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

SpeedTree® Helps Make Film History in the Philippines

Add this to the long list of historic SpeedTree firsts: SpeedTree Cinema was there for the first movie shot entirely on green screen in the Philippines.

Watch the video about the making of "Tik Tik: The Aswang Chronicle"Tik Tik, The Aswang Chronicles, released on October 17, 2012, simply wouldn’t have been possible without our special effects software, according to Dave Yu, CEO of Philippines movie production firm Mothership Inc. “We could not have done our movie without SpeedTree Cinema,” said Mr. Yu. “We tried several alternatives and also hand modeling trees and vegetation. Those solutions were too difficult, slow and hard to art direct. SpeedTree Modeler is very easy to learn and our team was able to tweak the tree library to the look that we needed.”

Tik Tik, The Aswang Chronicles includes romance and terror as the hero fights with hideous, werewolf-like creatures (also computer-generated) while he strives to protect his lover and their unborn child. The movie was shot entirely in a soundstage in front of green screens, with SpeedTrees, sky and other background elements added by Mothership in post-production.

Mr. Yu offered special praise for several important SpeedTree features. “The hand drawing feature in SpeedTree Cinema is just amazing!” he said. “The interface is very artist-friendly. We were able to draw and sculpt trees based on drawings from the art department, and level of detail was easily adjusted for high resolution foreground and low resolution background trees.”

Mr. Yu added that SpeedTree’s wind function provided an essential air of realism to movie environments, and the software helped streamline the production pipeline. “We can preview shaded, textured and animated trees in real-time,” he said. “This helped speed up the process of approvals.”

We Answer Your Emails

A few years ago, an artist at an animation firm in California was working on a major project and called my cell phone after hours to talk about SpeedTree®. I asked why he was interested in our software and his response surprised me: “You answer the phone,” he said.

Help button on keyboardDoesn’t everyone answer the phone? I wondered.

Apparently not. The artist explained that they’d been using another virtual tree product for years and had been trying for more than a week to get help from the developer, to no avail.

It’s a strange irony, in this day of automated call handling, online FAQs, chat, email and forums, that any customer or prospect would go more than a few hours without getting the help they need, especially when they’re ready to make a purchase. But it seems to be a pretty common problem in our industry. Recently, someone posted this to a competitor’s forum: “I’m trying to send you money right now but don’t know how – please call me!” Did he ever get an answer? Hard to say, but if a customer has to post to your forum to get your attention, that’s probably not a good sign.

We’re not perfect at SpeedTree, but in more than 10 years of selling our 3D tree/vegetation technology, we have always striven to reply within 24 hours (and usually, much sooner) to any inquiry, whether it’s our biggest customer with a new order, someone with a complicated technical question, or a high school student asking for academic pricing. And through the years, as we’ve talked to customers at trade shows and industry events, we’ve gotten the sense our support has been appreciated.

So why do we do it – are we just trying to be nice? Well, sure. But it’s also good for business. That artist I mentioned in the first paragraph? Turns out he was working on a little film called Avatar. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Modeling “Sky-Sensitive” Leaves and Phototropism with SpeedTree®

As a lead into this new feature I’d like to present a common interaction I have with people at SIGGRAPH every year . . .

Random Attendee: “So what is this, an L-system?” (referring to formal Lindenmayer systems)

Me: “No, SpeedTree is much closer to an art tool than it is a biology simulator.”

That’s when I launch into my spiel about how that makes it easier to model . . . the tool feels more like running a typical modeling app, etc.  I certainly believe that and the conversation quickly turns to how they might use SpeedTree® and we move on.  In fact, when challenged to simulate a particular biological phenomenon it’s typically pretty easy to do.  For example, phototropism can be modeled with direction and magnet forces.  Another example is this forum user attempting to recreate various forms of Phyllotaxis, which can be read here.

That being said, we’ve been dinged (rightfully so) for leaf orientations that are difficult to get right.  I’ve always kind of pushed it aside with the thought that you can achieve any orientations you want if you just fiddle with the numbers and curves enough.  While that is true, it’s just too time-consuming for a lot of users.  At SIGGRAPH this year we had a long-time customer stop by our booth and we got to chatting about this very subject.  Between that conversation, reading some criticism of our software regarding this issue online, and just looking at some trees, we decided to do something about it.

We added a new orientation style to leaf meshes called “Sky sensitive”.  The existing algorithm is still an option, but this now provides three sliders that make leaf orientation a little easier.  These sliders allow you to orient leaves, based on the structure of the model (parent and angle sensitivity) and the natural tendency for leaves to face the light (sky sensitivity).

Sky Sensitive Setting

These options make it much easier to get natural leaf placements like those shown in the image above.  Leaf orientation on this model is governed entirely by the options in the “Meshes” group, pictured above in the GUI section.  The “Up”, “Out”, and “Right” rotations are each given a 20% variance to prevent the look from being to “computed”.

This is a new feature in 6.2.3 and is available as a free upgrade for all 6.x users.  Enjoy!

SpeedTree® in 3ds Max® and V-Ray®

One of the main challenges of developing a standalone modeling app is making sure it fits in with as many modeling and rendering pipelines as it can. This is no small feat — it isn’t enough to simply export an OBJ or FBX file and say you’re done. Getting the materials correct for your particular renderer requires a significant effort. What’s more, that effort is typically repeated each time you import a model.

We’ve addressed this in SpeedTree by writing out native formats when we can (like C4D files for Cinema 4D users or 3DM files for Rhino users) and creating import scripts when we can’t. It was via import scripts that we prepared SpeedTree models for rendering with Mental Ray. And now those scripts support V-Ray as well.

That may seem like a small thing on first glance but here’s what you get automatically when you import our FBX files with our import scripts for V-Ray:

  • V-Ray materials on all geometry
  • Diffuse and detail maps assigned and mapped correctly (including detail map clamping)
  • Composite materials created to implement branch intersection blending in both the color and bump channels
  • SpeedTree-computed ambient occlusion
  • Maps assigned (and modified where necessary) to match SpeedTree’s specular reflections
  • Maps assigned (and modified where necessary) to match SpeedTree’s light scattering technique using V-Ray’s translucency
  • Scalars to conveniently control the amount of bump, specular, and translucency on each object

All of that has been there for Mental Ray users in 3ds Max and Maya and now V-Ray users benefit as well. Even if you want to modify the materials further, the script at least saves a lot of time in the initial setup — and it can be modified to setup the V-Ray materials however you’d like.

V-Ray support arrives with version 6.2.3 of SpeedTree Cinema, SpeedTree Studio, and our new product, SpeedTree Architect. The export/import process is detailed in the “SpeedTree Pipeline” segment of the documentation organized by the DCC app you are using. The image above was rendered in 3ds Max using V-Ray, a V-Ray sun as the only light source, and a V-Ray physical camera. The tree models are FBX files exported from the SpeedTree Modeler and imported via our V-Ray script (the materials are unmodified after that process in this rendering).

Introducing SpeedTree® Architect: Realistic, 3D Vegetation Has Never Been Easier for Architectural Visualization

SpeedTree ArchitectThe IDV team has been working on a new edition of SpeedTree that’s targeted to the needs of architects and we’re excited to announce that “SpeedTree Architect” is now here!  It combines precise modeling and rendering of realistic trees/plants with easy workflow into many leading 3D architectural visualization applications. We’ve packaged SpeedTree Architect to be the quickest, simplest way to get custom vegetation into any architectural drawing or animation and it’s priced for architectural budgets at $495 per seat (node locked).

SpeedTree Architect includes:

  • SpeedTree Modeler: Create realistic, precisely-modeled trees from scratch at any level of detail, or modify existing 3D tree/plant models from the SpeedTree Model Library. It also supports sky-sensitive leaves, which you’ll be hearing more about in a future SpeedTree Log post.
  • Exporters and Scripts: Export, including normals and UVs, to a variety of popular formats, including FBX, OBJ and 3DM, for integration with 3ds Max®, Maya®, Rhino and other apps. Features seamless rendering in V-Ray® and mental ray®.
  • Access to SpeedTree Model Library: Purchase models from the SpeedTree Tree Model Store, an online catalog of nearly 200 species (SpeedTree Architect includes 3 base species from the Library).

A newly-added export capability supported by SpeedTree Architect allows simple integration with the popular Rhino 3D modeling software from Robert McNeel & Associates. Rhino is a stand-alone, commercial NURBS-based 3D modeling tool that can create, edit, analyze, document, render, animate, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids and polygon meshes.

According to Brian James, who provides training and support for McNeel …

“The export from SpeedTree models to the 3dm format is effortless and the trees look great in Rhino.  We’re excited to see what our users will be able to do with such an easy integration of SpeedTree’s premier 3D vegetation solution.”

SpeedTree Architect is available now for a free evaluation or you can purchase it at the SpeedTree Store.

Gnomon School Selects SpeedTree® 3D Tree/Plant Tools for CG Training

We’re excited to announce a new agreement with the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, one of the world’s leading schools for CG training, to make SpeedTree a key part of Gnomon’s training curriculum before the end of the year.

SpeedTree will be installed in the school’s computer labs, taught in its digital environment creation courses, and featured in a SpeedTree educational event at Gnomon’s Hollywood campus. IDV and Gnomon will also collaborate in the development of a SpeedTree DVD tutorial for the Gnomon Workshop, an online training resource for artists in the entertainment and design industries.

Gnomon School director, Alex Alvarez, recently shared his reasons for picking SpeedTree . . .

“Creating natural environments has become a passion that led me to SpeedTree’s powerful foliage modeling and animation tools. With its artist-friendly UI and integration with software platforms already featured in our curriculum, SpeedTree will be a great fit for us.”

Gnonom School logo

The Gnomon School of Visual Effects specializes in computer graphics training for careers in the entertainment industry. Gnomon was originally created to meet the training needs of industry artists, but has since evolved into a complete art school with programs and courses for those looking to become professional artists working on films and games. In March of 2011, Fast Company Magazine included Gnomon in its list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Film.

We’re always looking for opportunities to interact with CG artists and animators at IDV, which is what makes the Gnomon School such as natural fit for us. This relationship offers an ideal situation for us to support the game development and visual effects communities we serve, including the future users of our tools.

What Do You Get with a SpeedTree for Games License?

video game titlesOne of the more common questions we hear at IDV is, “What do I get with a SpeedTree for Games license?” All licensees get the same thing so it’s one of the easier questions I field.  In short, SpeedTree for Games includes the suite of components necessary to model and render trees within a wide range of real-time environment pipelines, from simple mesh import to full integration with a customized engine.

Here are the components that come with SpeedTree for Games:

1) SpeedTree Modeler – This is where the plants and trees are designed. Artists can tweak completed models from SpeedTree’s extensive Model Library, or build their own species from scratch using a unique combination of hand and procedural creation tools. Wind effects, LOD and more are added in SpeedTree Modeler to bring your animated plants to life.

2) SpeedTree Compiler – Compiler builds the runtime of your animated plants for real-time rendering. Use the Compiler to quickly combine efficient real-time plant and tree models, texture atlases, and 360° normal-mapped billboards.

3) SpeedTree SDK – Includes C++ classes that provide all the tools necessary for high quality, fast forest rendering, both forward and deferred, across multiple platforms. Plus, our SDK isn’t a black box — you maintain control of when and what is executed at all times. Choose the components of our modular SDK that best maximize quality and performance in your game — it’s your pipeline and we keep it that way.

4) Tree Model Library – There’s no easier way to begin building a plant-filled video game environment than by downloading trees and plants from our library. Our Tree Model Library has over 180 species of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants (both real and fantasy) available at no extra cost with a SpeedTree for Games license. Simply open the one you want in SpeedTree Modeler, export as a mesh, or compile for real-time use. Not quite the tree or plant you were looking for?  Tweak it first until you have exactly the look you want.

5) 1-Year of Technical Support – Every SpeedTree for Games licensee receives a full year of support and software updates directly from the developer.  And we actually answer emails and phone calls from our customers!

We’ve spent the last decade trying to make the modeling and rendering process as simple as possible while producing the highest quality trees for a wide variety of pipelines used by video game developers. Have we succeeded? Try a free 30-day evaluation of SpeedTree for Games and see if it meets the requirements for your world.

Forever Changing 3D Tree/Vegetation for Games – Hundreds of Xbox® 360 and PlayStation® 3 Titles Later

When we released the first version of SpeedTree, it was a novel concept. No middleware, which we’ve heard of, combined both artistic content and tools with a run-time that could be integrated into a game engine. Naturally, the video game development community was skeptical. When we debuted SpeedTree for Games at GDC 2003 in a very humble 10’x10′ booth filled with beat-up rented equipment, GDC 2003 Conferencewe often heard, “This demo is pretty cool and all, but you’ve got only 3D trees on the screen. I bet it really tanks when you add the rest of the game.” What could we say? We had zero titles at that time. For all we knew, it might tank when added to a real game environment.

Fast forward three years . . . Three years of having SpeedTree evaluated by some of the best programmers and video game artists on the planet. Three years of being told exactly what we were getting right and, more importantly, what we were missing in our offering. Three years of drinking from the feedback fire hose of profoundly talented and equally opinionated game developers. What could we do? We thickened our skins and did everything we could to incorporate their feedback. Finally, in March of 2006, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released. What do you know? Our 3D tree models performed really well in real-time . . . even with all that other game stuff in there. Who knew?

Image from "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion"Despite the fact that SpeedTree had been used in two other Xbox 360 launch titles, Oblivion was our true breakout title. It rendered the best real-time animated forests ever seen on a console at that time, with surprising detail and draw distances. The phone started ringing and we started licensing for more console titles.

200 Xbox® 360 and 175 PlayStation® 3 titles later, we still embrace all the input we get from our video game development customers, as we gear up to support exciting new features on whatever new console hardware that may be heading our way.