Iestyn Lloyd Turns It Up To Eleven with SpeedTree

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Iestyn Lloyd took the stage at Unite Europe 2015 to break down how he utilizes all that Unity has to offer to crank up creativity when using Unity 5. Emphasizing the treasure trove that is the Unity asset store, he explains how he uses a variety of assets (Including SpeedTree)  and post-process effects to quickly create and execute scenes. Using drop-in assets like SpeedTree’s allows programmers and artists alike to visualize new ideas quickly while post-process tricks like color grading and depth of field help to create a well-polished final product.

Iestyn Lloyd is a BAFTA winning freelance Unity consultant who specializes in virtual reality, augmented reality, new technology and technical art. Be sure to follow his work at Lloyd Digital.

Some of Iestyn’s creations featuring SpeedTree:

 

Underwater SpeedTrees with New Desktop Marine Package

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New Desktop Marine Package Available!

Whether you are assembling an underwater exploration game or need some assets to add some life to the rivers, lakes, and seas of your project; our new aquatic assets have you covered.header 2

Like all of the assets in our store, these models come with tuned wind and LOD effects that allow you to add a wind effect to achieve pulsing Starfish or gently swaying underwater Hydrilla plants.  If you need more variation, be sure to check out our modeler where you can import any of these models to create unlimited variations.

This package is on sale for a limited time for $79!

SpeedTree Marine Package for Unity

SpeedTree Marine Package for Unreal

Each individual asset includes at least two models per version or species for a total of 24 models.

  • Tuned lightmap UVs, and all LODs
  • Collision objects
  • Tuned LOD transitions
  • Tuned wind effects
  • Preset ambient occlusion
  • Branch seam blending used

The Marine life package includes

Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata)

(2 models – Two versions)Hydrilla_2panes

This invasive species is viewed as a bothersome aquatic weed. Hydrilla can quickly and completely invade bodies of water, creating surface mats.

 

Tube Sponge (Aplysina fistulari)

(4 models – Orange, green, purple, and cluster)Tube_Sponge_version_1_2panes

The tube sponge, an invertebrate, is one of the most common sponges found along the coral reef. The tube shape is used to filter water for food, and can add colorful detail to your underwater scenes.

 

Sword Plant (Echinodorus osiris)

(2 models – Single and cluster)Sword_Plant_2panes

This variety of Echinodorus or ‘Burhead’ is native to southern Brazil. Sword Plants are found naturally at the bottom of running rivers.

 

Fan Coral (Leptogorgia sarmentosa)

(4 models – Red single, red cluster, blue single, and blue cluster)Fan_Coral_version_1_2panes

Also called a ‘Sea Fan’ or Gorgonian, this soft coral is found in tropical seawater. Fan coral anchors itself to sand or mud, unlike most coral. The fan shape maximizes the amount of water that flows through the specimen, increasing food supply.

 

Lance Spearhead (Anubias lanceolata)

(2 models – Single and cluster)Lance_Spearhead_2panes

Often referred to as Anubias, this aquatic plant is commonly used in aquariums. Lance Spearheads can produce flowers underwater and occur naturally in rivers and streams.

 

Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus)

(2 models – Single and cluster)Purple_Sea_Urchin_2panes

The purple sea urchin is a non-vertebrate animal native to the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean, ranging from Mexico to British Columbia. It grows to approximately 4″ (10 cm) in diameter.

 

Starfish (Asteroidea)

(4 models – Orange, green, and two red)Starfish_version_1_2panes

Starfish or ‘Sea Stars’ are marine invertebrates which exhibit radial symmetry. There are approximately 1,500 species of Starfish that populate the world’s ocean floors, from the intertidal zone to abyssal trenches.

 

Lotus Flower (Nelumbo nucifera)

(2 models – Single and cluster)Lotus_Flower_2panes

The lotus is an aquatic flower native to tropical Asia and Queensland, Australia. It is commonly grown in aquatic gardens.

 

Seaweed

(2 models – Single and cluster)Seaweed_2panes

Our take on the ubiquitous underwater foliage.

 

Be sure to check out all our assets on our online store!

SpeedTree Marine Package for Unity

SpeedTree Marine Package for Unreal

200+ Varieties of Plant-life in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

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In case you haven’t heard, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is a massive game.  Spanning multiple continents, the team at CD Projekt Red managed to create a world that  seethes with life and danger.  Utilizing the deepest integration of SpeedTree for Games that we’ve seen, the team managed to create 200+ (a rough estimate) varieties of plant life to match the different biomes and seasons that Geralt encounters.  The design of these forests deftly pulls the player into the game, serving the overall design aesthetic. We spoke with Michał Buczkowski, senior environment artist at CD Projekt Red about how they used SpeedTree to create this vibrant world

On the Diversity of Foliage and Landscapes:

We’ve used around 20 species of large trees and bushes, and from a handful up to over a dozen different models for each species. Apart from that we’ve used 40 grass varieties and upwards of a dozen different types of subaqueous plants. All of that is supplemented with a range of other types of vegetation, including blooming plants, creepers and vines, organic debris, and vegetables – a handful of different models for each. Lootable herbs are a separate subset, numbering around 50 varieties.

In terms of biomes, we’ve depicted low and highland temperate landscapes in their open and half-forested terrain varieties and in two different versions – winter and non-winter. There are also temperate zone forests, swampland, temperate zone mountainous landscapes, subaqueous environments, cultivated gardens and urban biomes, and last but not least, singular landscapes like deformed forests and other-worldly terrain.

So as you can see, believable variety was a goal we set for ourselves as much as it was a story requirement. I believe we succeeded in fulfilling both.

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On managing economy and art direction for their trees:

Based on what we did years ago to create the trees and other vegetation for The Witcher and The Witcher 2, I could estimate the sheer “volumes” involved, that is to say, the number of polygons required for the desired LOD and stipulated overdraw burden. The models were then executed to fulfill these requirements while providing the best possible final in-game quality. But the latter step only became possible once we gained a thorough understanding of SpeedTree, its mechanisms, (and) how it works.

On their approach to using the SpeedTree Modeler:

In our incessant search for improvements, we used the SpeedTree modeler somewhat unusually: namely, to create hi-poly models of tree limbs, and then to render textures onto them. We could then take these hi-poly models and control and adjust parameters like branch thickness or leaf density before re-rendering.

Production times to model each individual tree species varied. For medium-sized and large trees, it took 3-4 days to produce the hi-poly model and any textures it required (leaves, flowers, and the like), the texture of the trunk as a normal-map was another 2 days, then we spent an additional 2-3 days adjusting the model for export into a game asset.

The process was not without its hurdles or difficulties. In the preparation of hi-poly scenes, they included the manner in which we had to distribute elements across the rendered area, the fact that there was no way to save the camera position in the plane, non-perspectival view, and others. Needless to say it required a bit of trickery on our part, which added to the time commitment. But all’s well that ends well, right?

…we used procedural generation for small and mid-sized trees and shrubs. More often than not, we opt for hand-drawing and editing large, landmark trees like oaks and, of course, whenever a hi-poly model was required.

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On creating natural feeling worlds:

My assumption from the start was to create a world filled with vegetation that seemed real. The species we selected to accomplish that, when assembled and composed, were to generate the impression of real, believable environments.

That was the crux, that was our focus. And with that in mind, each and every randomly added element stood the chance of destroying that impression of naturalness. This is where the artists who distributed the models across the levels and locations did an absolutely masterful job. Our own in-house concept art and more general reference material (including painted works of art) provided a framework and informed our choices in terms of the type of vegetation (assets) we set out to produce. It was then up to location designers, with their skills and talent, to assemble those into the landscapes you see.

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Unreal 4.8 Adds New Foliage Features

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The latest iteration of Unreal Engine includes the addition of some new powerful tools for foliage with open world games in mind.  Populating the landscape with trees requires more than just randomly dropping your assets on a map. It’s about crafting and controlling the world your players inhabit.  Placing your foliage using UE 4.8 procedural tools will allow you to create a very natural looking landscape without sacrificing control.

With games like Ark: Survival Evolved being built in a matter of months in Unreal Engine 4, we’re starting to see more large scale games coming out of the indie developer realm.

Procedural Foliage Generator

The new procedural foliage generator uses the expanded properties of foliage type assets to intelligently populate and area with multiple species of trees.  Simply create a new foliage type asset and add the foliage of your choice.  The free sample SpeedTrees work great as do any of the assets from our store or one that you’ve made yourself.  Once you’ve created the new foliage type it can be added to the procedural foliage generator.  The parameters for how the foliage is generated are located in the foliage type allowing you to adjust how multiple plants spawn in one generator.

Landscape Grass Tools

Grass can now be added to a material allowing you automatically spawn grass over certain textures.  For instance, if your material included gravel and grass textures you can set grass assets to automatically spawn on any areas painted with the grass texture.  This can allow you to quickly create large grassy areas without having to paint foliage or placing them by hand.

Landscape Grass Renderer

This new system dynamically renders grass and ground clutter meshes around the player based on the density map created using the new grass tools.  According to the release notes:

  • As the player moves through the world, new instances are added, and instances no longer in range are removed.
  • Artists author grass density through the landscape material, by outputting density to a Landscape Grass Output node. This allows the grass placement to match the terrain texturing!
  • Grass instances are procedurally generated by a background task according to the grass density map.
  • Grass is efficiently rendered using a hierarchical instancing system that implements culling while keeping draw calls to a minimum. LOD transitions are per-pixel and fairly seamless due to Temporal AA.

Check out the full 4.8 release notes

To learn more about how the new tools work check out these brief tutorials on the UE4 forums and be sure to catch the two-part breakdown of how the team at Unreal Engine made the Kite Demo, including using SpeedTree for their trees.

 

SpeedTree in Batman: Arkham Knight

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batman-arkham-knight-screenshot-04-ps4-us-04jun14Batman: Arkham Knight is the fourth entry in the critically acclaimed Arkham series and continues the story Rocksteady began in 2009 with Arkham Asylum.  As with their previous two games,  SpeedTree was used to add foliage to the dark streets of Gotham.

Beginning inside the walls of the infamous Arkham Asylum, each game has expanded the range of Batman’s patrol.  Arkham Asylum locked you into the twisted grounds of the famous prison for the criminally insane. After the catastrophic events of that game the whole island of Arkham became “Arkham City”, a dystopia on the outskirts of Gotham that you had to bring to order. Arkham Knight goes even further, letting you loose in the whole of Gotham complete with a batmobile/bat-tank to assist you in bringing the city to order/blowing up lots of stuff.  With towering gothic buildings and wide city streets, Rocksteady has done an amazing job giving the city a sense of scale.  If Arkham Asylum gave you a brief taste of being Batman, Arkham Knight will have you whispering to yourself, “I am Batman”.

Even though it takes place completely within the urban-noir confines of Gotham, the city is still populated with patches of trees and grass.  These small touches on the peripheral of the game experience act as an extra landmark lending a distinct personality to certain subareas of the game.

SpeedTree has been the tool of choice for AAA and indie studios alike to create immersive landscapes and cities due to its balance of artistic control and efficiency, allowing artists to create quickly and implement foliage into their game.

Check out the trailer below and be sure to check out our products for game studios, architects, and vfx artists.

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SpeedTree and Shroud of The Avatar: Forsaken Virtues

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Shroud of The Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is a forthcoming game from the creator of the Ultima series Richard Garriott, Starr Long, the director of Ultima Online, and Tracy Hickman, the author of Dragonlance.  Now, fair warning, there are some people in this office who cut their gaming teeth on the Ultima series starting with Ultima II. To say that we’re excited that to be working with this talented studio is an understatement.

The game has moved into Unity 5,  where it will use the power of the new engine to feature deep character building, single player offline play, player driven economy and more.  They were kind enough to share some of the latest screenshots from environments where they’ve begun replacing trees with SpeedTrees (See below).

You can jump in the world they are building now by pledging $45 and gaining early access.  Be sure to follow their blog as well for updates and announcements as development continues. We’re looking forward to seeing this game grow as one more example of great games being made with Unity 5!

Also, be sure to check out what’s so exciting about SpeedTree in Unity

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SpeedTree Featured in Jurassic World

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The return to Isla Nublar brings with it more tech innovations than just some dinosaurs they cooked up in a lab.  Industrial Light & Magic made extensive use of SpeedTree to create the jungle landscapes of Jurassic World which serves as a reboot/sequel of the original classic.

The original Jurassic Park served as a watershed moment for CGI in movies as they pioneered new techniques to bring dinosaurs back from extinction to the movie theaters. Jurassic World promises to up the level of spectacle and wow factor by taking place in an open and functioning (for now) dinosaur amusement park featuring a fully functional tram system, trained Velociraptors, and a Mosasaurus eating great white sharks to the delight of a crowd.  They clearly spared no expense to bring John Hammond’s dream to life.  Of course something will no doubt go wrong which leads to Chris Pratt assembling his raptor motorcycle gang to restore order to the park.

Director Colin Treverrow is best known for his indie flick Safety Not Guaranteed and is directing crowd favorites Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard in what is sure to be one of the most entertaining movies of the summer. Check out the trailer below and keep an eye on our blog for more on SpeedTree in the movies.

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Unity 5.1 SpeedTree Updates

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Procedural World by Adam Goodrich

The release of Unity 5.1 brought some nice changes to how Unity handles SpeedTree LODs.  The biggest of these changes involves the option to animate crossfades in the SpeedTree LOD group. Previously, Unity handled the LODs based on the distance from the model.  This meant that as a tree moved to the billboard the crossfade could be stuck somewhere between the LOD2 and the billboard where the dithering lent it a checkerboard appearance.  By adding the option to animate the crossfade the transitions are now based on a timed animation rather than simply distance, eliminating the unsightly dithered trees.

Another new addition is the ability to choose a fade mode for each SpeedTree LOD group.  The Options are SpeedTree (default), Crossfade, or none.  To get a better idea of what this means lets take a look at the difference between crossfade and SpeedTree’s SmoothLOD.

SpeedTree (SmoothLOD) 

SpeedTree has lots of different techniques to smooth the transition between geometry LODs. The branches that are going away shrink down into their spines rather than simply disappearing.  Leaves also shrink as other leaves grow larger to take their place and maintain their full appearance. This can all be tweaked within our SpeedTree modeler to better suit your needs but is tuned by our artists to try to accommodate as many different purposes as needed. Radial and length segments can be reduced, as well as entirely different meshes used for leaves and fronds. SpeedTree maintains the normals, texcoords, and AO between LODs to minimize any noticeable pops. You’ll notice this same effect in many AAA titles that use SpeedTree. Note that when “animate crossfade” is checked, the SmoothLOD still bases it’s transition on distance to avoid too much of a pop.

Crossfade

Crossfade is an option to transition LODs between the different 3d models but is necessary for the final transition between model and billboard.  Because the billboard is a discrete picture of the tree it can’t shrink away in the same manner as the 3d models. Dithering is used to minimize the pop of the billboard.  Below is an example of a tree in transition displaying the checkerboard effect:

Crossfade DIther

If you’re not happy with the way the timed animations work you can always revert to the previous method by unchecking “animate crossfade” and choosing the transition width and speed manually.

Unity 5.1 Release Notes

Animate Crossfade: A new importer setting “Animate Cross-fading” is added to SpeedTree assets. With this option on (by default), the dithering LOD transition between mesh/billboard and billboard/culled will be animated by time. This should make the trees look better in most of the scenarios.

LOD Fade mode: You can now choose to use Crossfade, SpeedTree, or neither for SpeedTree models.  Note that SpeedTree will still use a crossfade on the final LOD transition to billboard

LOD Shadows: Tree casts shadow when in cross-fading to billboard

Wind: Wind animation will not be interrupted if the tree gets outside of the view

If you’re interested in using our modeler or assets to add SpeedTree to your Unity 5 project, visit our store here to learn more!  Assets can also be purchased at the Unity Asset Store.

 

 

Reality Check: The Magic of Middleware

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Lucy James hosts the weekly web series Reality Check on Gamespot.com and uses the series to illuminate the technology and science behind everyone’s favorite video games.  After exploring some of the techniques that make open world games like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt possible she delved further into two of the middleware tools involved: SpeedTree and Umbra.

Middleware is not often mentioned in the development in games but with the constantly increasing scale and complexity of games these tools enable studios to focus on bringing more content and features in a shorter amount of time without skimping on design.  SpeedTree for Games has been a part of a growing list of AAA blockbuster titles and now with the inclusion of SpeedTree in Unity 5 and Unreal Engine 4 we are seeing more use in the indie realm as small studios use SpeedTree to match their ambitious goals. Umbra is an Occlusion culling tool that is used in countless titles to increase performance by intelligently removing what isn’t visible by the camera.

If you’ve been unsure about how middleware and SpeedTree in particular fits into the world of games, be sure to check out the video above for a great summary of what we do and why so many studios and artists have made SpeedTree the industry standard in vegetation modeling tools.

Keep an eye out for more great stuff from Lucy James and Gamespot: http://www.gamespot.com/shows/reality-check/

UE4 Subscription Modeler 7.1.2 Update

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Asset store

7.1.2

We’ve updated our modeler for Unreal Engine 4. This update fixes several bugs as well as bringing  improvements to how the modeler handles light mapping and an additional LOD.

If you are currently a subscriber, simply log-in to your account on our store to download the update.

New Features

1. More LODs for UE4 Modeler
You can now enable 4 LODs if you disable billboards.

2. Light mapping improvements:

  • Generating two sided meshes now works with light mapping.
  • Option to back out of light mapping on save.
  • General performance improvment.

Bug Fixes

1. Current Mesh Replacement
Generating a mesh and replacing the current one no longer causes an issue with quads.

2. Displaying Normals Correctly
Deleted nodes no longer show normals.

3. Tree Generator Locked
The tree generator cannot be deleted.

4. Light mapping fixes:

  • The Modeler does not hang when computing light maps.
  • A bug that was causing a crash during computation has been eliminated.

 (Previous changelogs can be found here)

SpeedTree has been directly integrated into Unreal Engine 4 and has enabled game developers and Arch/viz designers to take advantage of the same set of tools and technology used by AAA studios for titles like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Far Cry 4, and Dragon Age: Inquisition.  SpeedTree is also the same tool used to by VFX studios in blockbusters like The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. 

Learn more about our SpeedTree Modeler and Drop in ready Assets available on our store.