Terrain Generation Collaborative Research Project – Introduction & First update

Welcome to the first update featuring my collaborative research project for my third year of university. The project is made up of a two man team, myself and Toby Gilbert. Our goal to research into new techniques of procedurally generating terrain on the macro and meso levels and maintaining relatively real time rendering of the geometry created. The macro side of generation being the large scale geometry such as mountains, hills and caverns etc.. For this we want to create as physically accurate terrain as possible to enhance realism. The meso being the smaller detail such as trees, boulders and grass, also a very demanding area to draw large volumes of shrubbery while maintaining performance. To increase the progress of our research we have split the two areas of generation between ourselves, Toby being in charge of the meso side of the generation and I shall be looking at the macro.

Initial Research

Terrain generation, a field that has been vastly researched in today’s computer graphics as it can be used in anything from computer games to movies. Therefore having a large amount of research that we can build from. Very basic techniques include simply using height maps, a previously generated texture in which every pixel value represents the height of the surface at the location of the pixel. So height of surface at (x,y) = f(x,y), function f returning the colour value of pixel (x,y) in a texture. This makes for very easy procedural generation by using random noise functions such as Perlin noise to generate the initial texture to be sampled. This method is very quick to implement and complexity can be added by developing more advanced methods to generate your texture. You will find a very detailed exploration of this technique in Realtime Procedural Terrain Generation by Jacob Olsen which uses a combination voronoi diagrams and noise generated by mid-point displacement to create fractal terrain. It also explores simulating erosion techniques such as thermal and hydraulic to improve the physical accuracy of the terrain. The limitations of this method being the terrain will never be able to generate features such as caves or arches in the surface. To achieve this we must look into generating volumetric data which is explored in Arches: a Framework for Modeling Complex Terrains by A. Peytavie ,E. Galin ,J. Grosjean and S. Merillou. In this paper they generate 3-dimensional data set consisting of different materials such a bedrock and sand. They will then simulate how these materials interact with each other and settle under gravity. They finally generate the volumetric data using a technique known as marching cubes. This is an algorithm in which you sample a three dimensional field of voxels and determine what to draw based on how these voxels intersect with the function. For example in the image bellow if one point of our voxel lies inside the shape and the other 7 lie outside then our surface must lie in between and therefore we draw a triangle between these point.

350px-MarchingCubes.svg

Finally we look into the meso side of generation. The challenges of this is that we need a lot of geometry to create a high amount of detail which in turn increases the compute power we will need to render our terrain in real time. Now you can achieve this by instancing geometry which means storing one set of geometry in memory and just drawing it many times. Alternatively in the paper Real-time Realistic Rendering and Lighting of Forests by Eric Bruneton, Fabrice Neyret solves this by rendering these objects as selection of textures different perspectives of an object and blending between them as you move around for a smooth transition between textures. This mean we can draw a large amount of objects very cheaply as textures are extremely optimised on the GPU.

Current Progress

The first step in this project was to implement the generation of the generation of the terrain through marching cubes. To achieve this I have created a modified version of the source code written by Paul Bourke here such that we can generate terrain from height maps. Our first generation program simply uses Perlin noise to generate a height map.

terrainGen

My next step was to make our terrain look a little more natural by rendering the terrain in a slightly more creative manor. For which I have used the technique in A rule-base approach to 3D terrain generation via texture splatting by Jonathan Farraris and Christos Gatzidis. This implementation shades the geometry based on the heights and the normals of its points. For example lower points are mud and grass shaded with brown and green and as the height increases it becomes rocks and snow shaded with grey and white. To further greater this we use the normals to identify sheers cliffs and shade them as rock instead of grass or snow. We can do this by calculating the angle through inverting the y component of the normal and multiplying it by 90. Now we just set a user defined thresh hold of faces above a certain again to shade as cliffs. In our program I have implemented to version of this, one with just block colours and one that uses pre created textures of our different types of terrain.

terrainColouredSmooth terrainWithTextures

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My student experiences and advice to those interested in getting into VFX/Games

Greetings!

Welcome and behold my very first blog post ever! Exciting isn’t it. Well now that you’ve had a moment calm down and those shivers down your spine to settle let me get on to the point of this blog post. I feel that currently in schools and sixth form education there is a lack of information about the VFX/Games industry and how to get into it. I often remember talking to the careers teacher in my college, telling them that I wanted to make games and the responding advice is generally the same. Either “Oh you should probably to IT then” or “I have no idea about that industry”. Both pretty useless pieces of advice. Which I find saddening because its one of the most creative, interesting and fast growing industries around to date. I mean Grand Theft Auto V generated over $800 million in revenue world wide.. On its FIRST DAY! If that’s not worth schools talking about then I don’t know what is. Its time that people loose the stereotype that making games is just a dream because its more within your grasp than you may think. Please remember though these are just my personal opinions so don’t take my word as law!

So before tell you what I think it takes to be achieve in this field let me tell you a little about myself to give you a little more context. My name is Declan Russell (That handsome devil in the picture above 😉 ) I’m currently in my third and final year studying BSc Software Development in Animation, Games and Effects at the NCCA which resides in Bournemouth University. All or at least most of the work I have created here is on my portfolio here so be sure to check that out *shameless self advertising*. In college (sixth form) I studied Maths, Further Maths and Computing A levels, where I originally wanted to be an accountant but after 2 years of having maths for 2/3rds of my week it got a bit stale. I honestly only did the course I’m doing now on a whim! I enjoyed my computing A level and liked playing computer games. I had no real knowledge of the field at all but haven’t regretted the decision since!

Now one of the first questions you may have, at least this is what I always wanted to know was what qualification at sixth form do I need? Overall I would highly recommend doing maths! I know lots of people don’t get on with it but its everywhere in visual effects and you will get really far if you have a good understanding of it. I can’t stress enough how useful maths is! Other than that it really depends on what you are doing. If you want to be some kind of artist, modeller or animator you will need some kind of art qualification and portfolio for most uni courses to consider you. If you’re looking into programming or making games I would consider doing computing. Don’t get this confused with IT! Computing is programming and learning about how a pc works. IT is taking many a screenshot showing that you have achieved the incredibly advanced skill of renaming a file or using word. Computing will give you a basic understanding of how a computer works and even give you some basic coding skills. On a side note though if you’re looking into games I personally feel that you should stay clear from games development courses. As much fun as they sound in sixth form they may give you some basic coding skills but really fall short on the maths side of things and you will struggle later on.

Do I have to be able to program before I go for a VFX degree? No, universities will teach you the coding you need but a bit of experience before and is only ever a bonus!

What application do we use to make VFX? The first applications you are likely to encounter in VFX are applications from the Autodesk suite. The most common and my favourite of which is Maya. This is used for modelling, rigging, animating, rendering and so much more. Maya is a good application to start learning and its free for students! Its got a pretty intuitive interface and there are loads of books on how to use it. A good read to get a lot of the basics is this

What programming languages do you use? The most common programming language you will come across is C++ and as time goes on for graphics you are more likely to learn OpenGL than DirectX now a days, mainly due to its cross compatibility. If you’re want to learn these some good books to read are Beginning C++ Through Game Programming, OpenGL Programming Guide and OpenGL 4.0 Shading Language Cook Book 

Finally, what uni’s should I look at? Bournemouth! (I may be biased but I don’t care everyone should come here!)

Well that concludes today’s blog post as its now gone midnight and brain functionality is plummeting! Hope I have been of some help and feel free to contact me with any further questions you have about this subject 🙂