Whether you are creating a fantasy-themed scene or something modern, staging a beautiful and realistic 3D forest scene is bound to be useful. In creating stills, a setting for a video game, or an animated film, there are countless twists and turns in your storytelling that might bring your characters deep into a forest. It’s the perfect setting for adventure, mystery, and even horror, depending on how you stage it.
Anyone who has worked with 3D, however, knows how difficult creating a functional yet lifelike forest scene can be. Forests are massive gatherings of trees, and where there are lots of trees and foliage in 3D, you are bound to find infinitely high poly counts if the designer isn’t prudent. This means creating your forest really starts with finding the right 3D forest assets. Otherwise, you just might find your hardware stuttering and freezing.
Where to Start
Before we begin, you will have to ask yourself a few simple questions. First, and most importantly, choose your 3D forest assets based on your target platform and goal. How you approach designing your forest scene will be dictated by these restraints. Despite improvements in technology, for example, the performance capabilities of a PlayStation 5 and a Nintendo Switch are vastly different. While the PS5 can handle much higher poly counts, still with limitations, the Switch just doesn’t come close in processing power.
In the end, you will have to decide what is right for you. Almost every 3D program, including Daz Studio, will provide a poly count for you. With that information, you can roughly estimate how many trees, bushes, etc., you will need to create your forest scene and then do the math. In most cases, about 2.5 million polys within view of a camera is a good sweet spot if you want to hit 60 FPS in a real-time simulation like a video game. That, of course, can change vastly depending on your target platform!
All this said, perhaps you aren’t designing for a game or a movie, and you are simply staging a static digital scene for an ad or running a simple simulation to show off a new bridge design your company hopes to build on the local camping trail. Understanding the end product can help you decide if an asset is too detailed, thus bringing a poly count you can’t work with, or even if it isn’t detailed enough. Typically, a 3D artist can work with high poly counts when doing static renders. While it may take an hour or two — or longer — to bake lighting and render your scene, ultimately, if you have a little patience, this isn’t an issue. If that’s okay, place assets to your heart’s content, and make sure the resolutions and styles of the assets and textures mix well!
Tips and Tricks to Save Memory in Your 3D Forest Scene
If you need to be efficient in how you use your 3D forest assets to keep your animation or game running smoothly, you will have to get clever about how you use them. Here are some strategies you can consider to make your scene look amazing without slaying your FPS or freezing up your hardware when it’s time to render.
- Use a Forest Background
This may seem like a cheap trick, and that is because it is — judging by the poly count at least. Using a static pre-rendered image can bring massive returns in terms of poly count. You could render or photograph the image yourself or even find one already made by a professional artist, such as this background set that’s available in the Daz Shop. While static images won’t have all the depth and lighting you can achieve with 3D forest assets, when used right, they can have a great effect. If you simply want to view a forest through a cabin window, for example, placing the background outside the window works incredibly well.
Another common strategy is to place the background in the distance behind 3D assets closer to the foreground. This way, the background will create the illusion of a massive forest while saving you big in terms of what the hardware has to process. If you are designing a game, placing this background where the player can never get close will prevent them from ever straying into a spot that breaks the illusion of a vast explorable forest. This means careful and concise level planning to keep the player within the proper boundaries inside your 3D forest!
- Atmospheric Lighting and Fog
Whether you are using Daz Studio, a game engine like Unity 3D, or a catch-all software like Blender, lighting and atmospheric fog are worth reading up on. Not only will lighting help set the mood of your forest, but you can also use dark shadows to hide areas that would otherwise appear empty and lackluster. With the right lighting, it may be possible to use fewer assets in your scene without sacrificing the feeling of fullness common in forests.
In a similar manner, adding fog to your scene will vastly decrease the distance the viewer can see toward the horizon. This means you won’t have to place as many assets within your scene, thus saving polys. Not only that, fog and mist in a forest can add an amazing visual effect as well. There are plenty of tutorials available that can help you apply fog to your scene in Daz Studio, or, to save on time, you can also buy premade fog and light assets.
- Using LODs
LODs, or Level of Detail, is a common method within 3D modeling to wisely save space. Many programs will actually generate LODs for you or even have systems built-in that allow the render engine to handle LODs in real-time. The strategy here saves space by reserving the highest levels of detail for assets closest to the camera or viewport. The farther away an asset is, the less detail it needs to still look good, so a lower poly mesh can be used instead.
This strategy works great with forest scenes as you can use lower poly counts in the trees further away. While you would likely still have higher poly counts than using, say, a static background, you can fill out your scene with a higher degree of detail without paying as high of a price. Keep in mind that some programs may require you to manually place lower detailed meshes yourself if the program can’t swap LODs automatically.
Don’t Forget the Minor Details
Once you have the technical aspects taken care of, you can place the 3D forest assets however you like. Don’t be afraid to use reference images or let your imagination take over and see what you can create. When creating a forest scene, adding small details can make a huge difference.
Whether you add animal life or even insects, bushes, rocks, moss, mud, water, and more, your scene will come to life in amazing ways. Many artists like to pick a few textures, such as dirt, mud, grass, and moss, and start there. Painting with textures across the terrain can be really enjoyable. You can use this strategy to great effect when creating a small path or trail between the flora and fauna. Whether it’s walked by humans or animals, this will create a subtle focal point for the viewer or player.
Make More with Daz 3D
With our vast selection of 3D forest assets found in our massive marketplace, you are sure to find the perfect elements to visually tell your story with Daz Studio. If you haven’t tried Daz Studio yet, get your free download today, and join our thriving online community of 3D artists!
Featured Image: “ArborGate” by Gogger in the Daz Gallery