How to Quickly Build Up an Environment

In this tutorial, we're going to be taking a look at how to quickly build up an environment in Lumion. This is a repeatable workflow that can be applied to a range of projects; from expansive vistas, all the way down to small residential gardens.

3D Render of Desert Environment. Render by The Lumion Collective

I’ve been using these techniques extensively in my last few projects, no more so than in my current project Crimson.


Although you may not often be creating large-scale environments for your scenes, the same principles can be applied to any architectural scene that benefits from realistic gardens and landscapes.


So why would you need to build an environment in your scene?

I like to think of architectural visualization as the missing link that translates a technical design into something easily understandable to our audiences.


Now if Architectural visualization is used to make technical design relatable, then environment visualization is what anchors those designs into a reality that we can easily understand.


In essence, it provides a level of context that visualization of a building alone can’t achieve.


Title image: "The Basics"

Lumion has a variety of tools available for quickly establishing an environment, many of which you may already be actively using in your scenes. Since this tutorial is going to assume that you have a basic understanding of these tools, I thought it would be good to quickly cover these before we move on.


Lumion Terrain: When creating a scene, using the Lumion terrain will quickly allow you to sample a variety of looks. We’re able to paint up to 4 base materials on the terrain, and can select one of these to act as our grass base that will be utilized by Lumion grass system. To build on this, we can also use the terrain Grass menu to quickly add debris such as rocks, sticks, and weeds that are randomly scattered throughout the terrain. For many cases, this can be a perfect base to build on.


Paint placement: The Paint placement tool is a relatively new addition to Lumion. It’s perfect for quickly and strategically placing assets, as we simply click and drag to paint objects onto our base. This has its limitations, as currently, small-scale painting is not well optimized. In summary, it’s perfect for medium to large-scale environments, but less applicable on a small scale.


Mass Placement: Although not as free-form as the paint placement, the mass placement offers a happy medium to randomized scattering as it allows us to dedicate a specific zone in which assets will be scattered, as well as settings to control their rotation, scale, and spacing. In combination with Paint placement, these two tools will serve most of our needs when scattering assets throughout our environment.


A little preface; Throughout this tutorial, I’m going to emphasize ‘layering’ our environment. I want to mention that in saying this I’m not referring to the object layers in Lumion, although I would recommend starting a new object layer that our environment will be placed on so that it can be toggled off when not in use.


Title Image: "The Projects"

For this tutorial, I’m going to be using two examples. The first will be discussing how I went about creating this environment for my latest project – Crimson.


Image of Lumion scene showing Desert Environment. Render by The Lumion Collective

It’s a pretty unique natural-looking landscape with a few ‘man-made’ elements. For this scene, I’m using a bunch of 3rd party assets from Megascans in combination with many of the Lumion nature assets.


Image of Lumion Garden. Image by The Lumion Collective

In the second part, however, I’m going to be applying the same techniques to the Villa Cabrerra example scene that’s available free in Lumion to create this garden, so feel free to try it out for yourself. In the interest of keeping this tutorial at a reasonable length, part 2 will have it's own dedicated article.


When building an environment, I approach the process in 4 layers.


1. Terrain: This includes the terrain and ground texture

2. Biomes: Detailed groups of objects that allow us to apply real-world logic to our scene.

3. Hero Elements: Highly detailed elements that are made to capture attention.

4. Scatter: The finishing touches that add depth to our environment.


Each of these layers allows us to leverage the tools available in Lumion to create an environment that’s both believable and unique.


With that being said, let’s take a look at the process.


Layer 1: Terrain


Before starting the environment, I had to determine whether the Lumion terrain editor will provide enough detail for this type of scene. Since this environment was going to be the focal point of this render, I decided to opt for a custom mesh for my terrain.


There’s two reasons for this.


The first, is that it provides me with more control of how the mesh behaves and interacts with the building which wasn’t possible with the current Lumion terrain tool set.


The second, is that the Lumion terrain material only allows for the input of Normal and Diffuse images which, although perfect for large areas of terrain, did not offer the quality that I needed in this scene.


Sketchup Model of Building and Terrain Mesh
Sketchup model of building and terrain mesh.

To make this mesh I simply created a plane inside Sketchup, and applied a material ID that will act as my ground material in Lumion. I didn’t need much detail in this mesh, as most of the height was going to be created with our asset placement.


Once I had this scene asset in Lumion I was able to apply my ground texture that would act as the base for my scene.


Image Demonstration of terrain base texture. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Base terrain texture.

In this case, I used a texture I found on Megascans for the final image, however, I also really loved the “Polii_GroundGravel_002_2k” in my tests, so I decided to use this for the footpath area shown above. Be sure to take a look at the material library first when building an environment as there are some great options available natively inside Lumion.


The most important thing to be aware of here is that the ground material needs to be appropriate for the type of environment you’re creating. In this case, a desert rock-type ground was perfect.

Tip: When texturing either a custom mesh or the Lumion terrain, try to limit the texture resolution to under 2k, as extensive use of high-resolution textures here will slow down your scene.

Layer 2: Biomes


This is the fun part! Biomes allow us to build a series of object groups that we can then place throughout our scenes.


I call these ‘Biomes’ as they are essentially miniature environments that group foliage together in a way that applies some real-world logic to their placement.


Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a botanist for this. We’re simply making use of our greatest resource – references.


Image showing PureRef Mood board of desert environment references. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Desert reference Mood Board.

Creating a mood board will allow us to quickly identify how foliage grows in the real world and since we are only creating a small area, we can essentially work straight from the reference.


This takes the guesswork out of the process and allows us to create convincing environments efficiently.


Using the references, I can start building my Biomes.


These typically only consist of a handful of assets that are placed, scaled, and rotated to add some randomization.

Image of Lumion rock and grass objects. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Large rock with grass elements added.

I start with bigger elements such as boulders and rock faces, then add in some smaller grassy plants that would grow around the base and spaces between the rocks.

Image of Lumion nature objects grouped. Image by The Lumion Collective.
First 'biome' created!

I can finish this off by adding some rocks and small debris around the boulders such as leaves and sticks. The result is a neat little environment piece that is based on a real-world reference. Once this has been created we can select all of the objects and group them so that they will now behave as a single object.


Image of Lumion Desert Progress. Image by The Lumion Collective
Rotating, Scaling, and Moving groups to add variation.

I can then duplicate these and place them in different areas, making sure to rotate and scale them to add some variation.


It’s amazing how many times a single group of objects can be re-used and still seem unique.


If you do happen to encounter some repetition, simply edit the group and adjust a few elements. This will help break up any patterns you may have accidentally created.

Tip: Make use of the randomize rotation function in the object properties to quickly make adjustments within a group.
Image of Lumion objects. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Different Biome groups to be used.

This process can then be repeated as many times as you like. For this environment, I created four more Biomes to populate the majority of the scene, making sure to rotate and scale each element to add variety to the different heights that occur in similar real-world environments.

Image of Lumion desert progress. Image by The Lumion Collecitve.
After lots of Scaling, Rotating, and Placement I have my final layout.

After filling out the majority of the scene, I was able to start adding some 'hero elements'.


TIP: Using keyboard shortcuts during the layout of environments is a huge time saver. My most commonly used are: M: Move, H: Vertical Move, L: Scale, R: Rotate.

Layer 3: Hero Elements


This layer consists of ‘hero’ elements that may appear in the foreground or will be used to guide the viewer's eye to a specific area. I typically add these in after I’ve set up my render view, as this gives a good indication of where I should be placing them to best suit my scene.

Image of Lumion desert scene progress. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Hero elements added. Deergrass and Gum trees give a pop of color!

In this scene, the Gum tree and Deergrass assets are being used to add pops of green among the burnt-orange landscape. This serves two functions, the first is to provide some color contrast with the majority of the scene, and the second is to guide the viewer's attention to the structure.

Image showing Comparison between reference image and Lumion scene. Image by The Lumion Collective..
Comparison showing elements gathered from reference image.

This is another case where references help to guide these creative decisions whilst still maintaining some real-word accuracy.


By following different references we can see how these same ideas of color contrast and visual guides are present naturally in most environments.


The 'Deergrass_001' and 'GhostGum_001' models in Lumion’s fine detail nature library are great examples of this, plus I’ve also included a 3rd party grass model which can be found here.

TIP: For hero elements, it’s important to use high-resolution assets as they will be capturing the viewer's attention. The Fine Detail library is perfect for this.

Layer 4: Scatter Assets


This process is essentially the opposite of the hero elements.


Where they seek to capture attention and stand out, scatter assets are made to sink into the background. In general, effective placement of scatter assets will draw attention away from ‘empty’ areas and ensure that the viewer’s eye won't be drawn away from the subject.


Since this is a relatively small area, I’m going to stick with the mass placement tool for the majority of my scatter assets. This will allow me to segment the areas that I want these assets to appear and give far greater control to their placement.


I want the majority of these assets to be placed throughout the background surfaces that appear behind the larger assets. As well as this, I also want some randomly placed assets throughout some of the foreground areas.

Image showing small debris models in Lumion.
The scatter assets that will be used.

For this environment, I’m going to make use of a combination of Lumion and 3rd party models to scatter throughout the background areas.


An important thing to remember here is that since these assets are going to be in high volume and at quite a small scale, the model resolution is not important. By using low-poly models and low resolution textures we can scatter these assets without it being too costly to to scene performance.

Image showing Lumion Mass Placement Tool. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Quickly populating the area with the Mass Placement tool.

I'd recommend starting a new layer for scatter assets as these can quickly fill up your screen space with objects, and being able to toggle these off is a huge time saver.


Using the mass placement tool, I’m going to select the assets that will be scattered throughout my scene.


Then I’ll create a path for these, taking care to place this path through the middle of my designated area. From here I can then increase the ‘Randomize offset from line’ slider to widen the area in which the assets will be scattered to my desired width.


From here it’s just a matter of adjusting the quantity, rotation, and spacing to a level I’m happy with.

Image showing Lumion place on landscape tool. Image by The Lumion Collective.
Make use of the 'Place on Landscape' feature to level objects.

Before deselecting the mass placement path, I’m going to ensure that the 'Place on Landscape' feature is selected, which will ensure that the assets conform to the terrain mesh rather than across a plane.


Once this is done, it’s a matter of repeating the process for the other sections.

TIP: If the objects that are being scattered appear too big, use the ‘select all identical objects’ or the box selection to select the scatter assets, followed by the 'randomize size' function. From here you can scale the objects down to the correct size range.

Quality Assurance


The final stage is a quick quality check after you have established the final viewpoints. In this case, the final view exposed a few objects that were floating and/or clipping with other objects.


Once the final view is set, I was able to quickly make adjustments to these sections to remedy the issue.


A helpful tip here is to duplicate the view to a new camera layer without any effects added. You can then enter the “build with effects” mode to make these adjustments using the same focal length and position that the final render will have whilst still maintaining good system performance. This makes adjustments much easier as focal length can make a big difference to how objects appear on screen.

Image of Lumion desert scene progress. Image by The Lumion Collective.
The final product after laying out the scene.

This environment took approximately 45 minutes to put together and produced some very interesting results!


Let's take a look at the same scene with some improved lighting and effects to see the final render.

Image of desert scene render in Lumion. Image by The Lumion collective.
After adding some effects and improved lighting for a final render.

In part 2 of this tutorial, we're going to be applying the same process to the Villa Cabrerra example scene to show how versatile this approach to environments can be. Be sure to check that out and follow along if you want to try it yourself!

See you there!

Want to stay up to date for the next article? Consider following @thelumioncollective on Instagram to get behind the scenes of the Crimson project, and check out the latest tutorials!