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Creating Volumetric Clouds

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For those that have been following the¬†durian blog, you’ll know that they recently posted a jaw dropping cloud scene.

Keen to make my own, I experimented with different cloud shapes, trying to see what worked and what didn’t. Some of you may have already seen these attempts on my facebook fanpage.

But when I was stuck at Brisbane airport for 3 hours, I thought I might try my hand at…

Speed Modeling a Cloudscape

So armed with a laptop, I setup myself up at a vacant flight check-in desk and got to work. I honestly expected a flight attendant to kick me out, but amazingly no one bothered me. I knew I had less than an hour of battery life on my laptop, so I had to be fast.

Here’s the video:

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is, do you want to make your own? :P

Tutorial

Ready? Let’s begin…

We will be using Blender 2.5 so if you don’t have it already, download it here.

Step 1

Create a new scene.

With the default cube selected, hit Ctrl+4 to add a subsurf modifier. Then go to the modifier stacker and hit ‘Apply‘. This will give us lots of vertices to play with.

Step 2

Press T to bring up the toolbar, and under the shading options hit Smooth.

Step 3

To make the cloud fluffy we will be using a combination of displacement modifiers.

But before we can add any displacement we need to add a new material. For now, we will leave all the settings as they are.

Step 4

Switch to the texture panel and click New to add the first texture.

Step 5

Leave the texture type as Cloud, but set the noise type to Hard and the Size to 1.00

Step 6

Next switch to the modifier stacker and add a Displacement modifier. Enter the name of the texture we just created and set the Strength to 0.40

Step 7

As you can see, the cloud texture we have just created is now effecting the geometry of the sphere.

To make it look smoother, add a Subsurf modifier underneath the displacement modifier. Change the Render count to 1.

Step 8

Add a second texture under the one we have already created.

Step 9

Set the noise size to 0.05 and the depth to 6.

Step 10

Add a second displacement modifier underneath the subsurf modifier we previously created. Set the texture name to the newly created texture and the strength to 0.30

Step 11

Add another subsurf modifier, making sure it’s underneath the last displacement modifier.

Step 12

Switch back to the texture panel and add a third and final texture. Leave the type to clouds  but change the size to 0 and depth to 6.

Step 13

Add another displacement modifier and set the texture field to the name of the texture we just created, and set the strength to 0.10

Step 14

Add a third and final subsurf modifier underneath that displacement modifier.

If you’ve done everything right, your object should now look like this:

Step 15

At the moment our cloud is spherical and looks very unrealistic.

Go into edit mode (TAB) and press O to activate proportional editing mode. We want to give the cloud a flat bottom, so select the vertice at the very bottom of your sphere and press G.

Step 16

Move the vertice upwards along the Z-axis until your sphere looks like a piece of dough that’s fallen flat. You can scale the amount of proportional editing by scrolling your mouse wheel.

Step 17

Use this method to shape the rest of the cloud. There’s no right or wrong shape as every cloud is different do whatever looks right to you. My cloud looks like a meringue :D

Step 18

We will now add the material.

Go to the materials panel, and set the material type to Volume. To give the cloud a thicker appearance, increase the density scale to 1.5. To exaggerate the effect of the bright sun, set the reflection to 1.3. Set the resolution to 100 and the transparency type to Raytrace. I’ve found these to give the best results. Finally set the Step Size to 0.02 so it doesn’t look too noisy.

Step 19

We don’t want any of the textures we created to effect the clouds material so turn all of them off. This will not effect the displacement modifier.

Step 20

With the modeling and materials out of the way, now we just need to light and render it.

Position the camera so it’s facing the side of the cloud. The easiest way to do this is to go into side view (Numpad 1) and hit Ctrl+Alt+0

Step 21

Next change the default lamp to a Sun Lamp and set the energy to 3. You may also wish to give it a slightly yellow color.

Step 22

Although the sun is the main light source, the sky also gives off a faint blue glow, and will make your cloud look a lot more realistic.

For this, add a second sun lamp and point it directly downwards. Set the colour to a light blue and the energy to 2.

Save your work. Render now and you should get a result similar to this:

Which is great except the sky is grey.

Go to the World panel. Check the Blend Sky box and set the horizon color to a very light blue and the Zenith Color to a light blue.

Render now and you’re finished!

As always I’m keen to see whatever creations you guys come up with, so if you make something, upload the render to pasteall.org/pic and post it in the comments!

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