Everything cookies

This post describes my attempt at the Blender model for “Snowy Creek,” by Steve Lund of CG Geek. I discuss the techniques I used to render multiple simulations and particle systems into a still image. In the process, I share some insights I gained creating and compositing the finished piece.

To begin, “Snowy Creek” is a mountain creek, surrounded by woods and hills covered in snow. The trees branches are heavy with white powder.

The snowy branch effect is achieved by painting a “weight paint” mask image, identifying where on the tips of the branches Blender should affix the leaves.

Leaves, in my example, such as this pine needle. Wherever painted, the branch sprouts a particle system whose “particle” is an object, a leaf.

As evident in scene renders, my branches are lightly frosted in snow-ice, because I was too conservative in scaling my snow layer. In addition to leaf layer particle systems, the stands of small and large trees are generated simlarly. I paint the hillside in a radius of tree growth, specific to each vertice group: “big trees,” “little trees.”

Beyond the tree simulation, the river is a plane under an “Ocean” modifier. The fire is a scalable fluid simulation, the clouds and mist a procedural collection of nodes. The “snow” fall utilized the camera’s “Motion blur” option and animated the simple “snowflake” object, as white streaks; 100000 particles fall from a plane to make the snow storm.

If we examine my “workbench” I count six simulations/particle systems: clouds, fire, creature, snow, creek, and trees, and their leaves. If a little dash of sim was good, a lot would be better? I added effects for their own sake, and the collage of sims detracted from a central theme or message. I doubled down.

To increase the field of view, I added an “Image as a plane” object and assigned it the HDR lighting image. The primary object in view is the hillside, to which I applied a “Multiresolution” modifier to add texture and depth to the ground. Again, my snow mix is too dark, I wanted fluffier snow. The trees are too dense. I tried both Douglas fir and Scotch pine, but they just looked like a green thicket. Each object deserved focus until it met a certain aesthetic criteria. A sim or two is great fun; six? The number of sims running simultaneously slowed down my computer, and consequently my iterations. Art takes time, more so when disintermediated by a slow renderer. Maybe the great artists are those who can outwait the thing they’re making.

The render process reminded me of chemical production. You try a thing, examine the results, adjust the recipe, try again. When I arrived at the following image, I paused.

The content of the image was essentially “Snowy Creek,” the tutorial useful in my hands, at a certain level of plastic realism. My additional elements, while identifiable, do not blend well with the scene, despite “physically” being in the scene. Creating a “macro” image, one that tells a story, requires layout and compositing skills on a large scale, as well as, technical acumen. I call rendering “baking cookies,” and in this experiment, I ended up with an oven of “everything” cookies. Hopefully, YMMV.

Thanks for reading.

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