The Brooklyn Digital Foundry has just finished renderings of a new master plan for the Delaware River Waterfront designed by Kieran Timberlake and The Olin Studio both of Philadelphia. The plan will rejuvenate an extended swath of the rivers edge running from the Southern former industrial area to the Northern limits of Philadelphia. While the project required a great deal of work for the streetscapes and buildings, the new experience for the Foundry was the extent of landscape that we were able to incorporate into the 3D model. As many CG artists and architects know, trees, grass, and flowers have typically been a post-production Photoshop chore–cutting the plants out of their original background, stretching and distorting them into the correct perspective for the shot.
But with the continual improvement of computing power as well as modeling, texturing, and rendering engines for computer graphics, we are now able to develop incredibly accurate and realistic models of trees and grass within the 3D software. For the waterfront project, we were able to study precedence given to us from the architects and find or create models of the correct species and the stage of growth of the trees for the shot. With each review and discussion, the design of the landscape developed more precisely, eventually down to altering the color of the foliage for each season.
With the rendering of organic objects, we continue to push the number of polygons in one scene. Each tree or tuft of grass consists of thousands of polygons and each of these models is copied or scattered throughout the scene. The computers are now dealing with hundreds of millions of polygons but thanks to instancing (exact copies of one original,) of proxy objects (geometry that is loaded into the file at render time,) the quantities are having minimal effect on the render times.
We strive to do as much of the development of a rendering or animation in production in the 3D environment. Doing so, creates a more accurate, believable and beautiful final product, and now includes all manner of trees, grasses, and flowers.