

For an environment like this one, the lighting

Use a simple material for the terrain, because

process should be a flexible one. You should

at this point you just want to get a feel of the

The subject is very big and interesting, so I will

create a basic setup and then start building

place you dont want to wait too much for your

just explain what I used for this scene, although

Setting up Lighting
and Atmosphere

applying a solid volumetric texture to the terrain.

I do encourage you to read the section in the

Vue manual that covers Hypertextures and
experiment with them. There is also a lot of
information on this online to help you get to grips
with them.
The first thing you need to do is to go to the
Material Editor and activate the Volumetric
material option. Then choose Hypertexture
material in the dropdown menu. For the density
distribution I chose one of the preset terrain
fractals, a bumpy rounded one. Note that the
Use Distance field option is activated. For
details about all the volumetric settings please
check the Vue manual. In the Hypertexture
tab choose the material you would like to use

page 24

Chapter 03

Vue Masterclass Chapter 03: The Cave

Here are two renders of my left wall, with and

without the Hypertexture material. The amount
of detail is impressive and the render time is
going to stay low. This method is actually a lot
faster than a displacement approach. Keep
experimenting with different density productions;
the results will be very rewarding (Fig.07).

Metablobs and
So our cave walls are looking interesting with
our cool hypertexture material. But what about
some interesting features for our cave? We
could start with some stalagmites. Again there
are a few ways to approach this, but I am going
to talk about one that allows for a lot of creative
freedom, and gives fast and powerful results.
Metablobs are created by combining primitive
objects as if they were gooey blobs. So start

by building the overall shape of your stalagmite

then easily save your Metablobs as a .vob file

using primitives: spheres, cones, cylinders,

and import them into your scene (Fig.09).

whatever you want. Then select them and

activate the Metablob option. Use the sliders

Hyperblobs in principle are Metablobs with

to find the exact shape you were looking for.

a Hypertexture applied. Starting from Vue 9

If needed, go back and adjust the position of

you have the option to do this when you go

your primitives until you get the desired result

for the Metablob option, by right clicking on


it. The result is the same. After adding a few

stalagmites all around, my image looked like this

Now that we have the overall shape of our

stalagmite, how about using the same process


we used for the walls to get all the detail? Apply

a Hypertexture material to your stalagmite and

As we know, a cave is not a barren place. There

be amazed by the really quick result. You can

Adding the Ecosystem

are many living organisms all around. However

page 25

Chapter 03

Chapter 03: The Cave Vue Masterclass

this time the ecosystem engine will be used in a

unique manner. I like the stalagmites I created,
but it would be a bit of an effort to create all the
stalagmites and stalactites we find in a cave
one by one. So why not distribute them using
an ecosystem approach? It gets even better.
You can use the plant editor to create the
stalagmites and stalactites. You should always
try to find interesting solutions to the problems
you encounter when dealing with a complex
environment like this one. Here is what I did.
First I created a default tree and went into

Once I was happy with the look of my new

Multi-Pass Rendered option to get all the utility

editing mode for that object. By altering the

stalagmite plant it was time to save it so I could

passes you will need in the post-processing.

settings you can make it look very much like

use it as a plant species in the ecosystem.

The z-depth pass is my favorite, but you will

a stalagmite. Then you change the texture for

This time I used a global ecosystem, because

need the direct light pass from your extra lights,

the bark to a rock material with displacement

I wanted to paint stalagmites and stalactites all

the object masks and the specular mask etc.

applied. Dont forget to do that because you will

around, not on a single object. In the ecosystem

Here is what I got. It was not massively photo-

not be able to change it later (Fig.11).

I loaded my stalagmite species and started

real, but I had most of the elements I needed to

painting. Be careful with the scale as you want

create what I wanted (Fig.13).

to keep a natural variation in your environment.

The result is quite nice isnt it? (Fig.12).

Balancing the Image

The Photoshop
The image might feel very strange at this point.

As I felt that my main elements were in place,

That is because I kept some important steps

this is the point where I started to get everything

in mind while I was working on it. Because I

the way I wanted it to be for the final image.

had all my extra passes I could do some big

So I changed the stalagmites that didnt feel

changes without wasting time rendering. As

quite right, added extra lights, and tweaked the

always, if I did run into trouble and felt like I

material and even the camera position! Its a 3D

needed to make a change to the 3D scene and

environment so you can do this kind of thing.

a new render I wouldnt hesitate to do so, but

Once you are happy with everything, go for the

its good to stop the 3D process at some point


and evaluate your options in terms of post-

Rendering the Image

processing. You might have a nice surprise.

After doing the final tweaks to your scene and

once youre happy with your test renders, go

When looking at my render I felt that my

for the final one. Remember to activate the

The Extra Light

stalactites were still a bit too dull, even though

page 26

Chapter 03

Vue Masterclass Chapter 03: The Cave

I added some extra light on them. So by using

appearing to contain two light setups: an interior

the direct diffuse light pass I enhanced their

one in the foreground and an exterior one for

highlights, and with a mask chose only the

the background (Fig.14).

areas I wanted this to effect. Because I liked

the look of it I actually considered pushing this

The color correction

forward and trying to sell the idea of a second

Its a lot easier for me to work with shades of

light source behind the camera. This way, I

blue in Vue because the physical atmosphere

would have been able to create an environment

is like that. But now I tried to change the hue of

my render to something I felt would work better

because this is something you can do really
easily in post-processing. I didnt really worry
about this while I was creating my Vue scene.
Of course when changing colors I also used
the z-depth pass to add some colored haze in
the distance. The z-depth was also used for the
exposure corrections, which helped me to get
the feel of an overexposed exterior in the back
of the cave. I also used the water surface mask
to show the color I added to the background.
Here you can see the color corrected image

Going Back to Vue

As I said, there is no shame in going back to
Vue to change a few things. I wasnt very happy

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Chapter 03

Chapter 03: The Cave Vue Masterclass

with the way my stalagmites were shaped or
with the shape of the entrance to the cave. After
doing a new render, here is what I had (Fig.16).

Finishing Touches
In the end I like to spend a bit of time trying
to get a more photo-real look by adding some
effects like glow, chromatic aberration or a bit of
defocused dirt on the camera. To help the scale
I also added a human figure in the background,
where I used to have a stalagmite. Color wise,
after studying some more references, I decided
to change the pallet a bit (Fig.17).

A Big Change at the

After not touching the image for a couple of
days I looked at it again and something was
still bothering me. I felt I didnt capture that
excitement that would come with a place like

this one. So I sketched the top of my image and

came up with a new idea for the shape of the

For more from this artist visit:

entrance. I made the modifications and voila! I

also decided to flip the image so the cave was

Or contact him at:

on the left of the scene (Fig.18).

Alex Popescu

page 28

Chapter 03

river valley

Vue Masterclass Chapter 04: River Valley

Chapter 04 - River
Software used: Vue

In the fourth part of the Vue tutorial series,
I decided to go for a winter scene. The cold
months are coming and a lot of people will be
thinking of creating wintery scenes. This article
will give you an idea about the way to approach
such an environment, and how to get a beautiful
result out of a mostly monochromatic situation.
Because wintery scenes offer very little by way
of color variation, I chose to create a scene set
at a time of day when the sun is at a low point.
This is to benefit from the contrast of the really
cold shadows, and the powerful warm colors in
the highlights.
This tutorial will not be an extremely technical
one, but again, a great example of using fairly
simple elements to create visually stunning

the overall big shapes, because I would like a

results. I will focus on the important steps

nice big cliff reflecting on the rivers surface.

that make all the difference in the final image,

Fig.01 shows the procedural terrain I will be

pointing out the reasons behind the creative

using for the main cliff.

choices I make.

The Terrain

Choosing the layout

In terms of layout I am thinking about working

So the idea of this image is to create a beautiful

in landscape, showing the wide valley in all its

At this point though I am not thinking about

large river valley in Winter. I am not planning

beauty. Because it is a river shot I thought it

the river itself, I just need to find a good

to show the mountains close up, so I am not

would look cool if we could get really close to


looking to create anything incredibly specific or

the waters surface, with the camera almost on

highly detailed. I am concentrating however on

the water (Fig.02).

Setting up the
As far as the lighting goes, as I said earlier the
idea would be to try to combine some warm
and cool colors, even if this is a winter scene.
To achieve this I will lower the position of the
sun until most of the scene is in shadow which
means I get some nice highlights on the tall
I will not be adding any clouds as I like the idea
of a clear cold winter sky. In Fig.03 you can see
my atmosphere settings. Notice I am not using
a lot of haze, because at this point I want a

page 31

Chapter 04

Chapter 04: River Valley Vue Masterclass

crisp and clear feel to the atmosphere. At a later

mind, so I needed to do something about

I separated the ground from the mountain

point I will be adding some light floating fog on

that. The solution is to add a mountain behind

by duplicating the terrain and keeping what I

the waters surface, and use the haze to create

the camera, so it can cast a shadow on the

needed from each of the copies. I also refined

more depth in the image, but for the moment we

mountains that are in frame. This is a very good

the mountain layout which definitely helped

will work with a clear atmosphere.

example of additional elements outside the

improve the image as you will see in (Fig.08).

Creating the river

To create the river, I opened the terrain editor,
and activated the show entire scene option. This

image frame, which do have a very important

role in making the space read better and help
convey an idea (Fig.06).

Adding the river

This is the perfect moment to work on the

terrain, and sculpt the river in without having to

Building the

change my camera position or general layout

The materials we used to set up the general

the foreground so it further sells the idea of a


layout served a purpose, but now I have to go

mountain river.

way I can see the position of the camera on my

shore of the river, because it looks really bad.

I will be adding a lot of rocks around, even in

in and tweak them to get closer to the image I

After adding some basic materials to the terrain

had in my mind. In this case, the material for the

and water I come up with something that looks

river is more important than for the mountains,

like Fig.05.

because it is much closer to the camera.

Adding out of frame


I want the rivers surface to look frozen, so I will

Right now I have what I wanted, a big shadow

function as a displacement map and tweaking

area and highlights on the mountains. But the

the values I get what I want. For the mountains I

highlight area is way too big for what I had in

am using a tweaked default material (Fig.07).

make it completely reflective. By using a noise

page 32

Chapter 04

Vue Masterclass Chapter 04: River Valley

I am using a couple of default Vue rocks, which
I copied and rotated lots of times until I was
happy with the general layout. An interesting
thing about the rocks is the material that I
used. Even though they are very small objects,
you can still use the material distribution to
create nice effects. So I used a mixed material
with altitude control to add snow on the top
of the rocks. Given the fact that they are so
close to the camera, it was a good idea to use
displacements for the materials (Fig.09).

Fig.10 shows how the scene looks now that we

the distribution I will use the ecosystem painter,

also added the rocks in the river. I think this is

because it allows me a lot more control on the

another really good step forward.

layout of the vegetation. I spent quite a bit of

Adding the
For the vegetation, given the fact that I am

time on this, adding other plants also, keeping

in mind the scale I need to convey when adding
each element. You can also use the scaling tool
to try different plant sizes (Fig.11).

creating a mountain valley, I will be using some

evergreen trees as the main element. The tree
of choice will be a Blue spruce this time. For

Fig.12 shows my image with all the vegetation

elements added.

page 33

Chapter 04

Chapter 04: River Valley Vue Masterclass

Adding the low

Because the image looks a bit too clean I will try
to get in some more atmospheric effects, using
some low altitude clouds. For this I will start
with a default type of cloud, the Simple diffuse. I
modified the settings to make it look less dense,
then duplicated and rotated it around until I was
kind of happy with the result (Fig.13).
In Fig.14 you can see my render after
adding the clouds.

Rendering the image

As I said in the previous tutorials, the final
render from Vue is not the final step. We
still need to do a more color corrections and
atmospheric adjustments until we can call this

Because I wasnt completely sure about the

Color corrections

shapes of my low altitude clouds, I decided to

The first thing I did after bringing the render into

render two versions, one with and one without

Photoshop was to use the masks to do some

so I can see what is needed.

color corrections on the different elements.

So I changed the water and the sky a bit, but

I activated the multipass render option and

most importantly the very bright values in the

chose all the elements that might be useful, and

snow. I felt those were a bi to overexposed, so I

hit the render button (Fig.15).

toned them down and made them a bit warmer


page 34

Chapter 04

Vue Masterclass Chapter 04: River Valley

Using the Z-depth pass

for fog layering
You may have noticed by now that one of my
favorite extra passes is Z-depth. There are
so many way to use it, its amazing. This time
I select my canvas, copy the Z-depth pass
into the clipboard (ctrl+c) and then paste it
into a new channel. Then, by ctrl+clicking the
newly created channel we get a selection that
I will use as an alpha mask on a solid color.
This will be my new fog. I will duplicate the
solid a couple of times, and on each of them
individually I will color correct the mask to isolate
the influence area (foreground, middle-ground,
background, etc). Here are some examples
of alpha masks and the result on my image

Adding the clouds

I still wasnt very happy with the clouds so I went
back to Vue to move my clouds around a bit. I
then placed the render on top of my cloudless
render, but underneath the color correction
and depth fog layers, created an alpha mask

The finishing touches

element. Then I cropped to a wider format and

and made it black. By painting with white in the

The last thing I had to do was to add a bit of

saved an image I was happy with (Fig.19).

mask I revealed the clouds only in a few places.

lens blur to the background, a bit of chromatic

I couldnt stop wondering how it would look if the

Fig.18 shows the image when I was happy

aberration and some grain. I thought that adding

image were less exposed. So I deactivated the

with it.

the moon to the sky would make an interesting

Automatic exposure and Natural film exposure

in the Post Processing options of Vue, and used
that as the base in my Photoshop file. The result
was more than satisfying, because it was more
moody and mysterious (Fig.20).
This concludes the last tutorial of the series. I
hope you enjoyed them because I have tried
to choose original and interesting subjects,
which would push the readers Vue skills
both on a technical and artistic level. If there
is one thing that people should remember
from these tutorials it is to know how to split
the work between Vue and post processing.
Efficiency is one of the most important aspects
of production and when working with large scale
environments, knowing how to get the best with
as little effort is crucial. Thank you very much for
your time, and have fun in Vue!

page 35

Chapter 04

Alex Popescu
For more from this artist visit:
Or contact him at:


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This five part series will focus on the topic of setting up a variety of lighting rigs that reflect natural lighting at
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