Keeping it Real

A snapshot from my day job.  Kisatchie National Forest.
A snapshot from my day job. Kisatchie National Forest.

For the better part of the past month and a half, the picture above shows what the view from my office has looked like, with the office itself being the cab of a Humvee.  As far as offices go, I like this one much better than the kind with four walls and a not-so-stunning view of a concrete parking lot.  I also like being able to take my office off-road.

Looking at this all day (and often half the night as well), I get that building urge, to try to recreate these images in the one place where it’s almost possible–my dimension.

Angel Falls, Venezuela.  Picture from Wikipedia Commons Images.
Angel Falls, Venezuela. Picture from Wikipedia Commons Images.

Rift gives us lots of tools to be able to recreate pine forests and waterfalls without too much effort.  The trick is, as always, to try to make things look realistic–if that’s the effect you’re after.  My personal preference, as I’ve stated many times previously, is to make things as realistic as possible when it comes to landscaping.  Does that mean I’ve never created a random waterfall coming off a rock with no visible source?  Oh, I have created many of those, just because I like water effects, but now I like to tell myself that I can use water effects more judiciously to create a more realistic effect.

I’ve gone over landscaping a couple of times in various articles of Tips ‘n Tricks, but this one is a bit more in-depth.  I’ve answered a ton of questions about landscaping and learned a couple of new techniques myself along the way.  The last time I posted about landscaping, it was about layering plants to create varied effects–especially using trees since they’re much larger than the standard bushes and so can cover bigger areas more efficiently.  My intention is to break environmental work and landscaping down to three basic components:  the foundation, the background, and the forefront.

My usual disclaimer:  My way is not the only way, and I would never imply that anyone had to do things my way.  Experimentation is the key when it comes to finding your own style and what works best for your builds.

The foundation is something I never expect visitors to pay much attention to, because it’s generally nothing more than the ground they’re walking on, and it’s not normally supposed to stand out and be obvious.  When I build my foundation layer, I’m making my pathing.  This layer can, of course, be left out if you’re not working a transformation.  When working a transformation, however, there’s really two things I look for in the foundation:  How big do the rocks get, and are they flat?  A huge rock I can’t flatten doesn’t do a lot of good if I need large areas of relatively smooth surface.

Right side up Mossy Outcroppings make for a slightly hilly foundation.
Right side up Mossy Outcroppings make for a slightly lumpy foundation.

Secondary concerns are the lighting, and the actual color of the foundation.  You may have noticed I have a fondness for Mossy Outcroppings, and that is true, particularly the dark undersides.  I also like Ashoran Mountainsides, which get absolutely huge in sheer size.  Different rocks take on new textures depending on the Sky Projector used and the light sources and types.  I like the Ashoran rocks when I have to cover very large areas in as few items as possible, and the Outcroppings when I want something that looks a lot like grass but I can make flat and where stretching the item limit isn’t as much of a priority.

The background is often where the most work is.
The background is often where the most work is.

The background is what I like to think of as the context layer.  Here is where you’ll see a lot of the primary coloring, and the theme.  Autumn, spring, mossy, aquatic, the background layer is where trees will really come in handy.  Save the Evergreen Shrubs and Sedge Clumps for the front, and drop trees in the back, with maybe the occasional shrub as a filler to simulate low growth in woodland settings.  Enlarging trees and sinking them so only the crowns stick out is a great way to cover ground and save items.

Referencing the photo at the top again, you can see that even in the relative sameness of the setting of pine woods, there are lots of variation in colors and textures, and no two pine trees are exactly the same.  Changing size and rotation of trees can break up the sameness of the items, mixing tree foliage for the background can break up textures and lead the eye to believe that more is present than there actually is.

Even if you don’t use your own foundation, many themes do call for a background, to frame the focal point, and the forefront.

The forefront, where all the small plants and flowers are.
The forefront, where all the small plants and flowers are.

The forefront is where you’ll put most of the small stuff that would get lost among the trees and big bushes of the background.  Blending the forefront to the background is as easy as throwing a couple of cheap flowers like bluebells into the mix of the background, to transition and add cohesion.  The forefront is a great way to frame your cottage or ruin or whatever it is that’s the main theme of your dimension, with the background to add context and the foundation (if used) to anchor it all down.

No visitors can really see this stream that's the source of this small waterfall.
No visitors can really see this stream that’s the source of this small waterfall.

Let’s talk a moment about water effects and realism.  I like water effects, I won’t lie.  I’m not convinced there’s such a thing as too many, as a matter of fact.  However, the more I’ve used them, the more picky I’ve become, at least as far as my own builds go.  Waterfalls ought to have a source (or at least the illusion of one) instead of just magically appearing.  A small pond is also not going to hold a massive funnel of water coming down, so I’ve been learning to size things appropriately as well.

When a big waterfall just isn't right, staggered Awning Drip Lines might get the job done better!
When a big waterfall just isn’t right, staggered Awning Drip Lines might get the job done better!

I’ve really become a fan of the Awning Drip Line, for a couple of reasons, the first being I really like the way the lines of water catch and reflect light, particularly natural sunlight in dimensions like Faen’s Retreat and Castle Fortune.  Secondly, when an actual waterfall would be overpowering, the Awning Drip Lines are perfect.  More, the drip lines don’t involve as much manipulation (and often, cursing) as a Waterfall Curtain to get them in position for most builds.

The illusion of a source is present, and multiple Waterfall Curtains are used, angled and rotated to add to the appearance of realism.
The illusion of a source is present, and multiple Waterfall Curtains are used, angled and rotated to add to the appearance of realism.

Just like when making 3D art for your dimension, perspective helps.  Shrinking things in the back to make them appear further away than they are, using illusion to imply things that aren’t there, and, as always, covering over areas that won’t cooperate with a large bush, are great ways to build your landscape and still have items left over for the main theme.

Little treats for diehard explorers make looking around fun.
Little treats for diehard explorers make looking around fun.

I hope there were some insights here about ways to build a natural landscape that can satisfy an urge for realism without also breaking the bank.  Saplings, Ponderous Gloamwoods, and Bent Aqualeafs, depending on your themes, can be your friends indeed when it comes to background layers and even the forefront.  Water effects that can be crafted scale well and are much more budget friendly than trophy items.  As for rocks…well, the Ashoran Mountainsides are some of the best bang for your buck when it comes to saving items, a factor which might offset their high cost, and terrain paints do work on them, so they may be an option as well.

One last shot of the Awning Drip Line in action.
One last shot of the Awning Drip Line in action.

Happy Building!

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