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Starfields and other Elevation Maps

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Starfields as Elevation Maps

Let's explore a variety of ways that we can use a starfield as a basis for a rendering, as elevation maps, and more.

You can use some of the rendering tools and filers or paint it manually, or start from an existing image. Here's an example:  Mostly black background, and a bunch of small starts at dim levels, dark grey, and a few that are brighter.

(click the image to see a larger version that's 1024x1024 pixels)

Using this as an elevation map we know that the bright starts will form pointy, narrow, tall pilars.

Here is an easy rendering in Puppy Ray. The brightest starts turn into high peaks. Much of the image is dark, so forms a good low level base.

We had turned the water plane off. The sunlight is coming from the far left, casting shadows to the right. The fog distance is a little higher than the default, so we get a good view at a far horizon. Puppy Ray automatically repeats the basic patch of our terrain, which is defined by the image of the starfield. If it didn't repeat it (or tile it, as it's also known), the patch of land would abruptly end, such as you see it in 3D Designer:


If you don't want shadows being cast, you can disable it.

The surface that's exposed to the light is showing bright as expected. The other side of the pilars is dark. Additional lighting comes from the sky light, and varies by the color of the sky's clouds. The entire scene is lit and colored based on the color and brightness of the light, and the sky. Additional colors could be added in a separate color map, or texture map, placed in the Swap image buffer. For now, let's concentrate on what we can do with just one image as the elevation map in the Main image buffer.

In the next rendering, we still disabled cast shadows, but also disabled pre-fiiltering, in order to get a more crisp and blocky appearance on the terrain.

The coloration comes from the red sun. There is a sky visible but sky lighting was disabled. The pilars are dark when we look against the Sun since we see the dark side of the pilars, which receive no light from the sun.

In the following, we enabled sky light. Cast shadows are still disabled, but we see more details nowin the pilars, since the Sun is not the only light hitting their surface. The parts that are illuminated by the Sun get a reddish tint, such as the base of the pilars. The pilars' dark side is getting the blueish tint from the sky light. We also added a little bit of post work, with lens flares.

Close up on the top of one of the pilars, and we have enabled the bump map in this rendering.

Now let's enable the water plane. You can see the sky light being reflected in it.

Here's starting with a different pattern: Gems

Rendering it with a starfield in the sky, and water plane enabled:

You can generate erosion gullies from two places: In 3D Designer, or in the Erosion filter under Filter > Stylize > Erosion.  The erosion gullies and creeks will show in white against back background. The deeper the erosion's cut, the brighter. If you want to combine it in subtractive mode, it is ready as is. If you prefer to combine it in multiply mode for slightly different results, be sure to invert the image first:

Here we have further added a slight jitter noise, and then combined the erosion in subtractive mode.

Here is rendering the erosion map. This is without ambient light. It is dark, where the Sun don't shine.

Here we reduced the scale of the elevation, and enabled sky light.  Now you see the inside of the eroded depressions.

Placing the camera a little closer... the blocky appearance is because we disabled interpolation. Each block is produced by its own pixel from the height map.

Now combine the erosion map with the Gem's original elevation map, which was used in calculating the erosion. If you have a stored copy of the erosion map, the pull-down menu in the lower-right of the stored image widget shows an option to combine it with the current image. Use that in subtractive mode, or in multiply mode, or others, depending on the effect desired. Additive looks interesting too, as it raises the elevation to create ridges.

Here's a rendering after subtracting the erosion - Rendering this in Puppy Ray:

Now let's flood it with the Water plane enabled, and fiddle with the options for the water.

Heightmaps for CityScapes

And now for something completely different. This is a way to mimic basic impressions of a downtown city scene with tall buildings, parallel streets and other streets, avenues, "broadway" at an angle.

The big apple.

We also enabled bumps. Can you tell which of the bump maps was used here?

This one has bump map enabled, too. A different bump. This one looks more to be carved out. Suitable for ruins, in a post-apocalyptic scene.

Obviously we'll want to find ways to further improve the details by adding windows and brick walls, concrete slabs and more.

Just a few more, with water enabled:

In the next one, the bottom half looks too crisp with details that you wouldn't expect to see in a scene with heavy weathering and wind erosion. The upper half however shows it is suitable as a background in the distance.

The sky light had a greenish tint in te next one. The top parts of the buildings show a greenish tint as a result, which is neat. Almost looks like the onset of new vegetation.

We can do a lot more with this. Stay tuned for more tutorials and examples.

Learn more about CityScapes

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