3D landscapes and natural environments softwares - beginning from today :
In this article we try speaking about landscape and natural environments creation tools from the beginning, since computer be involved into CG creation like 2D, 3D, Motion graphics,... landscape & scenery rendering or simulating is one of the most time consuming CPU task.
For who ?
Why using computer for creating landscape when we can go studying for the real ?
Landscape computer creation is very useful for many kind of applications and can contribute to save life ! From earth studying, simulation of melts ice peaks to earth quake analysis or just motion pictures this market slowly grow up.
With today computer, 3D creation tools just coming more powerful and can give us all the tools we need for this kind of works !
Studying Earth quake or volcano is often dangerous tasks to do, so now scientists, geologists, artistes... can do it from behind desktop !
The most frequent useof CG scenery tools is probably for fun to playing gods like and creates beautiful pictures !
For what's ?
There is a lot of situation where computer landscape tools can be used, we list below the most uses of this to day :
Simulating earth and weather changing
Analysing mountain creation, eroding, icing,...
visualising prehistoric world and changed weather condition
Creating beautiful vivid landscape from real or utopia
Motion pictures scenery for film
As you can see this kind of tools can be used in many kind of applications, so the list above isn't closed of course ! Landscape tools is sometimes used for space imagery (galaxy arts, Mars simulating,...)
The beginning ?
Computer graphics landscape & scenery tools probably coming with CG computer Amiga. For today new CG artistes, Amiga computer is most unknown or just by name, so in brief this computer was the most armoured for CG in 90's when PC only have 16 colours and bip sounds, Amiga haved 4096 HAM colours and 8 bit stereo sound, with real PAL output jack inside.
At this beginning CPU power was really small compared today computer. Amiga 500 CPU was only 8 Mhz opposed to Pentium 4 3000 MHZ, it's huge difference !
Virtually all 3D software can be used for landscape creation but it's a bit hard to get convinced result with complex atmosphere, vegetation,...this is why there is landscape tools !
The first in date knowed landscape software released is Scene Generator from Naturalgfx ! Scene generator is released around 1989 with 12 pages manual where VistaPro 2.0 coming with huge 40 pages manual ;) Scene Generator is the ancestor of Scenery Animator released around 91's and today called Natural Scene Designer !
Around 89's, the probably first and most knowed virtual reality software was Virtus VR, Virtus wasn't a landscape generation tools but this is probably the first software where you can design VR worldspace and walkthrough into your world on Personnal computer !
So why speaking about VR application into this landscape tools article ? Because the tools are rather close and the walks into VR landscapes are by definition one part of VR.
Virtus was probably the starting point of many VR and landscape navigation tools ! About our landscape tools from around 90's, Vista from Virtual Reality Laboratories was born and was probably the most ever and always used today DEM landscape manipulation and rendering tools, with users friendly interface and motion tools around, so Vista also have VR tools for your landscape creation !
Just around Vista was released, an other landscape generation tools was also released: Scenery Animator from Naturalgfx, Scenery was very similar to vista but interface was a bit harder to learn and render time also a bit longer but sometimes better than Vista like for clouds and vegetation !
Scenery animator 1991
Due to the lacks of informations found about Genesis from Geomantics we can't really speak about it, so Genesis was one of the first landscape data rendering software using GIS data, today Genesis is always developed and be really strong with GIS and real geographics data manipulation and rendering, it's probably one of the most photorealistic geography for educational and professional GIS data visualisation software !
So after introduced the old gods of landscape and scenery rendering software we next speacking about each and new generation of today applications.
Vista rendered around 91's
Scenery Animator rendered around 92's
Scenery Animator :
Scene generator and later Scenery animator from Naturalgfx is the first probably knowed landscape tools used for CG landscaping in around 91's, Scenery Animator was very similar in features to this competitor Vista 1.0 !
Scenery animator can work with real geographics data or random landscape generation.
This interface was quite simple to learn and render time was a bit faster than Vista, so the strong of Scenery Animator is probably rendering quality and tree and grass realism !
Directly interfaced with the golden age framebuffer DCTV, Scenery can output high quality pictures !
Scenery Animator Amiga manual and disks !
Today Scenery Animator and Vista is still often used, but more by geologists or teacher than artists. Vista and Scenery is coming with a lot of DEM map from USA and world maps, this tools is perfect for studying geology and Earth place, before Google Earth of course ;).
For a long time Vista and Scenery was the kings of users friendly landscape computer tools, made at first for scientists Vista and Scenery Animator was quickly used by artists also and with this a new kind of CG pictures was born !
After Amiga fall down, Scenery Animator was continued on Apple MAC OS evolved today to Natural Scene Designer !
Today Naturalgfx is specialised intocreates realistic pictures, shaded relief maps, animations, and panoramas of natural outdoor scenes !
Today Natural Scene Designer rendered picture
Vista pro :
Vista was the second but probably most knowed landscape creation software, made by John Inkley from Virtual Reality Laboratories !
Latest VistaPro interface on X86
Vista use fractal creation tools, from this latest version (4.2.4) can creates three, water, clouds, river, house,...
Vista is also know for handle DEM US databases (Digital Elevation Model) working capabilities, since Vista can work with DEM all geologists can use it ! But there is also add ons for Vista to explore Mars and planets ! Vista can handle and manage million of polygons (remember the nightmare with 8 Mhz CPU to manage Million's of polygons :) )
Vista lacks the sophistication and abilty to import objects like some of the others landscape softwares but is fast to render and animations can be quite realistic for visualisation, it's perfect tools to quickly render landscape, manipulate it and plants oak, cactus or house ;)
Don't forget to visit Vista community for great help on DEM files, maps, tutorials etc.
After Amiga fall down Vista was ported on X86 computer from version 3.11, now today vista is still a life and distribuated by Vendornation with version 4.2.4 and always developed by the master John Inkley !
If you are in quest of discover earth, space, galaxy,...don' thesitate to discover all products from Vendornation like Distantsun and Galactica A.D !
After Scenery Animator and Vista the next revolution was probalby Bryce 3D !
Sundown Beach - Vista rendered around 97's
by Benoît Saint-Moulin
Bryce3D from Kai's Power Tools (KPT) was the first Landscaping and scenery tools with really new kind of users friendly interface and high end rendering capabilities, Bryce rendering quality was only found before into HighEnd 3D applications, but for fraction of price !
KPT Bryce3D 3.0 interface
Bryce 1.0 in around 94's introduced Powerful camera, light and material editor who inspired new generation CG applications !
KPT was first a scenery pictures tools made for artists at very affordable price ! Later version introduced objects and motion...
The probably most critiqued features of Bryce3D is this astounding slow rendering time speed ! For still pictures and illustrations Bryce is perfect but for motion was just a dream and was not really usable !
today KPT stopped activities, Bryce is developed by DAZ 3D.
Bryce 3D introduced human interface and be used by more and more artists and it's time to Landscape tools market explosion !
If Bryce3D was really strong rendering application, Motion was a nightmare and many new software was coming, like World Construction Set !
World Construction Set (WCS) from 3Dnature was probably the very first Pro 3D landscape and terrain Visualization, Rendering and Animation for CG artists, scientists and motion graphics made on Amiga and later ported to PC !
Introduced a bit complex interface and unseen tools before, WCS was only used by Pro due to his very complex interface and learning path tools !
World Construction Set interface
So after this hard to learn Interface, WCS was one of the most used software for landscape motion film ! Introduced Vegetation, pseudo Ecosystem, powerful motion path tools,...
The price was clearly for the Pro ! Opposed to other tools we have spoked, WCS at start was used by Artists and from today is more used by Geologists and Pro !
It's today probably one of the most powerful Pro Landscaping tools !
Until now all the 3D landscape tools we have spoked was standalone applications and exchange with 3D applications was not users friendly until WorldBuilder is coming !
WorldBuilder (WB) from Digital Element, probably changed the way we used 3D landscape tools today ! WB was probably the first and most knowed scenery tools with connection to 3D applications !
Well At around 1997 WorldBuilder is knowed under the name AnimaTek World Builder and around 2002 Animatek was brought by Digital Element.
AnimaTek's World Builder was the only standalone 3D landscape tool that can work as a plug-in for 3D Studio MAX, 3D Studio VIZ, LightWave 3D or Maya projects. AnimaTek's World Builder is your complete 3D landscape solution.
WorldBuilder was probably the really first complete and armoured tool given to users before , WorldBuilder also working in different way than others landscape software as more artists work style you can paint vegetation and landscape !
The price and complexity of WorldBuilder reserved it for pro users only, WB introduced Ultra-realistic SolidGrowth vegetation and atmosphere !
This is the first realistic scenery tools with Ultra realistic rendering, all was possible with this application, so learning path stopped beginner artists.
Today WorldBuilder is always developed and continue evolving into Ultra realistic rendering !
World Construction Set and WorldBuilder was the two most powerful CG landscape and terrain tools available on PC around 2000. Competitions between capabilities of this Goliath's scenery rendering probably contribute to the next CG landscape softwares evolution !
Digital Element also created plug ins like Aurora, water, verdant,... for software like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro,...
If WCS and WB was the most powerful landscaping tools around but an other one is coming from UK, who was probably introduced landscape tools for all PC users in mind, Terragen !
Terragen from Planetside is the first Ultra realistic shareware application for scenery artists ! Terragen evolution is slowing from around 97's.
If Terragen can't render Tree, boulders or Ecosystem today, Atmosphere is the strong skill of Terragen ! Never before Terragen Atmosphere rendered pictures looking so Ultra realistic !
Terragen was probably the most used from Vista veterans ! Most of Vista users switched to Terragen probably due to this very easy to learn and interface working like on many point !
Small, fast and FREE for all artists who want create scenery pictures for non commercial uses, Terragen is one of the most choiced application today for creating photos realistic pictures !
The most use of Terragen is probably photos realistic pictures and games !
At this time Terragen 2 the next major evolving of this software is coming to be released ! Terragen 2 will be really different from version 1, introducing new rendering capabilities, tree, boulders, Ecosystem, Nodes graphs etc. !
Terragen have really big community ! Don't hesitate to watch Luc Bianco Terragen gallery !
If Terragen can't create (until yet) vegetation, that's will be changing soon. So go back around 94's when an other killer application is coming, Vue !
Vue from e-on software was established to develop and promote the highest quality graphics tools with professional strength features, specializing in the natural world.
Vue is today the probalby most used CG scenery application for artists and teacher ! When Vue is coming around 94's the first thing who surprised was the interface ! Most of power users wont like this kind of interface (like Bryce was) but with this kind of interface Vue was the most easy learning path and powerful scenery tools to learn !
There was no doubt Vue interface inspirated from Bryce 3D look and feel (Shadow of objects into working view, material editor, trackball navigation,...) was the right interface choiced for new friendly users and pro !
Vue Esprit / Inifinite interface
Vue from the first release produced still pictures and animation with impressive rendering quality and vegetation ! Today Vue introduced Eco system rendering and plug ins capabilities, if Vue was long time used by artistes and freelance, it's today also most used into CG industries and stay easy to uses !
Not only for the pro, e-on understand new users learning path and release also powerful scenery software derivated from their highend Vue infinite, Vue Easel for the beginner and Vue Esprit for common artists needs.
One of the strong feature vue offer CG artists is Xstream plug ins connection with the most used 3D applications available on the market !
Vue also be armoured with all tools you need for static to motion scenery and highend rendering capabilities !
After Vue and his revolutionary rendering capabilities the latest scenery software we speak is MojoWorld.
MojoWorld (MW) from Pandromeda around 2000 is probably the most complex ever made scenery software, but more than a “simple” scenery and terrain software MW can create very complex and detailed world to planet and systems !!
From planet to stone or particules / microbes in a river, MojoWorld can create all you never ever dreamed before, but the creation process is complex and not so easy to do, of course the result is just no words to speak !
MojoWorld is probably the most complex and complete today scenery and planet system creations tools, but if MojoWorld is relatively new software concept, the Mojo Team is from Dr in computer science and astrophysicist professor and part of Bryce 4.0 development team !
As you can read in this article in 15 years landscape software evolution was amazing ! Today with powerful computer and a lot of specs to create and render dream world, only imagination can stop you !
In this article we spoked about the most knowed scenery, landscape and terrain tools since CG computer started from today, we don't spoked about all the softwares available because there are simply too many shareware or specialised tools for creates any kind of landscape, tree, atmosphere, plug ins,...
One specialised terrain generator we can't forget in this article is World-Machine a free & commercial amazing procedural terrain generator !! A must have to create wonderful landscape !
We won't and simply can't give closed conclusion on the best best software around to be use because there is simply not as all we spoked in this article have pro and cons features !
The use of one this or this depend first on your needs, if we must try to classify all the software above into categories ?
Advanced - WorldBuilder - Static and motion scenery
Pro - MojoWorld - Complex world and planets, amazing !
Easy, Advanced or Pro wan't to say one is better than others, but try to give you advise on learning path and complexity for each softwares above !
Teacher or data visualisation probably prefer using Vista or Genesis for his easy learning and budget ! CG beginner probably choice Terragen free or Vue Easel for budget, pro users choice Vue Esprit / Infinite and guru WorldBuilder or MojoWorld.
Our picked choice from all around landscape creation and rendering softwares in this article is : Vue and Terragen.
If you are guru like Gods mode ;) into Scenery and planets creation MojoWorld probably fit all you need at all point !
Thanks to all web sites for informations and datas !
Web sites :
If you want discover more applications and web sites speacking about landscape, terrain, DEM,...feel free to check out our special links page !