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Monday, October 15, 2007

Terragen 2

There are lots of great freeware and open source software programs out there jsut waiting to be downloaded but in my opinion there are just a handful of excellent professional programs. Blender 3d is one of them, Audacity, Psycle and IrfanView are others but one of the the most accomplished is a program called Terragen.
Terragen is used for the creation of photo-realistic landscapes and aerial flyovers. It's been around for a number of years and many updates have been added to make it more feature rich and stable. The image above was made by me (Shane Sheils) a long while back while testing out Terragen 1.
But for a while now the developers have been working on Terragen 2.

Terragen 2 is a massive leap forward in terms of functionality and capability-wise. The interface is better organised (although newcomers will be pulling their hair out in frustration trying to figure out what the hell is happening!) and features a node system (which users of high-end 3D applictions and Blender 3D's node editor will be familiar with), animation intergration and most importantly "planet creation". The last point is the most intriguing thing about Terragen 2. In the original Terragen you often came across horrible glithes if you moved your camera viewpoint a certain level abouve the landscape - the ground seemed to just end and fade off to nothingness. Terragen 2 has overcome this by allowing procedural planet textures: put simply you can create an entire planet surface, zoom out as far or zoom in as close as you need and it will render perfectly. Well thats the aim at least.

I've been trying out a version of Terragen 2 and am still trying to get to grips with the new functions, layout and options. Camera Viewpoint takes a little getting used to (Terragen 1 used an overhead pointer-like camera positioner, Terragen 2 uses a "through the lens" viewpoint to focus). Main annoyance (as with the first Terragen) is the render times. They can take absolutely ages to render. It renders what looks like a black adn white "starfield" before getting on to rendering the actual image, piece by piece. This is a non-commercial version of Terragen 2 so render size is limited to a maximum of 800X600 or something like that. (at least they have a pause button now, so you can pause the render if you need to rather than abandoning it midway through).

What use is Terragen 2? Well if you can put up with the loooong render times you can create photo-realistic natural scenes, background mattes, and it even now has Lightwave/Wavefront object integration , so you can add trees, buildings, spaceships, whatever to your scenes (again, rendering with these would take a very long time). A while ago we had an idea for afilm set in the far distant future. i was waiting for Terragen 2 to be released because I based alot of the story around the idea of using it to create plaents and landscapes, etc. I was hoping Terragen 2 would be a fater renderer than Terragen 1. It's not. it's way slower, but combined with Blender 3d, I think we can make something pretty amazing looking featuring these two excellent programs. Stay tuned!

Download Terragen 2 fromthe Planetside website.

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