The First Render
Before starting the first render there is one last thing we have to take care of: the material of our terrain. For the first test I use one of the default materials, "Rock and Grass", from the Landscapes option. It helps you read the volumes of the terrain well. I leave the water with the default material for now, choose the "Final" render preset, and press go. Here is the result (Fig.04). It isn't the most photoreal thing you'll ever see, but we still have a way to go.
Building The Materials
The next step is to start working on the materials. I'm happy to keep the lighting as it is and the terrain also looks like it could work for now. What you have to keep in mind when reading this is that my approach is influenced by how you would work with this kind of scene if it was for a movie. I'm trying to keep the elements as neutral as possible, with a lot of range for changes. Our final result is an image, which means that I will do all the final tweaks in Photoshop, so the important things to concentrate on now are those elements that I can't control there.
One of these things is the distribution of materials. This is where we get to see the power of the Vue Material editor. One of the things I use most is the altitude distribution. With the correct settings, you can create a complex material that simulates real ones very closely.
In the case of this image I start by working on the cliff material. By using the mixed material and altitude distribution I create three big areas: the cliff, the beach and the underwater sand (Fig.05). I also modify the parameters of the water to get it closer to the look I want. It's looking way too transparent and reflective at the moment so let's concentrate on those and change the overall hue. This is what I've ended up with (Fig.06).
Control is the Key
It could get a little tricky now because of the large scale, but I want to further refine the materials. The obvious solution is to try to split the terrain into smaller pieces that will be easier to control creatively. So I duplicate my ground three times and then sculpt away the parts I don't need. This makes working on the scene a lot easier in the long run (Fig.07).
Focusing on Specific Areas
The next natural step is to focus on improving each piece of the terrain. So I start with the far cliff, working on the material. I add another step, trying to create a darker line along the area where it makes contact with the water (Fig.08). This idea came from looking closely at my reference images.