For my project, I decided to use the Blender tool (http://www.blender.org), as I was more aware of its existance than the other options. For the landmark, I decided that I would do Fort Whoop Up located in the coolies (see here for the official website).
Personally, I was hoping to explore creating meshes using a series of triangles, but in the end, it turned out most of the structures I had to create could use pre-existing shapes in Blender. However, I did get to learn several features I had not anticipated, and run into some ideas that I was aware existed, but were easier to learn and implement than I had anticipated.
The image to the left was the primary image I used for making my scene. I used several other scenes when I needed specific details, and all the photos I used will be listed at the bottom of this page.
While doing some reading on some of the basic controls of Blender via the Documentation located in their wiki, I discovered that there was a way to have a background image on screen while modifying your mesh. I explored this feature and discovered it myself rather than through the documentation, and found ways to only show it on the screen when looking through the camera.
Once I had this background image in place, I worked on setting up the appropriate camera angle. My goal was to have the camera set up so that the front, side, and top views of the viewing pane would line up with the front, side, and top views of my mesh.
I created part of the walls and then began modifying the camera angle so that it matched that of the image I was working on. For the image to the right, I would create certain sections of the wall, using a cube mesh (adding in Object Mode using Shift+A->add cube). I then used the Grip Function (G-Key) to maneuver them into the positions I wanted.
In the image, I modified the walls and then used the Extrude Function (E-Key) to extend the walls from a set of vertices, edges, or faces, which creates the separation between the walls that you can see on the longer wall. I decided against using this for as many of the features as possible, as I noticed that when there were more vertices/edges/faces, not only did rendering take more time, but there would eventually be a noticeable difference in my ability to navigate around the viewing pane.
To erase various objects, I would select what I wanted to delete (edges/faces/vertices) and then press the X-Key to delete them. This usually meant deleting vertices, as I prefered to work with them more than any of the other features, but if I needed to delete simply a face, deleting vertices meant deleting any objects connected to them, and as such, selecting a face and deleting it was a more practical means to remove it.
When I first created the walls as described in the previous step, I noticed something very strange in Blender. Number Pad Key 1 is identified as the Front View, which can be seen in the image to the left (note that my mesh doesn't line up at this time). The reason that this is strange is because the Z-axis is now pointing up and down, which seems counter-intuitive. I used the Y-axis as the up and down axis, which made my modeling a little strange, as when looking from what is consider the Top View, my image is upside down, and you are actually looking from the bottom up.
After I had created a certain amount of walls, I decided to create the texture for the walls. Knowing that images are often used in video games for textures, I had taken several photos which were simply close ups of the walls of the fort. I would then use a repeating image of the photo I had taken to create the look of the boards on the walls.
First, I selected the walls, switched to object mode, and then added a Material. I decided to make the material have a base colour of black, but would later remove this as I had no transparencies in my image. Furthermore, the black was never visible, and only made the mesh turn black, and proved more difficult to work with when viewing.
I also had to ensure that the Texture would appear properly based on the structure of the Mesh it was on. I had to first select a cube mode for the Material, which would ensure that the Material would wrap around the object as though it was a cube. In the Texture modifier, I also had to ensure that the Texture wrapped around the mesh as if it were a cube.
There was a problem that I constantly ran into when placing the textures in their properly location. Depending on which view you first placed the mesh in object mode, the cube Material would be placed on the mesh using X, Y, and Z coordinates based on this. For example, there were times when the image would repeat horizontally across the wall instead of vertically. To fix this, I only had to Rotate (R-Key) the meshes into the proper alignment.
The image to the left is actually the texture that was used for the wall wood. Once I had set the Material and Texture to wrap around the image properly, I then had to ensure it repeated properly. For example, whenever I first placed the Texture on the mesh, in almost all cases, the image would appear extremely large. This was because the image was being placed on the corresponding axis so that the image would appear ONCE across the mesh. I had to experiment with increasing and descreasing the X-axis and Z-axis size property in order to make them appear the appropriate sizes; I only once, on a different object, had to modify the Y-axis size.
I first created the main portion of the barn doors using cube meshes. I positioned them within the doorway to ensure that they would be the appropriate size, and simulated them being "closed". Once I had done this, I then moved the doors to be in an "open" position. The images below show the steps described here:
While working on this, I then decided to look into a feature I had wondered about when I had done some retexturing in a video game. I had noticed that the actual images imprinted on the meshes were structured in a specific way, and decided to investigate how to do this. I had no idea what the name was, but while reading through the documentation, I came across a feature called UV Mapping.
Once the doors were in the appropriate location, I used the same texture as I had used for the walls of the fort for the inside frame of the doors. I then worked on creating the outside frame, using the following steps:
Once I had created this frame, the UV unwrap (U-Key) feature become incredibly helpful. The documentation wasn't entirely clear on how exactly the feature determined how to unwrap the mesh, and I experimented with trying to unwrap in my own custom way. To do this, I needed to switch to Edge Select mode and select the edges I wanted to use as "Seams". I would then, using the left panel, click on "Mark Seam" to identify this edge as a seam. While I do not have any pictures of how this turned out, generally speaking, the unwrapped object was comparable to taking an object and smashing it and hoping it lined up nicely.
In the end, I ended up using the Smart UV Project option for unwrapping, which worked extremely well. I unwrapped the mesh in pieces and moved the unwrapped meshes until they lined up as they appear in the image to the left.
Using the photos I had gathered of the various wood panels on the fort, I then used a free image editing tool called GIMP to line up portions of the wood panels with the UV map image that had been generated. The resulting image is shown to the right.
The boundaries that had been drawn in the UV Map were where the image would be read from. This meant that I had to have my textures within the boundaries in order to have an appropriate image, but if I was not perfectly within the boundaries, the image would simply be cropped off.
As before, I created a new Material, and a new Texture as described previously. The difference was that instead of telling it to place the image on the mesh as though it were a cube in both the Material and Texture panels, I simply stated in the Texture options to use the UV map as the guide for the image. It figured out on its own how to line it up properly; this only works if you have created a UV Map for the mesh. The result is shown to the left; I moved the doors down to ensure that the wood textures were separate on each item.
It was around this point that I discovered something very important; in the previous image, the walls are actually now 2 separate objects, and each barn door is also its own separate object. The reason I had to do this is that the size property for the Textures would always ensure that across any size object, the number of times the image appears would be stretched. As such, the two doors ended up having significantly more boards appearing in the cube portion than the walls behind them. This simply meant creating separate Materials and Textures for each object that needed a texture.
The steps described above basically describe the processes I underwent for creating the entire image. I would occasionally change the background image for references to other objects that appeared in the final render. The main functions I used were Scaling (S-Key), Rotation (R-Key), Duplicating (D-Key), Deleting (X-Key) and removing extra vertices/edges/faces (W-Key; remove doubles). The main reason I used the delete and remove extra functions was to ensure that objects weren't any more complicated than they needed to be.
For the walls and towers, the processes described above were very much repeated. The same goes for any other building structures in the final scene, but while trying to make the small vehicle object inside the fort that is visible from the door, I discovered another tool. While I ended up not using this tool, learning it was quite interesting and could be helpful in the future.
In the image to the left, you are viewing one of the wheels of the small vehicle before I added in the beams to hold it together. For this, I had wanted to have the beams stretch out of the outer-most portion of the wheel frame. I had at first attempted to simply extrude from the edges that existed, but this made the image inconsistent. I found the knife tool while attempting to find a way to add edges; another method was to subdivide a face, but this created extra edges/vertices. Since I didn't want any extra elements, I decided this method would not suffice.
The Knife Cut Tool allowed me to specify where I wnated to add a new edge that looped around an object (it is sometimes referred to as Loop Edge Cut, Loop Cut, and various other forms of "Loop" phrases). However, in the end this also became problematic, as I was unable to create the extensions I wanted in the places I wanted, and the object, as far as I was concerned, didn't quite look right. Eventually, I undid the cuts I had created and create 6 cube meshes that extended through the center portion of the wheel, and to the opposite outer frame. While crude, and not so complex, it ended up creating the image I desired.
The Texture of the wheels (and most of this object) are one of the few that is not an image. For this texture, I simply use a brown colour with a point density Texture; this created small little dots on the texture, while making it completley brown.
While the title above is somewhat humourous, it accurately describes how the flag ended up. One might noticed that the flag in the picture I took is warped by gravity, and the one in my final render is not. This is because, despite knowing exactly how I wanted this to work, I could not get the flag to look proper.
There are several vertices and edges in the flag in case I decide to come back and try again, but I could not get the effect I wanted with the flag. Even if I did get the flag to look close to right ("close" is the best I could do), there were issues with the flag Texture, and the lighting looked wrong.
To put it in perspective; to get the shape right, take a piece of paper, pull one end so that you have a "U" shape, and then pull the right end so that the ends are perpendicular, with the right end showing up slightly below the rest of the flag. This is exactly the shape I wanted to create. However, I could not find functions blender that could duplicate this. I knew exactly what I had to do, but couldn't. Even using the Rotate function did not do this well, and I learned about several other functions that did almost what I wanted, but in every case, they added faces, edges, and vertices to the image.
In the end, I decided a non-twisted flag would suffice. I spent about 4 hours on this without getting the effect I wanted; of the total time I invested in this, that is a significant portion.
I will only briefly go over the grass and sky, as they were the simplest of the meshes to create. For the grass, I simply found a suitable image of grass, and placed it on a flat Plane that extended all across the viewing plane.
The sky mesh is very similar; I created a Sphere that surrounded all objects in the viewing pane. I then used a blue coloured background Material, and then used the "Clouds" texture for the clouds. Both of these will be visible at the bottom of the page when I show the final rendered results.
The lighting was another aspect that bothered me quite a bit. In my camera view, I have a Sun Lamp shining at the mesh, which created a nice effect in the camera view. However, as soon as I moved the camera, if the sun was blocked by anything, including the object I was rotating around, there would be nothing but black. This obviously does not create a very nice scene.
After a lot of searching, through Google Searching I discovered a Tutorial that was very helpful. It described Atmosphere and Lighting that I used to create the final renders that I think came out beautifully. However, while the image was brighter, there was still quite a bit of darkness. I finally through my own searching in Blender discovered Global Lighting, which allowed me to have the entire scene lit up, which is in the end what I chose to do (and eliminated most of the dark spots I did not want).
The final result is shown in the images below; I am very happy with how it turned out, especially the small vehicle, as I had not expected it to look that nice. In the end, creating this image took me about 26 hours; the initial learning curve for myself was about 2 hours total, and most of the actual time was spent on the flag (4 hours), lighting (3 hours), and redoing various parts of the objects as I learned of mistakes I had made or simply redoing them because I wasn't entirely happy (probably around 5 hours).
The photo I worked off of was my own personal photo taken on my phone.
The Grass Texture was obtained from Open Game Art.org
The Flag Texture was obtained from Wikipedia, but the exact image appears to have been replaced.
All other Textures were created from images I obtained personally; permission was given to take images of the fort.