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Creating Trees in Maya / Paint Effects

Forest Techniques, part Three with Alex Alvarez

Paint Effects Library Analysis


In this title, Alex demonstrates how to use the Paint Effects engine in Maya to create realistic trees. We begin by looking at the default PFX library, which has been converted to polygons for a Mental Ray workflow in an interactive instancer driven scene. Alex then thoroughly demonstrates how to customize a tree, using a library preset as a start point. All relevant paint effects attributes as discussed so that it becomes clear how to create trees that match the desired look for branching, leaves and behavior. Creating custom textures in Photoshop and setting up miaMaterials is then explored using Physical Sun/Sky and photographic camera exposure. Tree animation with wind turbulence, including how to create a randomized library from a user-defined preset, is generated in preparation for incorporating trees into a high-poly park scene. Techniques for populating the park with trees, as well as plants, grass and ground leaves, are discussed in a dynamic and flexible workflow via surface emission, instancing and particle expressions. Alex renders the animated scene, including his ZDepth workflow, compositing the final result in After Effects using the Lenscare, Magic Bullet and Sapphire plug-ins. He also shares his techniques for using volume primitives to create volumetric fog effects, rendered as a separate pass, creating a final 4k comp of the park scene. In conclusion, a variety of tips for creating custom trees are shared in order to make the default library a more useful start point for professional projects including broadleaf, palm, pine, willow and bamboo.

Duration: 434 minutes

Format: HD 1280x720

Alex Alvarez

Founder / Director The Gnomon Workshop and Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Alex Alvarez is the founder and president of Gnomon, which includes the acclaimed Gnomon School in Hollywood, California, as well as The Gnomon Workshop, which provides professional online training for artists. He has been described by Fast Company Magazine as a visionary who has helped change the face of computer graphics education, having dedicated the past twenty years to educating students and professional artists around the world. Alex has been published in industry magazines, websites, and books and has lectured at many international conferences. While his career these days is focused on education, he has worked as a creature development artist on such projects as James Cameron’s Avatar, JJ Abram’s Star Trek, Super 8, Ridley Scott's Prometheus. He is an alumni of the University of Pennsylvania and the Art Center College of Design. 

  • " Whenever I need to breathe life into my characters, Alex Alvarez is where I go. Whether it be to collaborate on concepts with him directly or to watch his tutorials, I am always confident in accessibility to great information. Not only has his technical prowess pulled me out of many holes, but his character sense has given rise to some wonderful moments on some major motion pictures (Avatar and Star Trek). These new tutorials encapsulate what I gush about. Crazy and creative character design coupled with empowering technical know how. "

    - Neville Page
    Character / Concept Designer