3D: Birch Tree Study
Category: 3D Modelling
Date: July 31st 2017
Environment art has always been hugely impressive to me. From the seriously impressive 3D level design in games like the Witcher 3, to the breathtaking matte painting seen in Game of Thrones, and right down to basic “blocking” of environments done to quickly conceptualise a location. I’ve never prided myself on my capability to adapt to different types of drawing – I don’t give it enough time – but I find myself in a place of elevated inspiration.
Scene from The Witcher 3 – Photo credit goes to Mark Foreman
Humble beginnings can bring down mountains, or so they say. One style I’ve been practicing on and off is the “low poly” (low polygon) art style. As someone who is still learning the ropes of 3D software it’s a great style to work in. Low poly is a technique that works extremely well for games, too. Low detail models mean that they can be rendered a lot quicker than those with a high poly count. On top of that, they just look really clean! It’s quite a popular style in art and games alike.
The Birch Tree
In this study, I wanted to example the Birch Tree. A thin leaved tree with a (usually) slim trunk. Their bark is quite light, so you tend to see it “peel” and look dark and damaged in some places. Quite a common tree in the northern part of the world. Quite a peaceful, stealthy tree that seemed like a great thing to study!
I began by examining birch trees and sketching details, shapes and variations in my moleskin.
Paper sketches to learn about birch tree form
Though this was my first time using Blender, I am familiar with 3D software having used both
3DS Max and Cinema4D quite a lot in the past. Once you understand the concepts of how to model efficiently, learning new software becomes a quick turnaround. What I really enjoy about Blender is that it has such a fluid workflow and is super lightweight compared to the bigger software packages available. Setting up 3DS Max can be a bit of a chore with its large file size and inability to work on Mac. Blender, for me, trims the fat I personally don’t use. I prefer to rely on hotkeys when making options so I do my best to learn them quickly. While working with this study, I began to jot down all the hotkeys I learned during my process. I feel that a lot of Blender’s functionality is reliant on knowing them, whereas 3DS Max has many of its options available in the UI itself. While that’s useful, I find that it really clutters the UI. Blender was held a nice balance of minimalism and convenience. Of course, it’s also free and open source!
Progress after modelling, and leaf texturing nodes
I began with a plane, and modeled the root of the tree using Extrude -> Scale -> Rotate again and again to get the natural feel of the branches. Using the knife tool, it’s easy to cut out new branches that can stem from the trunk of the tree which in turn can hold up the leaves. The leaves themselves were textured using some nodes to randomise the colours so that the tree didn’t look completely monotone. The trunk itself simply has some faces knifed out in it that are coloured with a darker material to resemble the “cuts” seen in birch trees.
Nothing too fancy with the rendering here. I have Ambient Occlusion on, some anti-alias and a very simple rotating animation to get a view of the tree. It was a nice, quick study which will certainly help me understand how these trees work in future. While it’s not an exact resemblance to your typical birch tree…it’s not intended to be. Stylisation always has its excuse to deviate from realism 😉