First "Official" Portfolio Piece

As the pandemic (and associated unemployment) trudges on in my state, I’ve decided to spend some time working on building out an environment design portfolio, with the hopes of eventually going into that as a career. This first piece was originally an attempt to create a realistic mountain range resulting from a convergent plate boundary, but that idea fell to pieces real quick. Instead it just became a simple mountain peak scene that I decided to practice texturing and rendering within Terragen. The final result ended up being one of my best pieces, in my opinion. Heightmap was done in World Machine, texturing, lighting, etc was done in Terragen, and I used Photoshop for some light post-processing. Let me know what you think!

Final Piece

Below is what I had coming directly out of World Machine. Currently rendered at 4k, I’ll be doing a higher resolution version in Terragen, and I’ll be using 8k maps for that (mostly to smooth out some masks exported from World Machine that may be more visible at higher resolution renders).

World Machine Output


Terrain looks very balanced and beautifully detailed for a fixed camera look! The terragen render doesn’t look half bad either! It’s a bit watered down though, kinda looks more CG than the terrain alone.

Unsolicited feedback

Things you can try for the next iteration:

  1. Use 8k map for the terrain, and disable “fractal detail” setting in the importer properties. Fractal detail washes out all the high frequency details like erosion gullies etc.
  2. Set up a final render node with GI detail cranked up. Use this one only when you want to use the render for post. Find a way to clear up that grainy pixellation. There’s many things you can do, but I just woke up and can’t explain it here lol! You get the gist.
  3. The scene needs variations all across. Terrain material, vegetation, atmospherics. Look into that.

Keep going, there’s potential in this project imho!

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First off, thank you very much! I’ve been working on this particular project for so long (as an example, an aunt of mine asked me to post a timelapse to Facebook so she could see how I do it, and the first recording was made at the end of April) that it just looks boring and generic to me, since I’ve been staring at it almost every day.

Secondly, there is no such thing as unsolicited feedback in any of my posts! I’m always looking for advice and suggestions!

  1. 8K maps are the plan, eventually. While I do have a much more powerful computer, 8K still takes a good amount of time to build, and with this device network, exceeds the 32GB of RAM I have, so I have enable the “Conserve Memory” option to build it out. Weirdly, this render doesn’t have much in the way of erosion (the single erosion device isn’t actually connected to the final output, it was just used to export some masks), as I was going for a much “younger” looking terrain initially. It also doesn’t have the default fractal detail added, though I did add some minor lateral displacement after the fact. I think the lack of detail is more due to low build resolution than anything else.

  2. Another weird note, the grainy detail is mostly in the post processing. There is definitely some, especially in the clouds and water reflections, in the render, but most of it was added in Photoshop, attempting to add some film grain to the scene. The high GI render will have to wait until the weekend when I’m working my part time job, so I’m not trying to use my computer at the same time as rendering ahaha (Quick edit to note: I’ve just now noticed that some of the post processing seems to have applied a general small blur over the entirety of the image, rather than just the edges where it was meant to simulate lens imperfections)

Here's the original render

  1. Last weird thing to mention, there’s actually a moderate amount of variation in the vegetation (5 species of tree, with 5 different models of each species, 3 ground cover flowering plants with 5 variations each (though all the ground cover got hidden by the trees), and 4 different grasses, including wild wheat, also with 5 variations each, and each population was further varied by scale across the scene). I was having some weird issues with the .mtl files exported from SpeedTree for those models, though. I think I’ve fixed it now (at the very least, Terragen isn’t throwing up warnings of missing files every time I load the project anymore), so we’ll see if the trees look identical because they were all getting the same default texture applied. I’m curious as to what kind of variation you’d like to see in the atmospherics, though! I’ll admit, my usual process is to just slap a cirrus layer, and sometimes a couple smaller localized clouds and call it a day, so any suggestions are extremely welcome!

All that being said, while I fully appreciate all the suggestions, I’m probably not going to change too much on this scene. I’ve been working on it for about a month and a half now, and I think I’m ready to just call this one done as-is and move on to the next project. I’ve learned a lot doing this one, which was the main goal, but I think I’m getting to the point of diminishing returns the longer I spend on it.

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I like the hero mountain vibe you are putting of, and also clever scene design. My main critique is the scale of the trees and the lack of dirt and/or grass underneath the trees. We now see stone shimmer through and it makes the trees being off scale even more apparent. The clouds are a nice touch, but sadly clash with the HDRi you are using (or at least, I assume you are using a HDRi), as the colour of the clouds in the back is a tad more blueish and they appear to be higher up.

But overall, a very nice first piece!

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I will admit, the scale of the scene looks completely off at first. I think the key thing to realize is the camera is much higher up than it originally appears to be. This isn’t helped by Terragen being a bit weird with heightmaps. It’s got a mode to rescale the heightmap based on the maximum and minimum altitudes, which I plugged in the extents World Machine provided, but I think Terragen interpreted that as “the brightest point is this high” rather than “pure white would be this high”, so the peak of that mountain is higher than pretty much anything on earth.

There’s also no HDRi being used, all the atmospherics are done completely in Terragen. I believe the bluer color in the background clouds are more due to atmospheric haze than anything else, but I could be incorrect. I mentioned in the Terragen forums that I don’t usually spend a lot of time on the atmosphere, I generally just slap a base global cloud layer and then a couple localized clusters if I feel it needs it. Cloud formations are the next aspect I want to really focus on (this one was more focusing on the rock texture).

I’m attaching another couple (earlier) renders that are a bit closer to the ground, so you can see there is actually substantial ground cover, it just doesn’t show that well in the final render, due in part to the increased altitude of the camera. I changed the camera angle because, up close, it was painfully obvious that the tree trunks specifically were having texture issues. I wasn’t sure if it was a result of Terragen’s texturing system or failed .mtl exports from SpeedTree, but in either case, I decided the quicker and easier fix was just changing the camera view to make it less apparent. The lower views also make it more obvious that there are multiple species of tree involved. It also hides the lake a bit more, which I wasn’t a fan of, but maybe one of these versions tickles your fancy a bit more! Let me know! None of these versions ended up with any post processing, as they were more test renders than anything else.

Earlier Versions

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Ah I see.

Yes you are right, haze gives clouds further away a blueish tint. And I see in those preview renders the foliage is a lot richer than it appears to be in the final render, but maybe that’s just because the camera is further away.

Maybe I should give Terragen a try for rendering.

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Terragen is extremely fun to play around with and also extremely powerful. The learning curve, however, is incredibly steep, to the point where there’s a video on YouTube with a guy complaining that the curve is intentionally steep so only the devs and their “chosen” professionals can ever really master it. I don’t believe this to be true at all, but it does illustrate how difficult some people find it to learn the software.

Much like World Machine, though, the Terragen community forums are a phenomenal resource if you need help with anything. They’ve also been filling out their documentation a bit more (historically, the Terragen documentation has been mostly empty or contained only “TBD” on many of the devices) and their YouTube channel now has a lot more helpful tutorials and walkthroughs for getting a handle on the basics.

That being said, if World Machine ever evolved to include the “infinite” scale fractals that Terragen does, as well as including a fully realized renderer (with atmospherics and all that), even as a standalone/side software, I’d probably abandon Terragen in a heartbeat ahaha! World Machine just works so much better for the way my mind processes these things. Considering that Terragen is fully 3D, though (allowing for lateral displacement/overhangs, as well as importing .obj files), I don’t foresee this happening any time in the near future.