The leaf material in Lumion is a dynamic way to create your own custom plants. The best part? It's extremely simple.
Part of the appeal in Lumion Is undoubtedly the amount of 3D assets available right out of the box. Personally, I rely heavily on the plant and tree assets available inside Lumion for almost every scene I create. There are times, however, where I’ve needed a specific type of model that isn’t available in the library.
When working on the Longwood scene, I came across some situations where the standard Lumion plants couldn’t give me the detail that I was after in the scene. After some experimentation, I was able to create my own versions of these assets that were much more convincing for close up shots. The best part, it’s extremely simple and is versatile enough to use in a bunch of situations.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Modelling
Modelling the plants is the most time-consuming part of the process. Before starting, I recommend finding some references that can be used to understand the shape and size of the plant that you’re trying to re-create. For my purpose, I wanted to re-create the ‘trimmed boxwood’ plant that was already available as a low-poly model in Lumion. This made things easy as I already had a rough size and shape to work from. I'll be using Sketchup for this demonstration, but the same methods apply to most 3D software.
Start by modelling the shape of the ‘canopy’ (this will be the area with leaves). Doing this first will ensure that the trunk and branches are not out of proportion with the canopy area. Since this was a manicured plant, I simply modelled a sphere and scaled it to the size I was after.
Once this is done, I modelled the branch and trunk structure. Again, I was able to use the Lumion model as a reference here. I modelled the main trunk and a few branches by using some very basic deformed cylinders and directing them towards the canopy sphere.
After positioning everything where it needed to be, I was ready to add some material ID’s. I applied a leaf material to the canopy, and a trunk and branch material to their respective surfaces. Notice that no image textures were used in this process. By using only basic colors it allows each element to be easily distinguishable, as well as also reducing the file size of the Sketchup model. Once this was done, the model is ready to be saved and imported into Lumion.
Step 2: Texturing
Once in Lumion, import the model. It’s now time to apply the final materials, and this is where the Lumion texturing system shines.
Apply a leaf material of choice to the canopy. Which material you choose doesn’t really matter as the leaf type can be altered inside each material anyway. For this plant, I used “LEAVES4” as my base. Take a look at your reference image for some ideas on what style of leaf would best suit your plant species. From here it’s simply a matter of adjusting the scale and spread of the leaves to a point you’re happy with.
If you’re unfamiliar with how the leaf material settings work, here are the basics:
Spread: Controls how much ‘coverage’ the leaf material has over the surface
Leaves Size: Controls the scale of the leaves
Leaves Type: Cycles through the leaf presets
Spread Pattern Offset: Controls the variation of how dense leaves are on the surface
These settings allow us to adjust how manicured the canopy will look. A lower spread value will cause the leaf material to 'cling' to the shape of the mesh, where as a larger spread will cause randomized thickness to occur along the mesh. It’s great to have this control as it means our base mesh can be relatively simple without sacrificing the variation and detail that’s vital with nature models.
The Leaf material is a dynamic material. This means that moving its position throughout the scene will alter it's spread pattern and shape. This is perfect for randomizing the look of each model.
From here it’s time to texture the branch and trunk. For a quick fix on simple models such as this, applying one of the 'Woodland' materials in Lumion is the easiest option. These are decent quality for close up use and can have their positioning altered to suit the general direction of the trunk.
If you want your model to be a little more detailed, using a custom texture and mapping it during the modelling phase will provide the best results. This will ensure that the texture image is adjusted to suit the shape and direction of all branches.
Keep in mind that since tree bark tends to have quite a bit of randomization in the real world, there’s some leniency in how accurate this needs to be.
In many cases (especially if the model isn’t being used in extreme close up shots) texture mapping isn’t required.
Step 3: Save and Re-use!
After applying the materials, we now have a custom plant that takes advantage of the leaf materials inside of Lumion. Once the model and materials have been applied in Lumion, the model should now appear in your Lumion import library for future use with all materials applied. The entire process of creating this plant took around 5 minutes!
When using the leaf material, I’d recommend reducing the scale right away. Out of the box, these leaves are often too big and I’ve seen many scenes using leaves that are unrealistically large.
The ‘Spread’ and ‘Spread offset’ settings in the leaf material interact with each other. By adjusting them both together you’ll have more control of the way the leaves behave. This can be very useful when determining how manicured you’d like your leaves to look.
Using the leaf material extensively will have an impact on performance. I’d recommend placing your custom plant models on their own layer so that you’re able to toggle these off when necessary.
There we have it! The models themselves were extremely simple, with the leaf material inside of Lumion doing all of the heavy lifting.
Now, is this going to take the place of dedicated tree and plant models? Probably not. It is, however, a perfect way to expand on the Lumion asset library with very little effort. If you’re wondering why the leaf material works so well in these cases, it’s because the leaf material has a higher fidelity texture than many of the foliage models in Lumion. It contains specular and glossiness information that result in a much more convincing material, as well as having actual geometry that can be spread with control across a mesh.
It’s an effective method for creating models such as this which don’t need a lot of detail in the frame and can have the greenery take most of the attention.
Check out these examples of how you can use this method to create some interesting topiary gardens in your scenes.
Have you used this method before? If so, what kind of results were you able to get?
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