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Flipmode 3D

Easy Environments

The Easy Environments series for Daz Studio and Poser combines high-res Skyboxes (6x 4096×4096) with terrains fit for close range shots.

Since Skyboxes seem to be somewhat under-used in the Daz/Poser universe, I thought I`d put up a short introduction for those who are new to it. I`ll also add a few tips for working with the Easy Environments series and skyboxes in general.

Link: Overview Videos

Table of content
1) Skybox introduction
2) Working with skyboxes
3) Easy Environments -Lighting
4) Easy Environments -Cameras
5) Easy Environments: Winter
6) Easy Environments: Mountain Trail
7) Easy Environments: Greenlands
8) Easy Environments: Eternal Sands
9) Easy Environments: Road to Hell
10) Easy Environments: Top of the World
11) Easy Environments: The Rock
12) Easy Environments: Outback
13) Easy Environments: Oasis

1) Skybox introduction
For those who have never heard of skyboxes before, it`s a similar thing like a skydome (more common with DS/Poser), but has the shape of a cube and seamlessly covers your whole scene.

Skybox from outside

Since all skyboxes on the Easy Environments series can be loaded alone (without the terrain) it`s very easy to use them for other scenes as well. It`s a great solution for more open settings, which require the lower parts of the scene to be covered.

Greenlands Skybox with a part from “FM Planetarium”

2) Working with skyboxes
Working with skyboxes is as easy as it comes, load it, render it. ;)
However, you have some options to change the appearance.
You can move, scale or rotate the box, all of it will change the parts your camera frames, and thus change the general look a bit.
The color and brightness of the skybox is defined by it`s ambient color. In most cases the default ambient color will be a pure white.
Reduce the ambient color along the greyscale to darken the skybox, or even use colors to give it a tint. Results will vary, but I find it worth experimenting.

Winter default

Winter with a soft red color tone (skybox ambience & lighting)

Size matters!
At least relative size.
Be it a skybox or a skydome, the closer you get to the rim the more distortion you will see.
Now imagine the skybox as a cube of 10x10x10 and move the camera by 9. You are now close to the rim and it will look ugly.
Make the skybox 100x100x100 and move the cam by 9 …you are still far off the rim and everything is fine.
I chose the skybox size for the easy environment sets in a way that allows you quite some camera movement, but also within the limits of Poser`s preset overview render distance, which is quite short. I think you`ll rarely run into distortion, but if you build a really huge scene you might want to consider scaling the skyboxes up.

On a sidenote, I also added a morph to the skyboxes, which allows you to turn them into a more spherical shape, or the opposite (whatever that is called). It`s more a fun thing, but you can give it a try, and sometimes it may even be useful.

3) Easy Environments -Lighting
The lighting provided with the sets is adjusted to fit the scenes, the particularly important part here being the direction of the sun. If you rotate the skybox you should rotate the lighting accordingly.
Daz Studio Tip: Simply drag&drop the lighting onto the skybox (to make the lights childs and the skybox the parent) before rotating the skybox. Now the light will follow any rotations.

Note: The lighting provided with the sets is made for the full scene&skybox preload, on which the skybox may be rotated by default. The skybox-only preload is not rotated, the sun will always be in the “north” . Thus you may have to make adjustments to get theĀ  skybox-only preloads and the lighting together.

4) Easy Environments -Cameras
There are no cameras included with the sets, but I`d like to add a tip or two.
First, I found wide angles (focal length) to work great with those sets. Most of the promo renders use it. It just goes well with landscapes.
DS: select camera > Parameters Tab > Camera > Focal Length. Preset is 65, I liked values of 50 to 55.
Poser: Check “show cameras” in the Hierarchy Tab > select the camera you are using > change “Focal” in the Parameters Tab. The Default values vary depending on the camera, I liked to reduce it by up to 10mm.

Depth of field also goes very well with landscapes, I might do a seperate tutorial on that later if there is interest in it.
Link: Depth of Field Tutorial

5) Easy Environments: Winter

Not that much to tell here…
The trees have “cast shadows” off by default, to keep high render speeds. Depending on your camera angle you might want to turn shadows on for some of the trees. On DS this setting is a bit hidden, you find it under Parameters/Display/Rendering (with the tree selected).

On the alternative “natural trail” preload of Winter the trail is made from two materials (nattrail01 & 02). One of them leads south-to-center, the other one center-to-north.
If you want to remove one or both of them just remove the displacement map, and change the diffuse texture to the one used for pure snow (fmwi_snow01).

The set uses displacement maps, so Poser (7) users don`t forget to turn it on in your render settings ;)

6) Easy Environments: Mountain Trail

I really got nothing substantial to add here, but it seemed weird to leave it out. ;)
Well, I find the small stones on the trail look a bit too dark on the shadow-side, so for the perfect render you might want to adjust the ambience. Or hide them.
That aside everything should be pretty easy to handle.
Oh, and I could add the usual “Poser (7) users turn displacement maps on” info.

7) Easy Environments: Greenlands

Just a small tip in case you want to place architecture on the ground.
If the floor is too bumpy keep in mind you can scale it along the Y-axis to flatten it.

The skybox On Greenlands is scaled rather small, so if you use it for other scenes you might want to scale it up a bit
(eg. for a larger scene like Mountain Trail I used 250%).

8) Easy Environments: Eternal Sands

Poser: I turned “Visible in Raytracing” off for the natural trail version of the terrain.
This fixed some rendering errors which occured around the displacement map.
Internally (pp2) that value is named “Visible in Reflections”, so once can throw a coin to decide what it really does.
Anyway, I didn`t notice any difference except the render errors being gone. (Edit: I now know it affects self-shadowing, but that doesn`t come into play much on this set)

9) Easy Environments: Road to Hell

This is a really dark set. In case you want to brighten it up just use higher values for the lights, particularly the 3 ambient (directional) lights.
Bonus skybox: Keep in mind all “skybox only” preloads load with the sun in the north. So if you want to use it with the included lighting you might want to rotate it accordingly.

10) Easy Environments: Top of the World

Highly recommended: wide camera angles!
I found Poser`s main cam way too narrow for this set, the Dolly cam worked better.
For the promo renders I used values down to 22mm (Poser, Focal) and 45 (DS, Focal Length).
The displacement value on the rock is something you can toy with, I used what I liked best, but higher values can look nice as well.

11) Easy Environments: The Rock
The main topic for this set is clearly the water, so I will start there.
The tricky part about it is blending it into the skybox. Here is an illustration to show where the water meets the skybox.

I`ve set up the material defaults to work best with rather flat camera angles, because they are most common for character centric-renders.
On steeper camera angles the “blending” will be a lot less convincing with the default settings. Specularity and reflections brighten up the water-geometry, while the water on the skybox remains static (or to be precise, it`s darker towards the center).
Cut short, you will want to adjust the water material.

To get the water darker I found it best to change a couple of values together:
-Darken the diffuse color
-Turn up Glossiness to narrow specularity (=lower highlight_size on Poser) and/or reduce specular intensity.
-Turn down reflections.
Additionally, making the water more transparent can help blending into the skybox.
The opposite approach (more specularity, more reflection) can be used to brighten up the water, eg. usefull for shots towards the sun, where the water in the skybox is touched by sunlight.
Tip: Use “spot rendering” to quickly check your changes.
Note: The lighting also affects the look of the water. If you don`t want to use the included preset lighting you`ll likely have to adjust the water as well.

Skybox size & cameras:
The skybox on this set is bigger than the previous ones, there`s good reason for it, but I doubt anyone cares. ;)
Poser has a very limited default render distance for it`s preview-window, shorter than the skybox scale.
The “yon” value defines the preview distance on cameras. I have added appropriate values to scene and skybox preloads for main, dolly and aux camera, so you don`t have to care about it there. If you switch to a different cam you won`t see the skybox in the preview unless you up the yon value for your camera.
Daz Studio users unfortunately will see the Poser cameras where I changed that value, but they do no harm. Ignore them, delete them, use them…it doesn`t matter.

Tip: Reflections with Daz Studio:
If you want to get stronger reflections on the water you will probably wonder how to do that since it is already set to 100%.
On DS you have that little cog-wheel next to many parameters. If you click it you can turn “limits off”, which will allow you to set values higher than 100%.

What is that water-plane prop good for?:
Let`s say you want to render a scene with a ship in the “skybox-ocean”. If you just put the ship in, it will look as if it was flying over the water.
You can use the water-plane as the “base” to place your ship on, pretty much like it`s done for the rock on the main set.

Render settings with Poser (recent versions):
My version of Poser 10 has massive “gamma correction” on by default, which is weird. Make sure it is turned off, it does wild stuff with reflections.

Render settings general:
Just a small tip most of you will know anyway. Set raytracing to at least 3, better 4.
It`s needed to properly render trasparent&reflective surfaces.

Render times:
Surprisingly quick for a scene with water, at least for me, maybe because the reflections mostly catch the skybox.
The promo renders I did took about 2 to 4 minutes.

Waves:
The waves are driven by the displacement map. If you want less of them just reduce the displacement.
On close-ups it can look a bit off (artefacts), which would be an instance where you want to turn it down a bit.

12) Easy Environments: Outback

Pretty easy set.

The tree`s leaves are preset to not cast shadows, that`s how the promo images were done as well. It helps to speed up rendering, and I didn`t feel it would be a big loss. Of course you can turn shadows on anytime, might make sense if you render a tree close-up.

As usual with the easy environments, wide camera angles work very nice.

I find the cobble stones a bit hit-or-miss, depending on the angle/lighting. They are a seperate prop, so in case you think they stand out too much just hide or delete them.

13) Easy Environments: Oasis

Eternal Sands
As you would expect, this set really works great with the skybox from “Eternal Sands” ( and vice versa).

Water / Reflections
If you want to increase the reflections on the water I recommend to lower the bumpmap-strength rather than upping the reflection strength.
The later is likely to mess up the brightness of the surface, while reducing the bumps just turns it into something more like a mirror.

Poser, Gamma Correction
Recent Poser versions have that gamma correction parameter in the render options, older versions don`t.
Thus the set is designed to be rendered with gamma correction off. Reflective surfaces react heavily to it, so if you have it on results will look wrong.

Rendertimes
Water and Vegetation are not easy on rendertimes, but Daz Studio deals surprisingly well with it. I got about 10 minutes there with lots of vegetation framed.
Poser however, not so good. For preview renders I strongly suggest to turn shadows off for all the vegetation, and maybe hide the water.

I added a Poser “Test render” preload which you could also use for drafting. It has shadows disabled and the reflections removed from the water.
For final renders I recommend to keep the shading rate at 0.3 or higher. It`s still not exactly fast that way, but my standard 0.2 setting was quite a nightmare.

That said, I am no Poser expert, so maybe there are some settings suited for that kind of scenes I don`t know about. If you have any good tips about that just bring them to the Link: Daz Forum