Creating a Detailed Master Plan Rendering in 3dsmax and Photoshop

November 19, 2009 in 3D, AutoDesk 3DSMax, Featured by admin

Creating A Detailed Master Plan Rendering – Part 1
(Autodesk 3dsmax 2010 – Adobe Photoshop CS4)

In this tutorial set we will cover the massive undertaking of creating a large site plan from sketches over about 5 sessions. I will be using Autodesk 3dsmax 2010 and Adobe Photoshsop CS4 in this tutorial, although many of the involved steps in the process can be transferred to other software.

This specific rendering was created for EcoCentrix, a Landscape Architecture Firm based out of Los Angeles. They have been kind enough to let me show all collateral information that I have been provided when contracted.

The focus of this rendering is based mainly off the site hardscape, planting and how it flows rather than the architecture of the buildings.

*NOTE* The final image shown below will be changing slightly as this is currently a live project.


Author: Ryan W. Knope

Ryan W. Knope is a freelance 3D Artist / Consultant with 13 years experience in the 3D and 2D industry. His main expertise lies with interior and exterior rendering. Ryan is also the architectural / interior voice for 3D Artist Magazine’s Question and Answer Panel. He lives with his wife in sunny Denver, Colorado.

Tutorial Details

  • Programs: Autodesk 3dsmax 2010 • Adobe Photoshop CS4
  • Difficulty For Session 1: Beginner to Intermediate (Prior Knowledge of Software is a plus)

Supplied Data

  • Sketches and Client Provided Information: .ZIP

Step 1: Studying Your Supplied Data

Many times a firm has not jumped to the digital age just yet and in the process it makes it a bit more involved to create the site plan. The main plan sketch that we are supplied can be seen below.

You can also download the entire pack of supplied data in the section above. In the pack there are 6 sketches (Including detailed areas), 5 watercolor paintings, the main plan and 2 grade clarification images. Looking at each supplied file and figuring out how they all go together is crucial before starting production. Often the hardest part is fully understanding how the site flows.

Step 2: Finding A Strategic Starting Point

Before I open any production software I tend to find the most strategic starting point. For me this means starting at an area that goes from the lowest grade to the highest grade. In this case it is the upper left corner where the massive set of stairs starts. Starting at this area makes it easier because you can see the entire grade height, which means piecing in the other grades around the site will be a bit easier. In this case I needed to get clarification on risers (Stair Steps), Retainer Walls (Walls Containing The Plants), along with the ramp of the general grading.


Step 3: Opening Up 3dsmax And Placing Your Background

Open up 3dsmax, maximize the top viewport (Click in Top View and press ALT + W) and in the top menu’s go to Views > Viewport Background > Viewport Background. Select "3D BG dark.jpg" for your background (Supplied in the Pack Above) and check "Match Bitmap" and "Lock Zoom/Pan". This puts your reference in the viewport and keeps it sized as you zoom and pan around 3D space. (I often invert the reference image in Photoshop because as you draw splines in 3dsmax they are white and it is much easier to see.)

Step 4 – Build Your Reference / Sizing Step

Zoom into the area shown in "STEP 2" and begin by going to "splines" in the "create tab" and select "line". Trace the line shown in figure 4-1 and add a" Edit Poly" modifier. The Edit Poly modifier takes it from a line to polygons. Now select the "Polygon" Selection Type as shown below and extrude it slightly with the button also shown below. Now your object has depth. Please keep in mind how this process is done, as much of the 3D part of this process is done via this method.

Step 5 – Setting Up A Working Scale

So far we have not been working to Scale. I tend to like to draw one object and bring it to scale so that I can create plane of almost proper sizing. (In 3dsmax absolute perfection in scale is a bit of a problem. It is not meant for super tolerance and precision like applications such as Autocad, Catia, Rhino 3D and so on.)

This object needs to be 14′ 8" from top to bottom in the top view. In your top viewport create a box that is 14’8" and then scale up (Hotkey is "R" to access the scaling tool) the working object to that size. Delete the box. Create a plane (In The Create Panel) and scale it to fit your background reference bounds as close as possible.

Press "M" to go to the Material Editor and select a material and add The "3D BG dark.jpg" as your diffuse color. Then click "Show Material In Viewport" and apply the material to the plane (You have to select it first). Now your material / image map should be applied to your plane.

Find the area on your plane that coincides with your original step object and scale up the plane to match the sizing as close as possible.

In the image below you can see how the image map is applied and the plane with the image map is scaled to match the original object. Now you can work in very close to scale. This makes the entire project easier in the long run as your client will 99% of the time specify heights, widths and depths. Now you can translate that into your application without having to worry about deciphering the equivalent by eye. Okay, now we can start getting to the meat and potatoes of the tutorial.

Step 6 – Building The Steps

Now that we have proper sizing you can create the rest of the steps / landings in this area with the same method that was used in step 4. Keep in mind that the step depth is about 18" and the height is about 6".

I usually create one step for each section / set of stairs and instance (Shift + Move Tool, in the dialogue box check Instance) them up to the desired location. Instance is a tool that allows you to create a copy of a object that modifies the rest of the instanced objects at the same time. Since there are several sets of stairs and landings you will have to repeat the creation and instance. Now you should have something similar to the image below. Certain parts of the hardscape here will be covered with grass and shrubs. This area will be quite small when viewed at the desired camera angle, so perfection is not a must.

* Note: You have to be careful with instancing, as sometimes you forget a object is an instance and not a copy… then you have to re-edit the rest of the objects by accident. With this in mind, instancing can be a saving grace or a nightmare.

Step 7 – Grass Near The Steps

Trace the grass areas in the sketch, creating splines (Lines). Add a Edit Poly modifier to each spline. For those using 3dsmax 2010 you can now use the "Quadrify" Modifier to add a quick set of segments. For those using 3dsmax 2009 and earlier you can "cut" segments around the edges of each grass object or use "Slice Plane". Both of these tools are under "Edit Poly" while working with "polygon selection type".

Now you need to rotate your grass objects to match the slopes as close as possible. Then, got into edit poly and use "vertex selection" and the move / rotate tools to blend the edges of the grass into the steps nicely.

Step 8 – Adding In The Stone Walls

For the height and thickness of the walls use the reference provided in step 2. Most of the walls can be created using simple boxes and specifying the dimensions. The bottoms of all the walls should line up at the 0′ grade.

Draw a spline for the "L" shaped wall. Check, Enable In Renderer, Enable In Viewport, type in your desired thickness, change the side count to 4 and make sure to set the angle to 45 degrees. If you don’t set the angle then the profile of the object will look like a diamond rather than a box.

At this point you should have a scene that looks like the image below, minus the textures / materials. Now onto creating the materials.

Step 9 – Creating The Materials and Switching To Mental Ray

Press "F10". That will open up the Render Settings Dialogue. First thing we have to do is switch the renderer to Mental Ray. Click the small box and switch the production renderer from "Scanline" to "Mental Ray".

To start placing the basic materials press "M". That will open up the Material Editor. Select a material slot by clicking on one of the spheres. Click where it says "Standard" and select "Arch & Design(mi)" from the dialogue box that pops up. Click OK. Now you have switched from a standard material to a more advanced material that is designed for the Mental Ray Renderer.

In the material editor locate the diffuse slot and click it. Pick "Bitmap" from the list and select a grass image map. Select your grass objects (CTRL + Click to select multiple objects) and click the 2 square buttons noted in step 5. This will apply the material to your objects and show the maps in the viewport.

Most likely the textures did not show up properly in the viewport because they lack UVW Mapping.

Step 10 – Setting Up Your Grass UVW Mapping

Select one of your grass objects. Click on the "Modify" Tab, hit the arrow to show the modifier drop down list and pick UVW Map. Make sure that you have planar selected and hit the "Fit" button. This makes sure that the uvw map is placed to the bounds of your object. The check boxes for X,Y,Z refers to what axis the map is being applied on… test these different settings to see what it does.

Now one grass object should be textured and UVW Mapped.

Repeat steps 9 and 10 for your other grass objects and your walls. When applying UVW Mapping for the walls you need to select "Box" as the mapping type and adjust your length, width and height.

Step 11 – Let There Be Light!

Let’s place a "Daylight System". This will simulate the sun and sky, time of day and more. Go to Create > Systems > Daylight. Click and drag to create your compass and sun. Click the "Modify" tab with the sun selected and change the Sunlight value to mr Sun. Pick mr Sky for Skylight, then hit Setup (You will get a dialogue box that asks you if you want Logarithmic Exposure Control, click yes, we will fix this in the next step).

This brings you to setting up the time of day and location. I tend to pick times between 9 and 11 am for aerial shots, because they produce shadows of low distance. You can play around with this and pick any time you prefer.

Step 12 – MR Photographic Exposure Control

At the top menu go to Rendering > Exposure Control. Change the Logarithmic Exposure Control setting to mr Photographic Exposure Control. next change the preset to "Physically Based Outdoor, Daylight." This will set up the exposure to work in conjunction with the mr Sun and Sky for a outdoor daytime scene.

Step 13 – Gamma – LUT Settings

This step is optional. I have my gamma settings in 3dsmax set to 2.2 for every job I do. You can decide to work with or without it. I added this section simply so our renders would be of similar darkness / density.

At the top menu go to Customize >Preferences. Select the Gamma and LUT Tab. Enable Gamma/LUT Correction. Set the Gamma to 2.2. This should also be the setting for "Bitmap Files, in and out.

Step 14 – Updating Render Settings

Press F10 to open up the render settings dialogue. Under the "Common Tab", pick your preferred render size. Area to render should be set to view and the time output set to single because you are not rendering an animation.

Click the "Renderer Tab" and set your minimum samples to 4 and maximum to 16. This setting makes the render less pixelated and more detail oriented. This also jumps up render time considerably from 1/4 and 4, but in my eyes it is worth it.

Under the "Indirect Illumination Tab" look and make sure "Enable Final Gather" is checked.

Step 15 – Pick Your View And Press Render

Now it’s time to pick your view and test render. Below you can see my test render. Hopefully you have something close to my result. This ends the first installment of this Master Plan Tutorial. You can direct questions to .

In The Next Installment

The next installment of this tutorial set will be coming shortly. Here is what you have to look forward to:

• Setting up the 0′ grade hardscape (Walkways) and grass.
• Pond and Canopy Areas.
• Building Place Holders.
• Site Border Walls.
• Setting Up The Main View.
• Discussing area’s that can be lower LOD (Level Of Detail).
• Setting Up Detailed Materials.

View the Next Tutorials:

Making This Tutorial Possible, John Feldman

John Feldman has been nice enough to allow me to use not only the wip rendering, but the collateral information that he provided to me as I was contracted for this job. His write up and company profile is below.

Ecocentrix was founded on the fundamental premise that – the quality of the experience and function of landscapes is achieved by understanding inherently "what is" and "what is wanting", and that quality of life is a reflection of the quality of the landscape.

The firm’s work is rooted in investigations of residential estate and resort style living. Our clients are characterized by their culturally rich backgrounds and sophisticated design tastes, ranging from traditional to contemporary, and whose personal lifestyles and histories include a diverse range of travel and worldly explorations.

We artfully interact with nature by thoughtfully manipulating natural and constructed form, recognizing that the art of landscape is in the interaction of human and non-human nature.
Our body of work exemplifies great stylistic range and restraint produced with consistently high quality. Our projects are immediately mood altering, celebrating the sensual and tactile temperament that is the fabric of landscape.

Our design creates the ground for celebrating the cycles of all life, and is the foundation of regional identities enveloping cultural distinctions. It reinforces what is powerful and enhances what is weak. Ecocentrix endeavors to “Enrich Life Through Design”.