Creating Volumetric Clouds

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


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 and post it in the comments!

Tags: , ,

About Andrew Price

User of Blender for 9+ years. I've written tutorials for 3d World Magazine and spoken at three Blender conferences. My goal is to help artists get employed in the industry by making training accessible and easy to understand. I'm an Aussie and I live in South Korea ;)
  • jesus gonzalez

    I found that it would render a lot faster by turning off Textures, Shadows, Subsurface scattering, and Environment Map in the Shading section in rendering settings. You’re welcome (:

  • Ryan Plyler

    Hi there Mr. Price!

    I have been a blender user for about 5 years on and off, and have really loved and appreciated your High-quality tutorials. I tell others about you, and do everything i can to promote the amazing creative platform, Blender, and your expertise as a talented instructor and artist.

    Here is my result that i would like to share with you all:

    There is something terribly wrong with the sky, in that the sun seems to drag on down the image. That might have something to do with the fact that i am using 2 skies. And the flare is overkill (and in the middle :S), but i wanted to get all the clouds in :)

  • fergus

    I didn’t actually follow the tutorial but just picked up some tips from the speed modeling cloud video to make my own scene(the Simpsons)

  • Jasper Danielson

    @Corniger If anybody’s getting any grey/black specks in their render, I figured out that that’s because the mesh is overlapping with itself. This can be solved by applying a Remesh modifier with ‘Remove Disconnected Pieces’ selected. (I recommend Smooth mode, and a large octree depth).

    • lauren

      Thanks. I also got the same problem but your solution works.

  • LAG3R

    After tweaking a few things here and there, this is what I got:

  • 黄中柏

    I Need a video tutorial for this :D

  • Jay

    Agreed with Nick, how to make volumetric clouds using blender cycles?

    • fergus

      Can’t yet as there’s no volumetrics in cycles yet. Sorry.

  • Nusrat Zaman

    Download the finished .blend

  • Allan Batista

    How make it in cycles?

    • fergus

      unfortunatly you can’t yet, as there isn’t volumetrics in cycles yet. they are planned for 2.69 and 2.70. Yay!

  • dreadgyboy

    you could do this better whith smoke simulator

    • fergus

      smoke sim would be harder to set up and control, especially if the clouds are in animations.

  • Andrew Rubia

    ..nice one…amazing…

  • Supercritical

    Great tutorial, but perhaps it would be better to do the cloud-shaping before applying the modifiers? Because, with the modifiers running during the cloud-shaping, Blender gets real laggy.

    • fergus

      just click the eye icon above the modifier to stop blender processing what its doing. its how I modeled my dragon project I started.

  • Yusuf Zaheed

    Here is the cloud picture I made. Great tutorial. Darken the volume’s materials to make grey or black clouds or smog.

  • Sebastian

    Hey, Andrew :)

    Thanks for the tutorial :)

    Could You make a tutorial about Nebula ? :)

    Best wishes!

  • Corniger

    Very cool! We still don’t have a verified solutionfor the problems with the black/white/grey patches, anyone came up with one? Applying the scale PARTLY did the job though.

    • fergus

      mesh intersects with itself. in sculpt mode, just use smooth & smooth out those intersecting areas.

  • david rodriguez

    I love aphex twin

  • BIG J

    Thanks a lot for the tutorial.I had some little problems with the render result but that is becouse the computer I used for the render……R.I.P :P

    • fergus

      in the blender blog, it has advice on bying a pc for blender. thats looks pretty informative.

  • Nick

    this is great, but how would you get it to work using cycles?

    • fergus

      unfortunatly you can’t yet, as there isn’t volumetrics in cycles yet. they are planned for 2.69 and 2.70. Yay!

  • vikas

    Got few grey spots and some black and white patches. Could anybody help please.

    Great tut Andrew. Thnx….!!!!

  • devin

    thank you this was so helpful a thousand thanks :)

  • Manuel Bujes

    Very useful this tutorial, it help me to make clouds very easily!!

    a lot of thanks!!!!!!!!!!

  • gunawan zx

    really realistic

  • Otso Jylhä
    • Nick Jonas

      wow thats amazing!! how did u do the cloud movement so real?

      • fergus

        I think they animated the cloud texture in the displacement modifier while making it move to get the effect. I’ve done it on non smoke sim explosions.

        • fergus

          oh, wait, he used the cloud generater. well dont i look stupid.

  • Liam Thomas

    Hi Andrew,
    Im fellow aussie but I live and study in Finland. Media Engineering. I have been going through some of your tutorials, and have a question about this cloud one. There are artifacts in the clouds after the rendering. Is there an easy way to get rid of them?

  • Rambo6

    Simple, easy, clear tutorial to follow with awesome results !
    Thanks for sharing !

  • Mitch Schenk

    There is a cloud generator add-on

    • fergus

      I would prefer this method, because any little tweaking can instantly be achieved in edit mode.

  • Caelan Drake
  • Jeremy Deighan

    Check mine out:

    I found that I had those artifacts too. Most of them were from bad intersections or when vertices hid behind faces.

    Jeremy Deighan

  • Pingback: Volumetric Clouds « Jeremy Deighan

  • Nick

    That is great (Speed Modeling a Cloudscape). I was wondering if you could share the .blend file? Please. :D

  • MaxF

    Why do you dont use the cloud generator?
    I think you know it. If not, you can find it in the Ad on list.

  • JaydenB

    Everyone having issues, it is because your deform modifier is making the mesh weird up, and vertices are intercepting, giving you that weird effect. Try turning the strength down on the displace modifier.

    • Yusuf Zaheed

      Your advice was very helpful. The grey and white patches have disappeared. Thank you.

  • Chip

    Diggin’ the Aphex Twin background music!

  • Codelyokofanatic

    Everything went well.No spots,just a little lighting issue.

    What do you think?

    Tutorial’s brilliant!

  • Jamie

    “Blender has stopped working” at 00:59. I thought that only happens to me. Ha Ha!

    Great tutorial. Thanks!

  • Geoff

    If There Are two faces in the same spot at the same time when you render, you will get the crazy looking artifacts on the shape, that goes for every thing, not just clouds.

  • Tuomas

    If you get those white patches when rendering it’s probably because of too sharp shapes. Here’s image about that:

    Try to smooth your cloud or turn it so those sharp things aren’t in sight when you render.

    Great tutorial Andrew! Greetings from Finland.

  • Hawks Studio

    Ok so I learned a lot of things doing this tut.
    1. Scaling the cloud DOES make a difference!
    so apply scale (ctrl+A) before rendering and the black spots may go away.
    2. Just mess with it, if you don’t know what something does on this material try it. you can always change it back.
    3. Density makes a HUGE difference in how the cloud looks so try changing that around.

    I really didn’t follow this tutorial very well but my results look good so I am happy =D

    Thank you Andrew

  • That guy

    Okay, I ran into the same problem as alot of you. Those patches that appear when you render occur because the mesh overlaps itself; the overlapping is caused by the displacement modifier.

    The way I fixed the problem was I went into edit mode and smoothed the mesh until the overlaps went away. I rendered and now it looks fine.

  • Onaibaf

    Thanks I am new of blender the results are very good.

  • Martin M

    I have the same prolbem with black/grey patches and I know that it comes from the “second” scaling when you are shaping the rest of the cloud. I don’t know how to solve it. I’ve tried different shapes but everytime there are some glitches.


    (I appologize for my english)

  • Max O

    I had the same issue, I posted above, but mine had holes in it instead of white patches. Odd.


  • Josh

    I had the same white patches when rendering as did Ziggy. I tried changing render setting, and even took out the last subsurf and displace modifiers (thinking my computer just wasn’t up to the task). But neither worked!

    • Ryan Plyler

      Hi Josh, and others with the right patchy problem ;)
      I had the same thing. It is caused by the overlapping faces in the cloud mesh, caused by a displacement modifier.
      Heres a way you can fix it.

      1. On your cloud, create a vertex group.
      2. On your first displacement modifier (the first, large one) select the vertex group in the menu for vertex groups.
      3. Go into weight paint mode and make the whole cloud red.
      Either paint it, or go into edit mode, select all vertices, and assign full weights in the vertex tab.
      4. Render your image to see where you white spots are showing up.
      5. With those spots in mind, dab the brush on the mesh in weight paint mode and the see mesh change until there are no overlapping faces.
      6. Once there are no overlapping faces, re-render, and you’ve got it.

      There’s probably another way, this just selectively applies the large displacer. And it worked for me.

      Heres my finished piece:

    • fedeberg

      3 years later!
      On the first displacement set the midlevel value to 0, your cloud will grow. If you don’t want it to grow so much you can reduce the value gradually from 0.5 until you see those patches dissapear

  • Ziggy

    I followed every step of the tutorial, and the cloud itself look good but uhm.. i dont know how to explain it, you better see for yourself :P

  • Maria

    I looked at this tutorial and played with it a bit when it was first posted. I thought it was really well done and had some nice results. I am now playing with trees and grasses, basic nature scenery, and came back to this for some ideas I have for a Japanese garden. I think the noisy subsurf object will make easy and excellent shrubbery with a little help from cgtextures and lighting.

  • The Hammer

    That worked really well. There was one problem that i had, however. When I was flattening the cloud, I had to do it just by scaling it down on the z axix, cause the G thing didn’t work.

  • http://Website(optional) Patch Kara

    Are you know mr Donovan?

  • Max O

    This is a great tutorial and it works very well! I have one question though – when I try and render it, there are weird glitchy-looking holes all over it, especially on the right side, as you can see here:
    Do you know of any way to fix this?

    -Max, age 13

  • JMatopos

    Awesome tute.

    One suggestion though – omitting the last subsurf modifier (after the third texture) keeps the render time down while looking as good, as far as I can see.

    Actually, I think one of the benefits of your method is that it scales easily to greater or lesser detail – eg. I want a few clouds in the background of the scene I’m making, so I can just apply 1 subsurf and 2 displacement textures – it looks good, and renders quickly. :)

  • Hawk Studio

    THANK YOU ANDREW!!!!!! I am doing a title animation for being on TV and I have clouds but couldn’t get the materials looking nice. Thank you! I am 13 and still building and honing my Blender skills which 2.5 has made a lot easier.