Log inBy CategoryBy Instructor

Efficient Techniques for Building 3D Environments

Tips For Nuke, Clarisse, Houdini, SpeedTree, Maya & More With James A.J. Miller


Learn a variety of efficient industry-proven techniques for creating a range of 3D environment styles in this 3-hour workshop by James A.J. Miller, Environment Artist at DreamWorks Animation.

The workshop begins with a demonstration of a large 3D city environment in a desert setting. This type of scene offers a great opportunity for James to cover the importance of Triplanar materials, take a look at Houdini's Terrain tools, look at modeling to shot requirements, as well as scattering in Clarisse. This then sets things up perfectly to lead into AOVs in Nuke, where James dives into an explanation about what they are, and how artists can use them to their advantage. He demonstrates how to install Gizmos as well as his best practices for when to use AOVs in Nuke before returning back to a shot and finishing off a composite.

The proceeding section takes a break from shot work to introduce the topic of photogrammetry in 3D environment building, and how to use it effectively. This demonstration walks through an environment scan using Agisoft Metashape.

Up next, James opens up SpeedTree to walk through his “Mothertree” shot, which makes use of the new SpeedTree for Clarisse plug-in. He additionally animates atmosphere using Houdini, which can be taken back into the scene in Clarisse for added impact and realism. 

Moving on, the workshop details some of James’s top tips, tricks, and shortcuts that he uses regularly in production to speed up the modeling and texturing, particularly for city environments, with the end goal being to build a scene that utilizes all of the assets with textures applied in Clarisse. This project is then used as a launching point for James’s final shot: “The Squatter Village.” 

This workshop offers a great opportunity to learn how to create AOVs and even write your own, using Light Path Expressions. The closing chapter looks at how to deal with heavy renders, as well as how to use different projection techniques to help avoid rendering more than you need to in 3D. 

Project files are included with this workshop.

Duration: 3h 06m

Format: HD 1920x1080

James A.J. Miller

Environment Artist, Dreamworks Animation

James Miller has been working in digital media since 2002 and has been building environments for franchises such as Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Fast and Furious, and How to Train Your Dragon since 2012. During this time, he has worked for ILM, DreamWorks, and Double Negative as a Generalist, and he continues to thrive off of finding new and exciting techniques to add to the proverbial bag of tricks.  

His environments vary wildly from photoreal to fantasy — yet are always iconic, ranging from dark and sinister to surreal. He has a passion for teaching and finds sharing his tricks and techniques with others almost as exciting as discovering them in the first place. You can also find first-hand techniques from some of the shots he's created for Hollywood productions on
 his YouTube channel, and find him on ArtStation.

  • James is an artist of the highest grade and a consummate teacher. He is always pushing the edge of what's possible in 3D artistry with today's tools. Having worked on some of the biggest blockbusters in the film industry, James has a wide range of knowledge that he brings to his classes. His biggest asset when it comes to teaching is his patience; the willingness to walk someone through the process at their own pace.

    - Chris Grun
    Head of Environments at DreamWorks Animation