Stop by Booth #831 at GDC to Get a First Look at SpeedTree® for Games v6.3

GDC 2013If you’re going to be in San Francisco next week, be sure visit to the IDV team in Booth #831 at GDC 2013 (March 27-29, Moscone Convention Center), where we’ll be debuting our new version of SpeedTree for Games.

Our just-released version 6.3 includes some important new features for game developers, including:

  • New Platform Support: Support of Sony Computer Entertainment’s recently-announced PlayStation®4 console and other new platforms
  • Tools-Only License Option: Availability of additional pricing configurations, including a tools-only licensing option for customers who don’t require the SpeedTree SDK
  • “Simplify” Feature: A new feature that quickly and easily creates low polygon models from high definition, cinema-quality models
  • “Mesh Wizard”: A new tool that aids the process of importing custom meshes for use as leaves, obstacles and more
  • Improved Exporters & Import Scripts:  Enhanced workflow of SpeedTree models into other software applications
  • Additional Enhancements:  Automatic computation of ambient occlusion upon “save”, double-click zoom and more

If you’re ready to take a look at the new version and have licensed v6.x, or are currently evaluating v6, v6.3 has already been added to your account.  Email me if you’re not sure about your license status, if you want to see our beta SDK support for the PS4, or have any other questions.  To schedule a meeting with us during the conference, fill out our contact form (be sure to select the check box about scheduling at meeting at GDC 2013).

“PlayStation” is a registered trademark of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

PlayStation®4 Development Thoughts

Several games under development for the just-revealed PlayStation®4 will feature SpeedTree® for Games, and it was announced today that the game industry’s premier vegetation middleware fully supports the platform.

We’re really excited about the PS4’s system architecture. We welcomed the eight symmetric x86 cores with open arms, as I suspect most developers will. The abundant RAM, memory bandwidth, and modern AMD GPU means we can focus on bringing every SpeedTree feature over immediately instead of figuring out how we’re going to fit it all into an unfamiliar architecture.

There are some really great SpeedTree-powered PS4 titles under development and we can’t wait to tell you more about them. Stay tuned.

Read our official press release here.

SpeedTree® Enhances Architectural Visualization with 200+ Trees

As more architects turn to SpeedTree® Studio/Architect for 3D visualization, we’re sharing examples of their excellent work on our new architectural gallery and recently learned about an arch viz project where SpeedTree was used for creating over 200 precisely modeled trees  . . .

When Rob Meyers, the founder & 3D Experience Designer at Visual Immersion (VI), needed a perfect tree solution to showcase an annex expansion of the famous Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, he turned to SpeedTree Studio. Originally designed by the world renowned architect Louis Kahn and expanded by the acclaimed international architect Renzo Piano, the museum includes substantial landscaping intended to enhance the approach of visitors to the center. This architectural visualization of the museum recently created by the VI Media team can be seen in the video below.

“The focus of the Kimbell Piano Pavilion expansion project media was not just on the new building, but rather the context of this building with respect to the existing site conditions. It was important that our visualization show accurately-sized and trimmed trees to allow for realistic lines of sight,” Meyers reported. “More than any product we’ve seen, SpeedTree offers the best tools for pruning and trimming trees to specific dimensions.”

For the annex expansion, existing trees on the museum property needed to be extracted and relocated. Using photographs of these trees, the VI media team was able to repurpose tree models in the SpeedTree Model Store and match characteristics of the existing trees using SpeedTree Modeler.

“SpeedTree’s GUI is consistent with 3ds Max® in many ways, which made our learning curve extremely short and allowed us to export into the familiar FBX format,” Meyers said. “SpeedTree Studio provided a seamless workflow and allowed us to visually communicate critical components of the intended museum design, to both the architects and end-client very effectively—promoting an engaging experience”.

Take a moment to find out more about the benefits of SpeedTree for Architectural Rendering and Visualization.

SpeedTree® Enhances Oscar® Winning and Nominated Film Productions

Updated February 26, 2013

With the 2012 Oscars® now in the history books, it’s a good time to point out how SpeedTree® has played a part in several major productions recently recognized for excellence in visual effects. Check out the winning and nominated films/studios that have used SpeedTree to help create lifelike animated trees and vegetation on the big screen:

2012 Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects

Life of Pi (Fox 2000 Pictures presents a Haishang Films/Gil Netter Production)

Three Churches scene from "The Life of Pi"SpeedTree’s “speed” contributed efficiencies in the enhancing of natural vistas . . .

“Before SpeedTree, I was hand modeling all of my trees, which took an insanely long time.  Nothing can get you up and running, from pre-vis to the final shot, as fast as SpeedTree.”

Luke McDonald, Digital Effects Supervisor, Crazy Horse Effects

2012 Oscar nominee for Best Visual Effects

Snow White and the Huntsman (Produced by Roth Films & Universal Pictures)

Castle from "Snow White and the Huntsman"SpeedTree proved to be versatile and agile in the production of this film . . .

“SpeedTree enabled the team to address client feedback very swiftly in the period of final tweaks and changes.  SpeedTree fully delivered for us at ‘crunch time’.”

Rafael Morant, Digital Environments Supervisor, BlueBolt


VES (Visual Effects Society) 2013 nominee for Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program 

The Men Who Built America (Produced by Stephen David Entertainment)

Johnstown flood scene from "The Men Who Built America"SpeedTree was used to help depict the Johnstown flood presented in this History Channel series . . .

“SpeedTree became an integral part of our toolset . . . It saves our matte painters a lot of the hassle of extracting trees and plants from footage, and is indispensable for full 3D shots.”

Eran Dinur, VFX supervisor, Brainstorm Digital

In the coming months, you’ll be hearing more about SpeedTree’s role in visual effects for other major feature films. Suited for both large and modest production budgets, SpeedTree Studio/Cinema have become an increasingly popular choice for VFX studios around the world.

SpeedTree® Focus of New Online Course at fxphd

We’re pleased to share that fxphd, an online training school for post-production visual effects, and motion graphics, is now offering a course on several SpeedTree v6 animation products taught by the award-winning VFX supervisor at Brainstorm Digital, Eran Dinur.  fxphd logoThe course, PNT205: 3D Plants and Digital Environments, will guide participants working with SpeedTree and VFX software in basic concepts of animated tree and plant design as well as advanced procedural techniques.  Students will establish a solid modeling and 3D animation software foundation, and then focus on using Maya, Vue and Nuke together with SpeedTree.

Professor Dinur, recipient of an Emmy award, two VES awards and a recent VES nomination (for his work – with SpeedTree and other tools – on The History Channel’s The Men Who Built America), is an experienced SpeedTree user and brings a wealth of knowledge to the fxphd course.  “SpeedTree is a tremendously useful tool.  It saves matte painters a lot of the hassle of extracting trees and plants from footage, and is indispensable for full 3D shots,” Dinur said.

fxphd is a full professional training center, available online 24/7.  Each course in fxphd is run by a practicing VFX or editing professional.  Courses are made up of 10 weeks of classes of QuickTime movies.  fxphd co-founder John Montgomery said, “fxphd isn’t just about watching high level training movies in a vacuum. It’s also about interacting with your professor and other members.”  The professors of fxphd are each hand-picked for their expert knowledge in the field.  Upon finishing courses, students are given a certificate of completion, which can be given to prospective employers.

Tips for Modeling a High Detail Tree

We know it can sometimes be difficult to model really high detail trees. There are many factors to consider, and it is more than just creating an impressive high triangle count model.

In order to stay within bounds of having a reasonably modeled tree, I have come to learn and heavily depend on a few tools and tricks in SpeedTree®.

Focus on a specific area by isolating it:

In order to keep the fast interactive editing capability when adjusting those small details, it is helpful to isolate the desired area. For example, what if I wanted to edit the placement of the leaves but didn’t want to deal with the full compute time? Or what if I was just having a hard time focusing on one aspect with all the details surrounding it? By just going into the Generation editor of the Generators and changing the “Frequency” and “Step” values to 1, I am then able to isolate the one branch on the tree which enables me to focus solely on the leaves without any delays OR distractions.

High detail tree model High detail tree model






Low triangle counts on leaves:

I also find it easy to get lost in modeling. You know those times, when you’re so caught up in the moment, that by some strange force your eyes finally look to the triangle count and what you see there shocks you. One way to cut back on this count is to be aware and careful of the triangle count on the leaves. This is where they can start piling up! Also, the reduction of the leaf triangle count can allow you to increase the complexity of your branches.

Another helpful tool with meshes is the “Generate Mesh” option that is found in the Material window. This tool creates a mesh based off of your alpha channel and also allows you to add some depth to them as well. Not only does it allow you to create a mesh, but with the “Corner” attribute, also changes the number of triangles in your pre-existing mesh. You can test how the mesh can look with lesser “Corners” and easily replace them. This is a process that can be repeated until the desired outcome is achieved.

Generate Mesh tool Generate Mesh tool window






Model for the shot:

Also, something I keep telling myself is to model for the shot! What’s the point in adding lots of details to areas that won’t be seen? With that in mind, I am able to place my higher detailed meshes in the important areas and then use LODs to switch to a smaller triangle count mesh.

Some other helpful tips are:

  • Lower accuracy and segment counts as you add levels. You can always node edit some back in for close ups.
  • Hiding generators stops drawing them, but also stops computing them!
  • Use “Interactive Degradation” to make editing smoother. (Stopwatch icon in Toolbar menu – “Interactive Degradation”)
  • Set min and max placement distances to 0.0 and angle to 0.5 on leaf generators to make leaves stick to their parent.

SpeedTree®: Not Just for Windows

It’s been well over a year since we released SpeedTree® Cinema and Studio for all three desktop platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux). However, we still occasionally run into people with the misconception that SpeedTree is just for Windows. This is no longer the case!

Game development is largely conducted on Windows, so admittedly this is where SpeedTree was focused for almost a decade. When we decided to make the SpeedTree tools available to a larger market, we knew we would need to start supporting a Mac OS X version for the artists that live there. We also came to learn that many visual effects studios tend to work primarily in Linux, and we definitely wanted to get them interested in SpeedTree. So, when we released SpeedTree Cinema and Studio in 2011, we went fully cross platform.

We wanted to maintain a consistent GUI across all platforms, which actually required rewriting large portions of the SpeedTree Modeler. We decided pretty early on to switch the application framework to Qt (, as it is becoming a standard for cross-platform applications. We also let our artists loose by designing the new dark theme for the Modeler. The process of porting was not without bumps in the road, but I think we’ve been pretty successful in providing a consistent user experience across all the platforms, as you can see below.

Click each screen image below to see what SpeedTree Modeler’s user interface looks like in Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

SpeedTree for Windows
Windows interface
SpeedTree for Mac OS X
Mac OS X interface
SpeedTree for Linux
Linux interface

cmiVFX SpeedTree® Tutorial: Creating Digital Forest Assets Volume 1

cmiVFX, which makes and markets detailed tutorials for visual effects artists around the world, has developed a 2-hour, 50-minute SpeedTree® tutorial for creating digital trees and forests.

“The days of using turtle equations for the sole purpose of creating branches and leaves are all but a memory when you have access to IDV’s SpeedTree Modeler,” cmiVFX notes at the tutorial web page. “cmiVFX has been the leader in 3D forest calculations for a decade using mathematical equations for growing trees. However, the times have changed . . . thanks to IDV’s SpeedTree Modeler.”

The video, created and narrated by cmiVFX founder Chris Maynard, comprises 14 chapters and covers everything from initial tree creation to working with other apps and assets in conjunction with SpeedTree, as well as the fine points of making exotic and alien trees.

Talking about the tutorial a few days ago, Mr. Maynard asserted that SpeedTree has driven a major shift in the industry’s approach to virtual vegetation. “SpeedTree has emerged as a crucial tool in the VFX pipeline for studios large and small,” he noted, “so we see a thorough instructional video as something the industry really needs.”

You can view the four-minute tutorial introduction online here. The complete tutorial is available under various terms to cmiVFX’s subscribers, or may be bought as a standalone product for $29.95.

The tutorial is entirely the creation and property of cmiVFX, and any questions about the product should be directed to cmiVFX at [email protected].

SpeedTree tutorial on cmiVFX

SpeedTree® For Games Pipeline Introduction Video

The SpeedTree® real-time/games pipeline involves three major components:

  • SpeedTree Modeler: This is where video game animation artists create and edit vegetation models, in real-time or cinematic resolutions. In the Games version, LODs and wind are tuned in using an animated WYSIWYG window that mirrors the run-time SDK’s behavior.
  • SpeedTree Compiler: Takes the models saved in the Modeler as input for creating a great deal of platform-optimized output: compressed texture atlases, 360-degree normal-mapped billboard atlases, compiled shaders, and compressed 3D models. Various LOD and shader effects controls are also presented for forward and deferred rendering engines.
  • SpeedTree SDK: Portable C++ code that reads the Compiler’s output and handles all run-time chores. The SDK is divided into multiple libraries, each handling increasingly more of the forest loading, culling, LOD, wind, and rendering workload.

Over the years, we’ve increasingly designed the pipeline for flexibility. Some developers prefer to jump off of the pipeline immediately after using the Modeler, or perhaps just use part or all of the Compiler’s output, bypassing the SDK altogether. Nothing prevents this from being done. We’ve even designed APIs for writing custom exporters from both the Modeler and Compiler.

The video below demonstrates a couple of tree models being shepherded through the entire pipeline.

Care to evaluate the pipeline yourself? Contact us and we’ll get you up and running with the entire tool set.

Here Be Dragons . . . Make More Than Just Trees with SpeedTree®

Despite the name Speed “Tree” you may be surprised to see the creative ways that artists are using our toolkit do more than just make trees.  In fact, SpeedTree can be used in conjunction with other 3D tools to model and render all kinds of crazy stuff, from Kudzu animal sculptures to headless haunted creatures – even dragons!  To show you what I mean, below are just a few examples of some cool, non-tree stuff you can find on our Model Store (click an image to see a larger view) . . .

Shrubs & Flowers:

Burford Holly
Burford Holly
Red Rose Bush
Red Rose Bush






Vines & Ivy:

Shed Vine
Shed Vine
Fence Vine
Fence Vine















Tube Sponge
Tube Sponge
Purple Sea Urchin
Purple Sea Urchin















Headless Horseman
Headless Horseman