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Creating Plants and Flowers

By Chris MacDonald
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Date Added: 9th December 2009
Software used:
Photoshop, LightWave
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "How did you make those flowers?" or "Can you tell me how to model a good plant?". This is probably for a couple reasons. First, when an image contains plants and/or flowers that are pleasing to the eye, they immediately stand out since it is still somewhat uncommon to find photorealistic greenery in images. Second, I also think that it's still pretty daunting for a lot of people when they see tons of little leaves and all of the parts that make up a flower or a plant.

In this tutorial, I hope to demonstrate how easy it is to create detailed flowers and plants that will add a great deal to an image (assuming the image calls for them, of course). This tutorial requires a thorough awareness of the tools in Lightwave and Photoshop as well as a basic knowledge of how to use them.

When to Use Greenery

The most common place to find greenery is going to be outside. One would be hard pressed to go anywhere outside and not see some sort of vegetation, whether it be the giant oak tree in your backyard or the nagging weeds growing in the cracks of the sidewalk. For the most part, an outdoor image that doesn't contain some sort of greenery is probably going to look like it's missing something. So we know that most outdoor scenes need greenery, but what about indoor scenes?

Now, obviously you're not going to place a big pot of flowers on the console of your intergalactic space cruiser. However, there are many other places in life where various kinds of plants or flowers can be found. Take a typical office building for example. The first thing that comes to mind probably isn't the fake tree sitting in the corner. However, if you take a look at 75% of the office buildings in America, you're most likely going to find some sort of foliage or flora. The reason for this is that plants and flowers give indoor environments a much more pleasant atmosphere. In a 3D image, they greatly reduce the perfect, "sterile" look commonly found in many indoor scenes. They also add tremendous photorealistic credibility to the scene.

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Figure 1: Example of plants in a scene. Click to Enlarge

Take a look at Figure 1. This is a good example of how plants add life to a scene and really increase the overall realism of the image.

Plants and flowers can add a lot to an image, so a good 3D artist shouldn't be afraid to include them where they would naturally be found in reality. OK, enough with the lecture, let's make some flowers!

When to Use Greenery

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Figure 2: Reference Image. Click to Enlarge

The first basic rule of modeling anything found in life is to have its real-world counterpart available for study (or at least a picture of it). Since we'll be creating lilies in this tutorial, a picture will suffice. Take a look at the reference image in Figure 2.

Notice the way that the petals are curved. Also look at the arrangement of the leaves along the stem. They appear to be staggered down the stem almost all the way down to the very bottom. We're going to slightly alter our lily so the flowers and buds will not be angled downwards as they are in the picture.

Now let's move on to the fun part - Modeling!

The Modelling


We'll be doing things a little differently in this tutorial than you are probably used to. Instead of assembling everything in Modeler, we'll only be modeling the parts. Then, we'll load them into Layout, surface them, clone them as necessary, and assemble the actual objects. By doing it this way, we can accurately apply texture maps and still be able to load the entire lily object into a scene as many times as we want by using the 'Load From Scene' command in the objects panel.

Creating the Flower

Let's open up Modeler and turn on the OpenGL Smooth Shaded preview. I have my units set to Metric, so for this tutorial you'll want to do the same. The first thing that we'll create will be the actual flower. If you had actually scanned in various views of lilies or sketched out your own, you could load it in as a background image. But for this tutorial we'll just wing it.

Let's get started
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Figure 3: The petal before Metaforming and reshaping. Click to Enlarge

1. Drag out a rectangular box in the top view that's about 800mm long on the 'Z' axis and roughly 250mm wide on the 'X' axis.
Before you hit to create the box, open up the numeric options and give it two segments along the 'Z' axis. All right, now hit 'OK' and make the box.

2. Now, in the Surfaces panel, turn on 'Double-sided' since we'll need to be able to view this from all directions. Then subdivide the box using the Faceted setting. Now select each row of points starting at the top working down and resize them along the 'X' axis until you get a shape similar to the pre-Metaformed petal in Figure 3.

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Figure 4: The five columns of points. Click to Enlarge

3a. This next part is a little tricky, so pay close attention. First, switch to MetaNURBS mode and Metaform the petal one time. What we will do now is give the petal some shape. You can see in Figure 4 that the petal has five columns of points running along the 'Z' axis; the two outer columns, the one middle column, and the two columns in-between.

Select the middle column of points that runs down the center of the petal and drag it down a little bit on the 'Y' axis. This will be the center crease of the petal. Now deselect those points and select the outside column of points on each side of the petal and drag them down slightly farther than the center column. At this point, the face view should look like a squashed 'M' as shown in Figure 5.

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Figure 5: Petal in face view. Click to Enlarge

3b. Now rearrange the two columns of 'in-between' points in the top view so that they are closer together towards the base of the petal and further apart up towards the tip. Figure 6 shows my results using the Taper 2 tool. The point in doing this is to accentuate the center crease near the base of the petal while making it less pronounced towards the tip. If you like, you may now adjust the points towards the tip of the petal so it ends in a tiny droop. Be careful not to get too crazy with the droop though, because now we're going to add a bend to the entire petal so that it has a nice arch to it.

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Figure 6: Tweaking the shape of the petal. Click to Enlarge
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Figure 7: Applying the first bend. Click to Enlarge

4. Before we bend it, save the unfinished model as 'metapetal.lwo'. We will use this basic shape later on when we make the leaves. Now we're ready to use the Bend tool. Check the settings first just to make sure that the "sense" is set to positive. In your face view, apply about a 45° bend to it. This gives the petal a nice flowing curve to it, just as it would have in nature. Rotate the petal so that it's relatively parallel to the 'Y' plane. The easiest way to do this is to numerically rotate it 22.5° along the 'X' axis. The petal needs to be in this position so that when we go to texture it, we'll be able to apply a detailed planar image map on the 'Y' axis. Also align the base of the petal with the origin (the intersection of all three axes) in all views. This is done so when the model is saved, the pivot point will be at the base of the petal for accurate rotation in layout. See Figure 7 for a visual on this.

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Figure 8: Final petal, bent and aligned with origin. Click to Enlarge

5. Now, simply freeze the MetaNURBS object with a patch division of four. OK, looking at our petal now, it looks a little too smooth. The key is to add a bit of randomness to the petal surface. The easiest way to do this is to apply Jitter. I applied 5mm of Gaussian Jitter on the 'Y' axis, but feel free to experiment. After Jittering, Metaform the petal once to smooth it all out. Now that we've Jittered it, the final step in modeling the petal is to bend the petal one more time. Bend it 60° and then rotate it 30° to get it parallel again. Figure 8: Final petal, bent and aligned with origin.



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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
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(ID: 77674, pid: 0) Glen D on Wed, 11 January 2012 2:16am
A great tutorial on how to create vegetation. Even though it is very old, the fundamentals here are great.
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