Graphics VS. Design, and what I learned from video games

24 01 2011

A few weeks ago I posted a blog asking for critiques on some 3D models components I had made.  I posted it on IGN, WordPress, and Land8Lounge.  The response was fairly low, and I tried posting it as a discussion thread on Land8Lounge as well.  This got some helpful comments, but it also possibly inspired a thread that brought up the issue of rendering VS. design in Landscape Architecture.  This question came up a few weeks ago at a networking event for NYC landscape architects, and I talked to a few different people about it.  It made me wonder: Why is it that designers often have a negative reaction to “high end” renderings?

If I said I had never seen a rendering and assumed that the graphic quality was hiding something I would be lying.  I think this often comes from past experience, either in firms as CAD monkeys, or in school.  We, I think, have all had a presentation where we worked our ass off to the last minute perfecting a design, leaving little time to get perfect graphics, so we go out with what we can, trusting our peers and other trained professionals to see through the pencils lines to the heart of the design beneath, only to be disappointed.  We have also all had the time when we have seen the person slap together a half-assed design, but with pretty pictures, and when we are counting on our bosses and teachers to see it, they instead get “blinded” by the crisp lines, hypnotized by the texture work, and in a trance from the shadow quality.  I think it’s this shared experience that leads so many of us to distrust pretty drawings: we all know just how easy it is to lie with graphics.  Whether it is drawing a plan that doesn’t show steps because they client didn’t want them – even though it’s not physically possible, screwing with perspective sizes, or hiding views that you don’t want noticed.  We know the tricks all too well; in part because we use them to some extent ourselves.

We choose a rendering style based on what we want to show and not show: Computer graphics traditionally show a Utopian version of everything – where it all looks fresh from vacuum -packaging, but it makes the space look more contemporary to clients; Hand graphics hide views by simply not drawing the far background, but show more flow and life in the space.  We choose views that may not show the space in the best ways, but show a feature we want to emphasize over others.  It’s a limit of non-physical models – you have a finite window onto the world, you are going to be careful about what you choose to show to show off what you want to be seen.  The problem is, we need a way to easily communicate to clients, and in forms other than physical models, and clients who have not been trained as designers get the best feel for a space through perspective drawings.


So the issue becomes not graphics VS design, because it never really was outside of designers’ heads.  The issue is how can we make graphics that communicate effectively, and manage to not fire off alarm bells in designer’s and client’s brains.

Personally, I choose to concentrate on computer graphics over hand graphics not due to a lack of skill (believe me, if I put the time into drawing that I have put into rendering I’d be pretty good with a pencil), but because in my mind, it is the most honest form of representation.  If I model everything the way it is – which I can with no extra effort – I know exactly what I will see from a given view.  I can put a camera inside your eyes when you are sitting on a bench, and if you would actually see a sliver of that utility box, it’s going to be in the rendering.  The problem is, it would still set off alarm bells, all because of an effect that is becoming well-known in the media worlds of movies and video games.

The “Uncanny Valley” is an issue that became most well-known a few years ago when the movie “The Polar Express” came out.

The Uncanny Valley

It’s the theory that as things become more realistic, they become more familiar, but only to a certain point.  Once things become TOO realistic, small things that are wrong make us cringe and react negatively.  In “The Polar Express” the thing that set people off was the eyes.  For all the realism the characters had, from mannerisms created by directly copying from actors in Motion Capture suits, to careful texture work, the fact that the eyes didn’t glisten correctly gave them a dead look, and made some people instantly see, instead of a heartwarming children’s story, a movie about a train filled with zombies… (note to self – Make a movie about a train full of zombies.  “Brains on the Orient Express”?)

In the ensuing years movies, and video games, have dealt with this issue in one of two ways.  Some have gone the route of making themselves, while beautiful, purposefully unrealistic.  This brings thoughts of movies such as “Up”, and games such as “Little Big Planet 2”.  Neither of these tries to be realistic – the characters look like cartoons, but with realistic flesh-tones (or woven sack-tones in the case of Little Big Planet), elements.

Little Big Planet

The other method is to continue to push the boundaries of realism.  Movies like Avatar skirt this method by having realistic aliens that we have no internal reference for as digital characters.  Where true realism is pushed the hardest today is in gaming.  Games like Uncharted 2, Heavy Rain, and Read Dead Redemption push realism in gaming past where it has been before.  As some of the best looking games widely available, they all have one thing in common.


Uncharted 3

None of these games are set in pristine areas.  They all are set in places that have been lived in, that have wear and tear, grease and grime, chips and gashes.  I think this is one of the essential things to making a convincing 3D rendering, and one that doesn’t make you think you are being tricked by graphics.  The splinters out of the wood crate, the dirt on the boots, the powder burns on the pistol, all give it a realistic feel.

Red Dead Redemption

If that detail is paired with a render engine that has more than 1/30th of a second to output, it would give amazing results.

And those are the kind of results that I think we, as designers/graphic artists have to work for.  Gone are the days of the pristine landscape with rows of identical, perfectly pruned trees.  If we want buy-in from clients, and from other designers, we need to show all the blemishes on the face of our designs.  Whether it’s the ugly light industrial building that is visible through the trees, or the mottled color in the bricks, these are some of the things that A) will affect the spirit of place and B) that will create a sense of life in our renderings.

Are hand graphics still valid? Of COURSE they are.  Neither hand graphics nor computer graphics is inherently “better”.  They are just different.  The grime and dirt of the world in computer graphics is no different then adding a little of every color to a tree in a Mike Lin style render.

It adds a little depth, and a spark of randomness that is what makes the world what it is.

Uncanny Vally image from

Little Big Planet 2 image from

Mik Lin image from

All other images from

An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: Choosing Components

8 01 2011

The first step in picking what components you want in your computer, whether you are building a custom setup, or buying one off the shelf, is looking at what software you expect to use.  I was looking for a rig that would work for Photoshop, AutoCAD, SketchUp, Thea Render (3D-Rendering Engine), and of course, games from time to time.  The next thing is to figure out what each one of these software packages rely on most heavily- Processor, RAM, or Graphics Card:

Photoshop: Here are the system requirements:

  • Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 1024×768 display (1280×800 recommended) with qualified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card, 16-bit color, and 256MB of VRAM

The newer Photoshop versions make use of graphics cards more and more, but in bigger file sizes they also rely heavily on Processor and RAM.  The amount of layers, filters, and file sizes you normally work with will determine how much of either of these you need.  As I am looking to do plan graphics, printable high quality at 36″ x 48″, with many (40+) layers, I, in short, need a LOT of both RAM and Processor.

AutoCAD: The stated system requirements for 64-bit AutoCAD11 (2D) are:

  • AMD Athlon 64 with SSE2 technology, AMD Opteron® processor with SSE2 technology, Intel® Xeon® processor with Intel EM64T support and SSE2 technology, or Intel Pentium 4 with Intel EM64T support and SSE2 technology
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 2 GB free space for installation
  • 1,280 x 1,024 true color video display adapter 128 MB or greater, Microsoft® Direct3D®-capable workstation-class graphics card

First, you can run a PC at either 32-bit or 64-bit, 32-bit can only see up to 4 Gb of RAM.  Generally if you are building a new system you will go with 64-bit to increase the amount of RAM you can use now, or could upgrade to in the future.  None of these are amazing stats, but the RAM is slightly more powerful than the rest of the system- if all the components were equally important I would expect to see a Pentium 4 paired with 1 Gig of RAM and a 256 MB Graphics Card, or a P4 3.0 GHz (processor speed)/Dual Core Pentium 2.0GHz, 2 Gig RAM, 256 Meg Graphics Card.  This basically tells me that for 2D CAD the RAM is a bit more important than the Processor (which comes more into play with CAD’s modeling tools), and that while you need a Graphics Card, it does not need to be a great one by any means.

SketchUp: Recommended resources:

  • 2+ GHz processor.
  • 2+ GB RAM.
  • 3D class Video Card with 512+ MB of memory or higher. Please ensure that the video card driver supports OpenGL version 1.5 or higher and up to date.
    *SketchUp’s performance relies heavily the graphics card driver and it’s ability to support OpenGL 1.5 or higher. Historically, people have seen problems with Intel based cards with SketchUp. We don’t recommend using these graphics cards with SketchUp at this time.

While Processor and Graphics card are needed, RAM is the biggest limiting factor, in my experience, when you have large scale and or detailed models.

Thea Render: I could not find any system requirements, likely because the program is still in beta (testing phase), and while it currently only uses Processor and RAM, they are adding Graphics Card based rendering in a future update.

Games: For this I took the example of one of the newer PC games that has come out, and one that I wanted to be able to run at full bore- Civilization 5.

Minimum system requirements are:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 256 MB nVidia or AMD Graphics Card

When running it with these specs on a laptop I could play it, but far from maximum settings.  The recommended settings are:

  • Quad Core 1.8 GHZ
  • 4 Gig RAM
  • 512 Graphics Card

Gaming is generally more Graphics Card intensive than productivity software, in part because the architecture of the graphics card is better at drawing faster – for better frame rates, while processors can do more math faster.  So in an enclosed system like a game where it is working with a small set of parameters, Graphics Cards shine.  But when you have many layers of images all affecting each other, the processor takes the lead back.

What am I left with after all this?  To get the best out of all my software, I need a good Processor, RAM, and Graphics Card- I can’t save on one to improve the others.  I also know I use a lot of this software more intensively than most, and I want to be future proof for a bit, so I need to exceed these system specs.  One place where I can save a little money now is in the RAM and Graphics Card.  That is because these are fairly easily upgradeable- with the right mother board you can add RAM to your existing RAM without replacing it.  Also, with the right Motherboard and Graphics Card, you can run in SLI or Crossfire – a method of tethering two Graphics Cards together in your system, and having them act like one, much more powerful card.  The nice thing both both of these is that you can spend, say $300 now on a Graphics Card, and in a year spend $200 on another card, and get nearly the same performance that you would have gotten by spending $700 now.

That being said these are the basic specifications for my new computer:

Processor- Intel Core i7 (Quad or 6 core) with a speed of at least 2.5 GHz and I want the ability to overclock in the future to upgrade slightly.

RAM – 6 Gig (Most motherboards can now handle in the range of 24-36! Talk about future proof!)

Graphics Card – 1 Gig at least, unsure of if I am going to go nVidia or AMD, it depends on the exact card (more later)

Hard Drive – 1TB I use some HUGE files (200 Megs for a single photoshop file), and I don’t want to worry about space for a while.  I may do a solid state boot drive down the road.

Optical Drive – DVD RW for sure, I probably don’t need a BluRay drive, as I could add one once burners get cheaper

Motherboard – Needs to fit my processor, and at least 2x my graphics card

Case – needs to fit everything, have great cooling, and have lots of room for additional Hard Drives, burners, and maybe even water cooling (if I overclock in the future).

Next time I’ll start looking at each individual item, and how I picked which to go with.

Ignoring the odd artifacting, this is what Civ 5 Looks like with the laptop:

And this is what it looks like with the new build:

An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: What goes into a Computer

3 01 2011

One of my first posts on this blog introduced the different computer components and what roles they play for a Landscape Architect/Designer in general.  Its time to re-hash the topic in a little more detail, and look at not just what components do what different software, but how you pick components, and how you can build your own system from scratch.

There are a few advantages to building your own machine.  For one thing, you know you get exactly what you want.  You can find the exact balance of power, size, and price that you want- you don’t have to work within the parameters of what Dell wants to offer you.  Also, you save a sizable amount of money.  I would say I paid roughly 60% market price for my PC, and I got higher end components then would have been in a pre-assembled system.

The downside is you have to do some leg work to ensure that your machine will work correctly, but if you take the time to do your research, you can get a great machine.  There are many resources around for building your own PC both in terms of research and purchasing.  I did most of my research at tomshardware.  They review individual components, and also have a series of PC builds they do each quarter that they write up that are a GREAT reference for finding the tech you want, for the price you want, in arrangements that will actually boot up.  In terms of purchasing my parts, I mostly relied on New Egg. They have some amazing deals on some great hardware, offer good support options, and ship fast and cheap for when your anxious to get your build going.  I also picked up a few items at Best Buy, as sometimes they will have sales or clearance items that will be tough for even New Egg to beat, and as I work there it was not exactly out of my way.

These are the basic pieces you need to make a fully functional PC:

1. Processor/Heat Sink

2. Graphics Card

3. RAM

4. Hard Drive

5. Motherboard

6. Optical Drive

7. Case

8. Misc. (Card Readers, Sound Cards, second Hard Drives)

9. Power Supply

Each of these items depends somewhat on each other for compatibility reasons, but what you want to do now, and in the future, productivity-wise is going to be the determining factor.  I ranked them in the general order of importance in terms of what you are trying to get out of your system.  For instance- the power supply doesn’t matter to you except that it is of good quality and gives enough power to your system for it to work without fail.  You can’t pick it until you pick everything else, but it doesn’t REALLY effect any of your other choices.

What I’m going to do is first describe what I wanted out of my system. I will then run through each of these components, describing what they do, what effect they have on the programs I wanted to run, and what exact product I ended up getting and why.

Once that is done, I’ll be writing another blog describing the step by step of how I took those components and made the system I am blogging on (while running a 3D model render in the background) right now.

For the time being, I’ll leave you with a photo of the international headquarters of Frank Varro Rendering.

Looking for rendering critique

23 11 2010

Hey guys,
I’m working on getting a freelance Architectural and Landscape Architectural rendering gig going using a newish engine called Thea, and wanted you guys to look at a few of the component models I have so far. Let me know what you think. The car and bench are tweaked Sketchup components that I re-skinned, the trees are from Tree[d], which the exception of the pine, which someone shared in the Thea forums. The Stop sign is original, and the people are default SketchUp people, and I’m not sure if they are the way I am going to end up doing people or not.

I’m trying to get these set so anytime anyone needs a design with a maple rendered, I’m ready to plug this in.

First, the trees. I spend a LOT of time with these trying to get not just the right bark, the and the right shade of leaf, but the right translucency, as its what seems to give the leaves a look of life. The redbud was a real trick since when it is in bloom its a very skeletal structure, and is VERY pink, but at times it looked almost on fire.


Ginko (Young)-


Next is the park bench. I used a Sketchup component, and tweaked the model SLIGHTLY, and reskinned it in thea.

The stop sign is the first piece I made 100% on my own, and I’m decently happy with. I have NO idea if you can get it to act like there is the reflective-prism film, so I just made it fairly reflective, but added a bumpmap so it doesn’t reflect straight back like a mirror.

I’m pretty happy with my car. I got the model in Sketchup, and tweaked it to smooth some edges, add depth in areas like headlights, and then got the materials nailed down. The car here has its headlights off, but I do have two IES lights in the model so I can turn them on for night scenes.

Lastly, here is everything thrown together in one mish-mash. The key thing here is that the car, for instance, will never be the focal point of a model. so while as a stand alone you see the polys, when its in a model as a set piece, the fact that it reflects the model and sits so well really makes it an asset if you ask me… but I’m not asking me. I’m asking you. so let me know what you think!


If you like the look of the engine (This is unlicensed version, full will not have the water marks), check out

Who I am: A re-introduction

20 09 2010

The following is a post I made on MyIGN, a site for gamers.  It also serves as a pretty good introduction to who I am in terms of Landscape Architecture, Design, and Technology, so here you go:

I suppose I owe this post to altoidyoda and justsomedude899, along with a martini and a few High Life’s.

I have been a semi-active member of the IGN community since around 2006, with a blog I started in 2007.  I never posted regularly, as I suppose I’m to self conscious about my own writing abilities when I don’t have a bit of a buzz going, but I followed many of the “big time” bloggers in the old system (Reillymonster, Fozzy, Altoidyoda, Justsomedude, nextgengamer, dillaweezer, teh_red_baron, etc), and commented enough that I like to think I had a familiar face at the least.  I was excited to see the new MyIGN as I thought it would become a new iteration of the original blog community, but it seems that at least so far it is something more.  I don’t know if I think it is something better at this point, as it feels somehow, diluted, but it is what it is.  Some of this may come from the fact that the old blogging tools were somewhat of a pain in the ass, and that meant that the only people blogging were people who really had something to say, and that made it a little more of a tight knit community.  Its the same thing that makes your best friends often come from the WORST jobs, you suffered through the BS together, and managed to make it enjoyable.  MyIGN is the easy job that was never hard, and paid decently.  You make friends, but, from my experience, the friendships and comradeship just aren’t as strong as they were back on the old blog system.

But, I think its time to try to make the move more official, so let me tell you about me.  I started blogging here at IGN because, at the time, I was questioning my choice of profession.  I, at that point, was all-but-thesis for my masters, and in a job with a small landscape architecture firm.  The commute was murder, and I just wanted to be doing something different.  I remember thinking about how AMAZING it would be to design games back in the 80′s when I was playing BattleToads and Galaxy5000 on my NES with my best friend Josh.  I moved away from that dream over time, first deciding engineering was the best outlet for my dual loves of creativity and science.

Then I took college physics and calculus.  I then was looking for a new direction.  Luckily, I found landscape architecture.  It is a little understood field that involves everything I love.  On every project you need creativity to create a design that will inspire, scientific knowledge to know what soils will work with what plants, engineering to know what to put under and behind walls to keep them retaining soil instead of collapsing.  And you are working not with “cold” materials like an architect does (No offense, believe me, I have often thought about going back for an M.Arch as well), but with the living earth and nature.  And you aren’t taming nature in some god-complex way, but working with nature.  Trying to find ways to create a design that will look amazing both the day you install it, 30 years down the road when the trees finally are reaching maturity, and 50 years in when things want to get overgrown.  Finding those balances, and designing so that nature will HELP the development of your design instead of hurting it is an amazing challenge.  I also brought my LOVE of all things technological to the field, including a love of 3D Studio Max rendering and photoshop.

Now I am in a VERY different place.  I am no longer in Chicago (Hello Queens, NY!), and, after getting laid-off in August of 2008, I have yet to find another position in the field.  This has been a very sharply double edged sword.  First, I realize that while, yes, I do LOVE videogames, I don’t really want to be a developer- I just want to be a landscape architect.  And yes, I had time (while working 30 hours a week at Best Buy) to create a new rendering style, combining the depth that photoshop gives with the life that hand line-work gets, and I am now learning Thea and Rhino.  But it is really all in the effort to try to get that extremely illusive job that fits me, a non-entry level, non-mid-level person with 9 months experience in a field that was definitely hit by the recession, or even a contract gig doing a few renderings for a firm that maybe would mean I can stop working retail.

For the time being, however, here I am.  I’m playing the few select games I have cash to spend for.  I’m playing some of them on a 360 that my AMAZING former Best Buy coworkers in Chicago bought for me, and others on a PS3 I got on Metal Gear 4′s midnight launch (which has since yellow lighted, and been replaced thanks to Best Buy’s Black Tie Protection, minus all my saves), and a few on the Wii I bought on launch day.  I listen to Beyond, Scoop, and Knockin’ boots every week (Knockin’ boots is the new Love-line), and Voice Chat on occasion (Matt and Bozon are still that podcast to me, and I can’t get around that, sorry Craig and koopa-lings).

In terms of my gaming background, my first gaming memory is playing “alpiner” on a TI-99 back in the Early 90′s on vacation in Duluth MN.  I then played “Sopwith” on my Dad’s PC in 1986ish (I’m 29), and soon graduated to an NES, complete with Power-Pad.  I was instantly hooked as a Nintendo Fanboy.  I stayed loyal all the way through the GameCube years (RE4, Metroid Prime, and Rouge Squadron were AMAZING), and it was only in 2005 when I finally got a non-nintendo system, the PS2.  I got it for DDR, and stayed for the GT4, Burnout, and Guitar Hero.  As I said, I now am lucky enough to have all three major systems, along with a DS and a PSP (2000).  Metal Gear, inFamous, Uncharted, LBP, Mass Effect, Red Dead, Zelda, Endless Ocean, and No More Heros are my favorite franchises from this generation.

In the morning I have to learn another 100 pages of Rhino, and tweak fonts on my resume (welcome to the life of a designer who is under-employed), and my martini buzz is wearing off, so I’ll leave this post at that. Hopefully you will see more of me, and with better news on the employment front soon.  Until then, take the time to sit and listen to some good music.  Seriously. Find some good headphones (throw the earbuds away, your Mom and Dad might have some decent stuff), put on a good CD (MP3′s sound flat and bassy), I recommend Feel Good Ghosts by Cloud Cult, or Eraser by Thom York,  and just LISTEN.  Sit in a comfortable chair, put your phone down, and enjoy the music for what it is.  An experience.

Tuesday Tutorial: Time to get your hands dirty

25 05 2010

Dirt is one material that, while rarely fully exposed, is often a base material that other elements are placed over.  Many times these elements will have gaps between them where there is exposed dirt, whether it be in a mulch-less planting bed, or in areas like a dense forest as we have here.  You cold also combine the dirt with another layer of material, like a scattered moss or leaf-litter, to add some depth and realism.  I have used this in 3D models before with good results, but in a 2D rendering it can add slightly more detail than is useful, creating a cluttered look that makes the drawing a little harder to read.

The first process for making dirt is essentially identical to how you make turf.  However, the images I selected for this tutorial have some major imperfections that will allow me to show one of the powerful tools in the Photoshop box: spot heal.

You can see here that the first image I am using, from a residential lot, has a large pipe with a string attached that sits in an area that otherwise I would want to use.  I could give up, and use a different image, or only use a small section.  I did not take the photos intending on using them for this purpose, and therefore only had a few, and I also was only using a small piece from my second image due to the angle and size of the bluestone patio in the image.

As I need some flexibility in size to reduce the tiled look, I opted for the slightly more challenging method of healing the pole and string out of the image.  First, however, I adjusted the perspective of the image to minimize scale changes throughout the dirt.

Once I did that, I was able to use my heal brush to remove the pole from the image.  In an image such as this, it involves a relatively simple process.  First, select the spot heal tool from the main drawing toolbar.

For an image such as this, its best to use the spot heal tool instead of the heal tool.  Heal is better when large areas need to be covered using techniques I will cover later in the series.  The spot heal tool works by essentially blurring the area.  To demonstrate the basic idea, I created a colored grid.

I then used the spot heal tool on the path seen in purple:

This is the result:

So by using this tool, and painting over the pipe and string, you are able to essentially eliminate them from the drawing with very little work, and you now have a much larger area to pull your texture from.

Next you have to pull an area out to use as your pattern.

As you can see, there are some areas in the bottom of the drawing that are much lighter than the rest of the dirt, so you should again use a burn layer and around 8-9% opacity black to paint the areas darker.

This light amount of paint evens out the textures greatly, giving a pattern that will look fairly uniform on its own.

Once you have that, it’s the same method of setting up two buffer areas with guidelines, copying them, erasing them, and then cropping the image down to creating tiles without hard edges.

This material looks pretty good, but when rendered it will likely look a little to cool and dark, almost like rough asphalt.  By shifting the image’s saturation, you can get an image that it warmer and a bit lighter.

I took the same steps with the second image, giving me a second, smaller texture that is equal in quality to the first.

By layering these images in the same way as I did with the turf textures, and with the same masking layer pattern, you get a seamless topsoil layer.

Next week, we will tackle the granite outcropping on the west of the site.

Tuesday Tutorial: Turf, and basic techniques

18 05 2010

As it is with many things, my technique for turf, and the similar techniques I use for other materials, were born of other needs.  Namely, I hated the way my turf looked in 3D renderings.  You could use a created texture, but it never looked organic.  You could use a photo, but you got TERRIBLE tiling effects.  You could do a slight color overlay to soften the impact of the tiling, but the color was always off, and you would lose to much of the internal texture.  I tried all of these, before scouring through tutorial sites and stumbled on the idea of using two separate textures, with a masking layer to blend the two.  This is used commonly in 3D models when you have to put a non-square image onto a model.

Say you have a beer… sorry I got distracted there for a second.  So, you have a bottle shaped model, and you want it to be beer.  The first thing you will do might be to fill the bottle with liquid, and make the material into tinted glass.  You then have a very pretty blank beer bottle.  It needs a label to look right.  Many beer labels are not square, but no matter what the image you import onto the model will be square.  You handle this by making two images.  One is the image you want shown, the other is a mask, like we make for the hand drawn lines- with what you want shown in white, and what you want to have invisible in black.  Now, you normally just place a single image, so you get one label.  But there is no reason you couldn’t tile the material so it would repeat hundreds of times over an open field. And there is no reason this technique cannot be used in photoshop to make detailed, photograph based textured that don’t show any tiling.

The best way to get good, organic texture, and realistic color, is by using photos.  These can be photos you took expressly for texturing, or everyday photos that have a good amount of the material you are looking for.  The best option is images takes specifically for texturing, as you can take a picture that will be fairly evenly lit, and taken from above, reducing the amount of perspective in the image.  For this tutorial I am using two photos I took of a small residential project I designed last summer:

The first thing you do is crop the non-grass areas out of the image, so you have a decent base to work off of.

This gives you a clear area of turf to work with.  Having other distracting elements removed from the photo also allows you to see inconsistencies in color.  These inconsistencies will show clearly when tiled.

Looking at the image, you can see how much lighter and smaller the blades of grass are on the top and right of the image.  By cropping those areas out you easily eliminate some trouble spots without resorting to the slower techniques next.

There is still a darker area to the left of the image.  The way I will address that is by adding a second layer above the turf image.

By setting the layer to linear burn, and using a round, soft brush, set to black, with around 8% opacity, you are able to paint the image slightly darker in the areas that need it to even out the over all texture.  By using linear burn you darken the tone of the image without adding gray to it, muting the color and texture.

That is all the paint I needed to lay down to change the texture to this:

The image is a little more flat then i would like, so next I increased the contrast to give more sharpness to the texture itself.

As you can see, much of this process is trial and error- looking until you see a problem, fixing it, then looking for the next problem.  After doing all these adjustments, I noticed that the perspective makes the foreground far more coarse than the top of frame.  To fix this, I used Edit->Transform->Perspective to both shrink the foreground.

Once cropped, you have a nice smooth texture that still has a realistic amount of character.

This seems like a fairly regular texture, with a good amount of color, so its time to make the image tile without a hard edge that will always show clearly.  The first step is to lay some guidelines around 1/10th of the way from the edges.

Select the areas between the edge and the guidelines and the outer edge, and copy it on a new layer to the opposite side.  This makes it so you have a smooth transition from the left side to the right, with no edge.

You will still have hard edges where the new layer hits the old, but you can now make a transition between the two.  For this tutorial I used the most basic method, with is to use a soft eraser to fade the transition layer from the edge in.

Now by cropping down the image to where you have the guidelines you will make a tile that will not have a hard edge.

Now with a smother transition, preventing a hard edge your ready to make a pattern.  Hit Ctrl+A to select all, then go to Edit->Define Pattern and name your new pattern (Something like Turf Layer 1V1.0) and save the image in a folder- mine are saved to the desktop->Render Patterns->Turf->Turf1V10.jpg.

This way you can back up all our render patterns, and move them to other computers just by opening the image, and defining the pattern again.  Now give your new pattern a shot, using it to fill the turf areas in whatever rendering you are working on.

Now you repeat the same steps with the second image.



Perspective (correct for off-center image here as well)

Crop and increase contrast, copy edges and erase to eliminate straight edges

This is a key point in the creation of your second pattern. To make an organic, non-repeating pattern, you must make sure the two final patterns sizes will not allow them to line up often, creating a repeating overlap.  You do this by looking first at the size of your first pattern.  My layer one is 280×224.  That means you will have an edge (left to right) at 0,280,560,840,1120,1400 etc, and (top to bottom) at 0,224,448,672,896,1120 etc.  You want to pick sizes for your second layer that will not line up with those.  I resized mine to 600×415.  That means that left to right my two tiles will not repeat until 4200, and top to bottom until 92960.

Once you resize your pattern, save it and make it into a pattern just as you did with layer 1. And paste it as a second layer in the same rendering.

The last step is to create a clipping layer, which acts basically like a masking layer, for the grass layers that will allow the two patterns to mix. First pick a noisy, random pattern brush.

Then go into the settings for the brush, and max out the size jitter, and turn off the brush presets other than Shape Dynamics, Scattering, and Smoothing.

Then turn up the scattering, and turn the count as low as you can.

Now make a new image, and make a second layer in the image.  Make a scattered spray of black over the second layer, getting fairly even, but random coverage, then turn off the background layer.

Use the same method of Guidelines, Copy, Erase to reduce edges, than use the same idea as above to resize the image to reduce overlap of the edges.  Last save the image as a PSD (to preserve transparency), and with the background layer off, make the image into a pattern (Turf Mask v1.0).  Spray the mask into the same area as you had the turf, into a new layer.

Put all the layers into a Turf folder in Photoshop, with the mask sandwiched between the two turf pattern layers.

Now select the top-most turf layer, and click on Layer->Create Clipping Mask

This will tell the selected layer to be masked by the layer behind it.  This mask is not based on Black Vs. White, but opacity, which is why you had to make the background transparent for your masking pattern.

This finally gives you the final results you have been looking for:

A smooth, lineless, textured, natural colored pattern.  You can also look at the overall image here, and – using hue-saturation/contrast – tweak the colors until it looks a little better (This seems a tad brown and muted to me).  Write down what tweaks you made, reopen the saved patterns you made, and make the same tweaks, save the version 2.0 of each, and re-define the patterns as well.

These two patterns don’t seem like they would work together with the different darkness levels, but they are what gives you the following results:

While this process is time consuming and a pain, the key is to remember that from now on, all you have to do is paint an area with three patterns, make one a clipping mask, and your done.

Tune in next week for the next key landscape building block: dirt.