In this project breakdown, I'll be going into the making of the Longwood project. I'll be discussing the workflow from model preparation in Sketchup, through to texturing, scene setup, and finally post production.
Longwood: A Nature Showcase
The Longwood project was the first project created for The Lumion Collective. Based on the historic Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, Longwood demonstrated the capabilities of Lumion’s nature model library. It combines the intricate grandeur of Longwood's architectural design with a detailed and thoughtful presentation of high-quality landscape design.
From the moment I started collecting reference images for Longwood, my vision of the project began to evolve. I took the time to explore the Lumion plant library in detail and created a list of models that I planned to use in the project. This selection of assets formed the basis of the ensuing landscape design process.
The combination of manicured and naturally growing foliage allowed me to experiment with a variety of Lumion’s tools and settings to get the aesthetic I was after. Below, I’ll be going in-depth on the entire process of Longwood's creation.
To date, Longwood is one of the most complex projects that I’ve worked on, and as such, this breakdown is going to be one of the most detailed. To make navigating things a little easier, I’ve broken the article up into the following sections:
2. Mood board
7. LOD setup
8. Render settings
These sections are roughly in the same ordering as my approach to most projects, so this can also give some insight into my workflow. Enjoy!
The software used for this project included:
Modeling: Sketchup Pro 2019
Texturing: Lumion 10 Pro, Photoshop 2020
Rendering: Lumion 10 Pro
Post-production: Photoshop 2020
2. Mood board
When creating Longwood, I was lucky enough to have a lot of source material to work from. The Longwood Gardens are vast in both popularity and scale and as such, they have been well documented over the years.
I gathered a bunch of images showing key pieces of architecture and design that I wanted to translate into my images. I like to use PureRef for this process, but any method that allows you to quickly build up reference images will work fine.
This process is a lot like kit-bashing, and the final model ended up being a condensed version of the actual gardens, utilizing only the architectural elements that I found most appealing.
After I’d established a good base for the design of the project, I started gathering some compositional references.
I used these images to help guide me in making decisions such as composition, scale, proportion and color in the final renders.
It’s worth mentioning that this process isn’t always this neat. To be honest, I collect references as the project develops and this is something that I tend to overdo. I have a habit of collecting too many images as I go and this leads to me constantly changing my mind.
If I learned one thing from this project, it’s the importance of establishing a clear view of where I want the project to finish so that I can work towards that goal rather than having an open-ended idea and working from there.
Once I’ve established a good collection of reference images, I start to rough out where I’m going to focus the majority of my attention. This is a habit that I’ve built up recently after spending countless hours on parts of a project only to have them not even make the final renders.
To avoid wasting too much effort on unseen portions, I sketch out some of the key views that I’d like. These are super basic sketches that I then use to help block out during the modeling phase.
The composition in this project was fairly straight forward. Since the architecture had a lot of repeatable elements and very distinct lines and edges, the majority of the images used leading lines to establish the composition.
I think this approach is great for large open areas like this as it breaks up the image into distinct sections. This allows me to show a large amount of information in the image without it becoming too overwhelming.
I’m very much a student of composition and have a tonne more to learn on this topic. It’s something that I improve on with each project, but I’ve found that roughing out the images like this helps me find the right shots later down the line. It also helps with establishing my LOD workflow, which is something I’ll discuss shortly.
Using the reference images I’d collected, I began blocking out the scene in Sketchup. For those that aren’t aware, blocking out is simply the process of using basic shapes as ‘place holders’ for future elements. This is a great way to set the scale and proportions of the different elements without spending too much time on the details. For me, blocking out consists entirely of basic cubes, spheres, and 2D lines.
After blocking out the overall shape and size of the building, I began filling in the architectural elements. The structure of Longwood was very repeatable and only used a handful of unique ‘sections’. These sections were created one by one in Sketchup using components.
By using components I was able to spend a lot of time on one section and then duplicate this as much as needed. It’s a great way to create highly detailed repeatable elements that can be easily edited on the fly.
This is a balancing act, however!
An interesting part about Sketchup’s component system is that once a component is created, it’s stored as a reference for each duplicate to refer to. This means that although there may be hundreds of duplicates of the same component, only a very small amount of data is allocated for these. This allows a Sketchup file to be extremely component-heavy without blowing out the size of the SketchUp file.
The problem with this occurs when these components are imported into a 3rd party software such as Lumion. Once the file is imported, every component is converted to individual geometry, meaning that the same file in Lumion will be considerably larger than in Sketchup.
This is something I try to keep in mind when working on projects that rely on components.
The primary components seen in Sketchup were the window bays. These included not only the windows, but also the soffits, columns, and beams that surrounded them. The process involved modeling each element and then grouping them into a component to be duplicated. This allowed for total symmetry along the large hallways that Longwood was built around.
The same process was used for the truss system as well. I’m not a truss designer, so this was simply a mixture of reference images and guesswork to establish something believable enough for the images I was creating.
It may look complicated, but this is actually only made up of a few unique sections that have been duplicated along the roof-line.
Since the gardens themselves would be populated in Lumion, the remainder of the modeling was mainly focused on designating the footpath and garden bed areas so that I had some clear boundaries to work with inside of Lumion.
Once the structure was complete I added some material IDs to each element. If you read the article: Getting creative with the Lumion Leaf Material, I mentioned that I tend to steer away from using image textures during the modeling phase. By using solid colors, I’m able to easily distinguish where different materials have been used, as well as reducing the overall size of the SketchUp file.
This was the case on the Longwood Structure as well, with basic colors being used to segment each area, ready for texturing in Lumion.
Once the model had been imported into Lumion it was now time to start applying each material. For the most part, this was a straight forward process, using the native Lumion texture library for the majority of the materials and applying weathering where appropriate.
Weathering is important in scenes such as this where we’re able to apply real-world logic to how certain areas would show ware and tare. For the most part, weathering was applied to the stone materials which made up the main structure, as well as the footpaths. Special attention was given to the footpath in the form of custom decals.
These decals are essentially custom models that consist of a 2D plane with a PNG grunge texture applied. Over time I’ve built up a library of these objects and have found they’re a great way to add custom ware patterns to a variety of planar surfaces.
The leaves slider was used heavily in the texturing process of Longwood. As well as creating 2 custom plant varieties, I also used the leaf material to apply some growing vine to the walls and columns. To help sell the realism here, I added some of the “Ivy Vine” models to the edges of the ivy to give some physical geometry rather than just having seemingly floating leaves. This takes little effort and can improve realism significantly.
Despite using the Lumion nature library for the majority of the project, there were also two ‘custom’ plants created for the project. These models were used for two reasons;
The first was a hanging vine that was to line the corridors on either side of the greenhouse. Lumion didn’t have this model, so I had no choice but to create it myself.
The second was the trimmed boxwood hedge that lined the adjacent garden. Lumion does have a boxwood model that works well in background scenes (remember the point made regarding a LOD workflow). I knew this model was going to be used in the foreground and so I decided to make my own.
If you would like to learn how to create custom plant models for your projects, check out: How to Get Creative with the Lumion Leaf Material for the full process!
As you can imagine, in a project such as this the setup of foliage takes some extra effort. Having the gardens as the focal point of this entire project, I wanted to make sure that the layout of each area was done in a way that emulates an actual garden. This meant having manicured areas that are kept within their borders, but also have that natural unpredictability that plants tend to have.
I started with the corridor plants as these were the most ‘manicured’ sections of the project. These areas were made up of just two species that are found in the standard Lumion model library – Magic Lilly (Grouped) which comes in various colors, and the Buxus 002 model. The Lilly models allowed for a variety of colors to be placed in bunches and layered at different levels. This not only helped to break up in height but also gave the impression of different stages of growth which helps establish some context.
The Buxus is a model that I use very often and this project was no different. It’s one of the highest quality plant models in the Lumion plant library (excluding the high detail range) and can be used in a variety of ways. These were used to create a very full and compact base that the Lilly models were inserted into, once again giving the impression that the plants had been growing together for a while. The same concept was kept throughout the rest of the garden areas.
The middle area was the most time consuming, as it used a much larger variety of plants. It was separated into 5 sections – 4 ‘quarter’ gardens and a circular center garden. To make this a little more manageable, I populated one corner garden and hen copied this to the remaining corners. These were then individually edited to add some variation.
If I’m being honest, there wasn’t a real-world approach here as far as species were concerned. The regular nature models vary considerably in quality with some being of high detail (such as the Buxus), and many others being suited only for background use.
To get the best results, I steered away from any low detail models and focused mainly on plants that had enough detail to be used in medium to close-up scenes. This of course took a lot of trial and error to determine and I ended up culling a very large portion of the library from this project simply due to them not being detailed enough.
I hope in future versions, we’re able to get some updated models here as I think some of these are starting to become out-dated.
After deciding on the models, these were set out in a relatively random pattern, ensuring to build up in layers with small shrubs for ground cover and larger plants to act as features throughout each section.
The center garden really expands on this as I knew I was going to do a close up in this area. I used the ‘Grecian Windflower’ models as a base layer. These are a great model to establish a ground layer as multiples can be laid on top of each other to build up the thickness until you have the look you desire.
I mixed and matched the colors here to add some variation, as well as randomizing the scale to show differing levels of growth. The larger foliage consisted of various bright-colored models that were mainly there to provide more variation to the background which would be blurred out in the final render.
(Side note – This is where having a clear idea of your scene layout helps, as it means you don’t spend too much time detailing areas that won’t be in focus)
High Detail Foliage
For models in the foreground, this is where the high-detail foliage really shines. In addition to having more accurate geometry, they also come with full textures, including transparency and glossiness maps which give a much more realistic result. If I had to pick a favorite, I think the ‘deergrass 001’ model is it.
A quick tip here is to put high-detail models on their own layer so that you’re able to turn them off when not required as they are taxing on performance.
As you can see, the process of populating the gardens was very repetitive. It relied on creating a small section of the densely packed garden and then copying that to add to the overall size.
The important thing to watch out for is in ensuring they don’t look identical, by using the ‘randomize rotation’ function in the model menu. Similarly, adjusting the hue and saturation slightly will also make a huge difference to the realism, especially with areas that only use 1-2 varieties of plants.
7. LOD Setup
I’ve mentioned a few times now that a 'Level of Detail' (LOD) setup is my preferred approach when it comes to populating scenes. This is essentially the process of using high detail assets in the foreground, and low detail in the background.
The reason this method is so effective is that it can be applied to almost every task in the Lumion project workflow. By identifying key areas of interest, I was able to prioritize certain areas and increase the level of detail. It allows me to focus my efforts on the areas that matter.
This is applied in the technical process (using high-resolution models and textures close to the camera). It’s also applied to the populating process, however, which can help sell the idea that the same high level of detail is applied to the entire project when in reality only small pockets of the scene have been set up in detail.
By applying this idea to a project we can drastically reduce the amount of effort involved in creating a scene, whilst also increasing the quality of the scene since we’re able to give more attention to the areas that matter.
8. Render Settings
Throughout this project, three unique effects stacks were used to get the final images. Each image then used one of these varieties with some minor adjustments to suit the composition and framing of the specific shot.
As a foundation, I started with the ‘Realistic style’. Although every effect in this style was later modified, I find that starting with a style quickly allows you to begin testing the scene out without needing to build an effect stack from the ground up.
Since this is quite a large part of the project, I'll be publishing a separate article that focuses on breaking down the effects of Longwood. I'll update this post with a link when that goes live.
Once the final renders had been produced, I moved on to post-production. My process here is very basic and focuses more on enhancing the output from Lumion rather than introducing any fancy compositing into the image.
I start with some color adjustments that weren’t able to be implemented in Lumion. These are basically some HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Lightness) adjustments as well as some curves adjustment to help dial in the contrast.
I then bring the various render outputs from Lumion into Photoshop and use these to achieve a few more highlights. I’m hoping to explore this process In-depth so I’ll skip the technical explanation for now and just stick to the general process used for this project.
Material ID Output: This is the first step as it allows quick selections to be made, drastically improving the speed in which selective adjustments can be made.
Depth Output: This is my favorite Lumion output to use in post-production. For Longwood, it was used primarily for color-grading. Again, I’ll be going in-depth with this process in a later tutorial.
Specular Output: This was used to enhance some of the specular reflections on all areas that had a leaf material applied. I find this really makes them pop in these scenes.
Finally, a film grain filter is applied to the entire set of images using Nik Color Efex Pro in Photoshop. This can also be done in Lumion by using the Noise effect, however, I’ve found that the size of the grain is still too large even at it’s lowest intensity. Additionally, the noise effect can sometimes have a negative impact on other aspects of post-production if applied earlier in the process.
Longwood was a project that was built on trial and error. After implementing a variety of different techniques to achieve the final look I eventually managed to zone in on a result that I was happy with.
The high saturation and bloom went a long way to helping establish that ‘dreamy’ look and complimented the overall design well.
Below are some of the images that were created.
If you'd like to see the full gallery of Longwood images, be sure to head over to The Lumion Collective Facebook group and join the discussion. I’m always eager to hear from you about these projects and tutorials and love reading your feedback.
Until then, See you next time!