Stefan Menzel - VUE Digital Landscape Modelling and more
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Most of the spectacular and breathtaking scenes in modern movies are created using sophisticated computer animations. While back in the old days people built a little Godzilla or a little Gollum all stuffed out with wires and cables (animatronics), today a computer is fired up to tackle the task. The software behind this comprises complicated 3D modelling techniques and algorithms, and the process of creating the final animation or still frame is called rendering.
Vue is a professional 3D rendering software that has been used in many movies to this day and is mainly specialised in natural solutions. While Godzilla & Co. are modelled and animated with other software solutions, Vue focuses on everything that you see when leaving the front door, from trees to mountains to epic landscapes. Its rich tool set and wide range of possibilities make almost every scene possible that one can think of, and with some good amount of practising, in a photorealistic way. Consequently it has been used in a lot of large scale movies (Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.).
I started out with Terragen and other smaller programs, and recently decided to purchase my own Vue copy (it won over bike license, which was a tough fight thanks to Long Way Round!). Ever since I could not really get my hands off it. It just allows you to transform everything that comes to your mind into a scene, from snowy mountains to clouds to trees and so on. Basically everything that you encounter in nature can be recreated. Even architectural renders are possible with ease due to a very mature render and lighting engine. Or maybe you want to build your own film projector for your architectural renders based on all physically correct lighting, no problem. The other good thing is that Vue also gives you a deep inside into the world of professional computer generated imagery because of its all professional approach and structure.
The process of rendering in itself is very computer intensive and rendering a picture can easily take between 5 mins or 5 hours and more depending on the scene and the render settings. This basically results in two different render categories: quality renders and speed renders. Quality renders are full of render intensive elements (dense trees, close up clouds, displacement maps...) of all different kind and en masse. Also lighting and render settings are on very high quality. The result is a very rich picture, but the very long render time allows only for still pictures. Speed renders on the other hand try to handle a scene economically with the aim of keeping render time low while maintaining as much scene elements as possible. They are mostly used for animations and the lower richness of these renders is generally balanced out by the movement in the animation, which makes the eye less perceptive to detail. Speed renders at acceptable quality are also a bit more challenging than pure quality renders, I would say, because you need to find an economic setting that still gives the eye something to feast on, while at the same time you think a lot about techy render settings in order to get quality that is good enough for a movie. This is what I do most of the time since I render mainly for animations. On the other hand, quality renders are of course also attractive, especially for architectural renders or semi-architectural renders (e.g. botanical gardens, parks, zoos) and can be very rewarding. The challenge here is to get the details in the composition right, especially the colours and the lighting of the single scene elements. For example, quality renders aiming at realism need more ambient lighting, while artistic quality renders are best off with more direct lighting and stronger colours, pretty much like a painting.