Southern Nevada Water Authority Ad, Featuring Growth, by Ingenuity Engine

Bookmark and Share

SpeedTree®‎ Cinema’s v7 animated growth simulation has proven especially popular among our customers, with Noah and two commercials already featuring the new capabilities. Digital Domain used v7 growth to capture the progress of a South African city, and, as described below by Creative Director Grant Miller, Ingenuity Engine of Los Angeles used the feature to promote water conservation in a vibrant, 30-second spot for Southern Nevada Water Authority:

“During the pitch process for this project we completed a short test to win the job and confirm our technique.  For the test we used existing flower assets and scaled them to simulate their growth.  While this worked fine as a proof of concept, when we got into the storyboards we realized we’d need much more detail in both the plants and their growth animation.  This was compounded by the fact that the client requested specific water smart plants native to Southern Nevada.

With one month to complete the project this meant we’d need to build roughly 20 unique plants and flowers with animated growth in just a few weeks.  We turned to SpeedTree, which had conveniently just added plant growth in the 7.0 release.  SpeedTree has always served us well for creating specific trees and plants; the procedural generation combined with manual finishing touches are a great balance and very easy to use.  The new controls in 7.0 provided the same experience for animating growth: speeds can be offset, tangents can be smoothed, and individual elements can be randomly delayed for realism.  After creating each plant asset in SpeedTree, we exported the final growth sequences using Alembic in order to assemble the scene in 3dsMax.

snwa-growth

For the growing vines that frame each word we created a straight vine in SpeedTree, exported its growth sequence, then used path deformers in 3dsMax to allow specific placement to the camera.  The overall growth of the plants as well as the general environment was handled by Forest Pack which added support for animated growth maps in the 4.2 beta.  We also hand-placed dozens of plants and flowers to allow for precise timing and artistic control.  To keep the scene light, hand-placed plants were swapped out for delayed-load Alembic caches once each section was finalized.  The completed scene consisted of over 30 million non-instanced polygons and was rendered in Maxwell in roughly 2 hours per frame with in-camera motion blur, depth of field, and single-sided sub-surface scattering on the leaves and petals.

Generating the large number of assets quickly in SpeedTree allowed us to focus on artfully assembling the final scene and afforded us the breathing room we needed to make revisions and final touches.  I can honestly say that without the advancements from SpeedTree and handful of other vendors that we would not have been able to complete this great project on time.”

Simplify: An Overlooked Modeler Feature

Bookmark and Share

There’s tons of ways to reduce triangle counts in the SpeedTree Modeler, but a big one that’s often overlooked is the Simplify tool. Simply put, Simplify reduces the number of polygons in your model by replacing complex geometry with images mapped to simple meshes. This means that you can start with a high-detail tree (2-300K or even 1M+ triangles) and use that geometry to render custom texture maps to use as the basis for a lower-detail model.

Case in point: The 300,000+ triangle model below was used to generate much lower-detail versions. Rendering and placement of the new textures is done automatically, with some artistic input from the user. You can see that simplifying at different levels has a dramatic effect on both the appearance and polygonal complexity of the result.

SimplifyFigure

This feature is ideal for mobile and lower-end platform development and will be included in our UE4 and Unity 5 offerings.

For details on how this works, take a look at our Simplify documentation.

More About Unity 5

Bookmark and Share

We’re still putting together the official marketing material for the Unity 5 launch (web pages, tutorial videos, etc.) but I thought I’d share some of the details we revealed at GDC with those of you that are curious. First of all, here’s a link to my GDC presentation in the Unity theater. It’s a little light without the live demo but here it is nonetheless.

And here are answers to some of the common questions we’ve been getting so far:

1) What does it mean that SpeedTree is in Unity 5?

SpeedTree is built into Unity 5 — it is not a plug-in. SpeedTree models will load in any version of Unity 5 and render with wind, smooth LOD transitions (all the way to a 360 degree normal-mapped billboard), ambient occlusion, and branch intersection blending (hiding the texture and lighting seams at branch joints).

2) How much will it cost?

SpeedTree functionality is built into Unity 5 and works out of the box in both the free and pro versions. You can get SpeedTree models either by purchasing them from the Unity Asset Store or creating/editing your own with Unity version of the SpeedTree Modeler. That application will be available at speedtree.com for $495.00 USD when Unity 5 launches.

3) How does it work?

The first step is to put a SpeedTree model anywhere in the ‘Assets’ folder of your project. Unity will recognize the new file and perform the import process automatically. The import process will create materials, assign textures, generate the LODs (including the billboard), and assign SpeedTree effects according to the settings in the Modeler (wind complexity, ambient occlusion, LOD transitions, branch intersection blending, etc.).

Once the model has been imported you can place it in the scene manually (just like any other object) or paint it on terrains.

4) Do SpeedTree models only work on terrains?

No, you can place them manually and manipulate them with the standard translate, rotate, and scale tools. You can paint them on terrains as well.

5) How fully featured is the Unity version of the SpeedTree Modeler compared to the other SpeedTree products?

The Unity version of the Modeler has all of the modeling features used in our AAA games product and our high end visual effects products except those features that require mesh sequences on export. That leaves out animated growth and season changes (these two are exclusive to film anyway) but includes all of our procedural modeling, hand editing, hand drawing, LOD generation, wind animation, subdivision surface modeling, mesh crawling, and everything else about our modeling process. The main restriction is that models can be exported only to Unity.

6) Can I use my own textures and meshes in the models?

Yes, either in the Modeler or in Unity you are in complete control of the texture maps and normal maps. You can also use custom meshes (imported as .obj files) for leaf, branch, and frond geometry. Custom meshes can also be used as props to grow branches and vines around, over, and through.

7) Can I sell models I make with your tool?

Yes, you will be able to sell models you make on the Unity Asset store. The details are still being worked out but it is our intent to allow enterprising modelers to offset the cost of the tool by selling their creations.

For more information or access to the beta version please email us at unity@speedtree.com.

SpeedTree® for Unreal Engine 4

Bookmark and Share

At GDC last week, Epic Games shook up the video game industry: full source code access to Unreal Engine 4 for $19/month + 5% royalties.

As some of you may know, SpeedTree is currently integrated into UE4, but up to now has only been made available to Epic’s AAA/non-subscription licensees. We were intrigued by the subscription model announcement and are moving quickly to respond.

We will absolutely make a SpeedTree offering available to UE4 subscribers and are finalizing our plans to do so. If you’d like to join our mailing list, just drop us an email at unreal@speedtree.com.

Update: A couple of threads over on unrealengine.com about this: here and here.

SpeedTree® for Unity 5

Bookmark and Share

As announced on Tuesday, SpeedTree® is coming to Unity 5. Immediately, questions arose about the level and quality of the integration and how the business model will work.

Out of the box, Unity 5 and Unity 5 Pro will load and render SpeedTree models on most Unity-supported platforms, including mobile. The rendering code path includes all of the things that make SpeedTree assets more than a mesh: smooth LOD, scalable wind effects, branch seam blending, ambient occlusion, 360-degree normal-mapped billboards in the distance and more. This will be available to all Unity 5 users at no charge.

To feed the SpeedTree rendering system, SpeedTree models will be made available on the Unity Asset Store. These will be from our standard model library — the same one used by AAA-title developers.

For the ultimate SpeedTree experience, users can opt for a SpeedTree Modeler license, made specifically for Unity 5, at $495/seat (USD). This is a feature-rich version of the SpeedTree modeling/editor application that’s been used to create vegetation for games like Destiny, The Witcher 3, and The Division, as well as feature films like Avatar, Iron Man 3, and Star Trek Into Darkness.

SpeedTree for Unity Modeler licenses will be sold for Windows and Mac via the SpeedTree store. Finally, if you want to sell your creations on the asset store, the license supports that as well.

If you’d like to join our Unity mailing list for future details as they become available, please email us at unity@speedtree.com.

Screenshot of SpeedTree in Unity 5 Alpha

Screenshot of SpeedTree in Unity 5 Alpha

cmiVFX Features SpeedTree® Cinema in New 3D Environments Masterclass Series

Bookmark and Share

It’s always exciting for us to see how SpeedTree® users create amazing natural landscapes.  We develop these tools and then let the imagination and skills of the visual effects community do what they do best.  A member of this community sharing valuable VFX tools and training is instructor, owner and Chief Public Partner Chris Maynard at cmiVFX.com.  Chris just announced development of a new cmiVFX training video series that includes SpeedTree Cinema v7.

This new tutorial series called 3D Environments Materclass, will show how to use the latest tools and pipeline for rendering, modeling and compositing detailed natural environment, and we’re proud to see SpeedTree as one of the primary software products featured, along with Clariesse, Piranha, and Terragen™.  Check out the video preview of the series below:

This tutorial demonstrates SpeedTree’s ability to create realistic environments – close up or at a distance – by modeling, animating and exporting trees into multiple pipelines  As he creates forests in the lesson, Chris makes creative use of  our tree library and WYSIWYG tree modeler.

To see how Chris Maynard is using SpeedTree and other programs, head on over to cmivfx.com, where you can subscribe and learn about many tools and techniques for cinematic visual effects.  Of course we also have several SpeedTree tutorial videos of our own that highlight features and methods used by the pros.

New Documentation for Version 7: Online vs. Local

Bookmark and Share

We’ve struggled with this decision in the past and finally made the move to online docs this time around with the release of v7.0.  This may be an unwelcome decision to some of you, but the benefit of easily getting documentation updates to everyone put us over the edge.

Documentation

Why the change?
Previously, our options have been to either put out an update for the whole package or release documentation updates separately.  The problem with both approaches is that you still have to wait for sufficient changes to accumulate before you make the updates. Then, getting the updates to everyone requires action on the user’s behalf that we would rather they not have to make.  Plus, how would our users know an update has happened without some way of notifying them?

So, our docs are online now and if you want to take a look, go to docs.speedtree.com.  We went with DokuWiki and it’s working out well so far (we’ve already made dozens of updates since 7.0′s release).  We’ll be monitoring opinions on this switch and we hope the more current docs make up for the occasional hiccups.

Ingenuity Engine Makes Fairy Tales Come True with the Help of SpeedTree®

Bookmark and Share

While SpeedTree® is playing a visible role in a growing list of major feature film productions, we wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to share how our toolkit is being artfully used in all kinds of productions, large and small—including TV commercials.  One recent example involved Ingenuity Engine, a Hollywood-based VFX studio that used SpeedTree Cinema in the opening and closing scenes of a TV commercial for the Fairy Tale High® line of dolls and animated series, shown below . . .

Ingenuity’s CG Supervisor, Grant Miller, recently shared a few comments with us about his team’s work with SpeedTree on the Fairy Tale High spot . . .

“SpeedTree strikes a great balance between procedural generation and artistic control and allows us to get exactly what we’re looking for without sacrificing our deadlines.”

According to Miller, his team was able to make efficient use of SpeedTree’s modeling flexibility . . .

“With SpeedTree we’re able to make exactly the trees and bushes we’re looking for very quickly.  The ability to edit and groom trees after they are generated in SpeedTree is crucial.

“We previously used ‘packs’ of trees that we would purchase from various online resources.  This resulted in inconsistent quality as some trees would be much higher resolution than others.  The look of the final product also tended to suffer, as we’d find ourselves stuck with the trees that we could purchase instead of making the tree we needed.”

As Miller explained, Ingenuity Engine was able to maintain this high level of quality, while reducing the rendering load in final post . . .

“We used SpeedTree Cinema for this project as the quad output allowed us to keep the base geometry low while still rendering the trees as smooth subdivision surfaces.  The quad output in SpeedTree Cinema allows us to export medium resolution assets and then subdivide them at render time, keeping our scenes light without sacrificing quality.”

With the recent release of SpeedTree Cinema/Studio v7, we’re eager to see how users like Grant and his team at Ingenuity will find it even easier to model Subdivision Surfaces, export quads and much more.

SpeedTree® on the Frontlines of Next-Gen Gaming

Bookmark and Share

SpeedTree® for Games is out in force in the first round of games for Sony’s PlayStation® 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. Here’s where to look for us in next gen:

PS4 Titles Featuring SpeedTree for Games

Next Gen

Available at launch:

Releasing post-launch:

Xbox One Titles Featuring SpeedTree for Games:

Releasing post-launch:

We’re really proud of what the developers of these titles have been able to do with SpeedTree on next-gen. For CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, for example, Michał Stec, Art Producer at CD Projekt RED, reports:

“Without the SpeedTree library, tools and SDK, it wouldn’t have been possible to include this level of detail and interaction with such intricate, woodland environments.”

SpeedTree in Next-Gen Game Trailers

SpeedTree Studio has also been used by Digic Pictures in recent CG game trailers for high profile next-gen games with jaw-dropping visuals, including . . .


“PlayStation” is a registered trademark of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. All other trademarks or registered trademarks are property of their respective owners.

Microsoft and Xbox are registered trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies.

Video Preview of New SpeedTree® Cinema & Studio 7 Features

Bookmark and Share

SpeedTree® Cinema and Studio v7 is now available for evaluation, license and upgrade and we could not be more thrilled!  Version 7 was developed alongside some of the world’s top visual effects studios, allowing us to create exciting new tools like Subdivision Surface Modeling, Animated Growth, Alembic Export, Render Sequence and more.  In fact, some of these new features have already been used (in beta) by Digital Domain, as recently reported in an FXGuide article (SpeedTree footage starts 35 seconds into the first video in the article).

Below is a quick video highlighting many of the new features and improvements in version 7 . . . although you can also check out this full list of the new features, since there are just too many to show in this short video:

SpeedTree 7 Cinema & Studio New Features Video