#59: SHADOWS & LIGHT (Vue)
#58: ADVANCED DIRT MAPPING (Vue)
#57: SSS IN VUE 9, AND THE "SPECKLE" PROBLEM
#56: THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL OF ART
#55: FIXING POSER CLOTHING
#54: MAKING "FOREST WAR - GOBLIN SHAMAN"
#53: MAKING A STUDIO RENDER FOR VUE
(and other apps)
#49: NEBULA MKIII (Vue)
#48: RENDER SETTINGS FOR VUE (Vue)
#47: POSTWORK - MAKING A RENDER INTENSE (Any)
#46: MAKING RIVERS THAT FOLLOW TERRAIN HEIGHTS (Vue or Bryce)

STARFIELDS AND ADVANCED NEBULAS

  "Space, the final frontier! To boldly go where no one has gone before: The Vue Material Editor!"
Hehe ;) Here's how to make your own starfields in Vue (or other apps), and more advanced nebulas than the ones shown in my previous tutorial :)

  1) STARFIELDS - IMPORTING SPACE PICTURES

  Vue comes with the ability to have it's own stars, just by going into the Atmosphere editor, Effects tab: very simple! However...it's often very lacking. Unlike in most Vue tabs, you cannot put the amount over 100%, nor adjust colour individually etc. Also, it doesn't have any nebulae or galaxies or other odd features of space.

  You can easily load in superb images for spaces backgrounds from the Hubble News Center and other NASA sites , I have a few of my own space backgrounds created in Paint Shop Pro, on my own site, here. Please note that if you do so:
a) Respect copyright laws! I am *no lawyer* so take this with a pinch of salt (all caveats apply): as far as I know, Hubble site images can be freely used in personal *non-commercial* artwork *provided the image is a NASA image and in the public domain*. Check here for Hubble site's copyright notice.
So, if you're making money from an image, *check throughly on any rights beforehand, personally, with who ever made the image*, that's something you should always do anyway.
b) You'll need to do some jiggery-pokery in the material editor to get an imported space pic to look right!

  You can make your own starfields in 2D apps like Photoshop, it takes time and effort though, this is my favourite tutorial on how to do this:
Greg Martin's Starfield Tutorial he also has a .pdf on his site "Capturing Heaven" which is superb, alas his site uses Flash so I can't give you the link, go hunt for it yourself! ;) http://gallery.artofgregmartin.com/

  Ok, to add a Starfield Image in Vue, load up an Alpha Plane and make it a billboard (if your version allows you to do so, otherwise, just a Plane will do). "Billboard" setting means it will always face your camera, which is a Good Thing! (tm) ;)
  The image will be very flat and dull, not like real space at all, so open the Material Editor. First off, make sure the material is set to Object Parametric, so it's not distorted in proportion. Turn off Send and Recieve Shadows, starfields do not to do either as they are vastly too far away.
  Next, you need to turn off all highlights, set them to zero, again, you're simulating vastly distant stars, not a flat plane object, highlights will mess it up.
Go into the Effects tab, turn the Luminosity way up, tweak to taste, from 20% to 100% as need.

  Important note! if the image you have is not good, in that the "black of space" is not truly black, it will gently light up and look fake, so watch for that (you can fix that using "Levels" in Photoshop or other 2d Apps, forcing black to be actually black, rather than very dark grey)

BASIC, UN-TWEAKED IMPORTED IMAGE (NG602, a young star cluster)
basic imported image
IMPORTED IMAGE, TWEAKED
(Luminosity set to 37%, 100% was far too bright)
imported image, tweaked
TWEAKING THE IMPORTED SPACE PIC #1
tweaking imported space pic #1
TWEAKING THE IMPORTED SPACE PIC #2
tweaking imported space pic #2

2) MAKING YOUR OWN STARFIELD IN VUE

  You can make your own starfield material in Vue, and apply it to a sphere that surrounds the scene, or to a an Alpha Plane, set as Billboard to fill the screen. A sphere allows for animation, as you can move around and it will still be visible, but the sphere need to be HUGE, or the viewer will see stars move, which is obviously fake (a few, close stars may move when a space ship is at high speed, but not far ones). Note also that the "hyperspace" effect of stars warping by you is something else entirely, see Phillipe Bouyer's animation and scene in the Cornucopia3D store for how to do "hyperspace".

  To make the starfield material: Again, turn of Cast & Recieve Shadows, and highlights. Now, for spheres, make mapping Object - Spherical, for Planes make it Object-Parametric.

  Set the colour to white for the moment, and load up the Atmosphere "Black, no stars" so you can test your work (make sure fog/haze are turned off), hide the ground plane from render or delete it.

  Back into the material editor, set Luminous to 100% for now (you can lower later if need or drive with random fractal for variation). Enter function Editor.
  To make the dots for stars, select "Simple Fractal, Other Patterns/Dots", and connect that to the Transparency tab, basically you want to punch lots of tiny dots in this otherwise totally transparent material. Now here comes the tweaking part! You will need to adjust scales to suit your object...that is entirely up to you to find out, but you can take hints from the pics below :)

  There won't be very many stars, as it's only ONE lot of dots! Not enough, so, make another Fractal Dots, then use a Combiner node to join them up. Set Combiner to SUBTRACT, , then do this yet again, so you should have four fractals, each combined into two Combiners (Subtract), then those joined into a final Combiner (Subtract). Plug that into Transparency, but add a filter, you'll need this to"cut out" excess noise, that will ruin the transparency. See the image for details.

  *BUT* and this is a big but, lol, the stars are all the same size and position, so will stack over the top of each and won't be seen! You need to adjust EACH Fractal Dot's Wavelength and origin, slightly: Wavelength = size, Origin = Position.

  Also, stars come in varied colours, from dull reddish through organ to yellow, to pale blue to white (also green to greenish-white as well, rarely, those are massive stars). Star colour depends on type and size: red giants (swollen, massive old stars of titanic size), more normal stars like our Sun (white-orange-yellow), to very young enormous white stars that live and die short and violent. You also have red and white dwarf stars, plus neutron and other exotic types we don't need to bother about ;) You cna og read up about stars on the Web :)

  So, in Vue, make a colour gradient of choice, I used 4 colours: reddish, yellow, white, blue. Then drove that with a Fast perlin Fractal, as shown on the image below, to mix the color up. Note how I put the colours, as adjusting this is trial and error...many, many errors...lol.

VUE MATERIAL STARS
Vue Material stars
VUE MATERIAL STARS SCALE SET TO 0.5, AND STARS TURNED ON IN ATMOSPHERE
vue material stars plus stars truend on in the Atmosphere, Effects tab
SAME SCENE, JUST STANDARD VUE STARS FROM ATMOSPHERE -- EFFECTS TAB
standard vue atmopshere only stars
VUE STAR FIELD MATERIAL
vue starfield material

3) MAKING VUE NEBULAS WITH VUE FUNCTIONS

  Ok! The actual plural for "nebula" is "nebulae", but not everyone actually uses correct English ;)
Nebulae are enormous clouds of gas and dust, the most obvious form is that of the beautiful glowing plasma clouds, as seen in that image above, from NASA. Sometimes, they are also just dark patches of dust that block light,and form shapes like the famous "Horsehead Nebula", shown below.
  Nebulae are generally created from three things:

  • Stars heating up clouds of material until they glow, forming planetary discs, or much larger regions forming Solar systems, those ones can be absolutely enormous, covering thousands of light years across. Sometimes, especially bright clusters of massive, hot young stars show up in such regions, forming beautiful swathes of bright gems in the cosmos, as shown in this previous NASA pic.
  • Massive explosions (super novae) blowing a star's material all over the cosmos, the expanding shockwave and energy heats up any dust it hits and the explosion material itself slowly cools, sprinkling space with carbon, iron and heavier elements.
  • Patches of dark, cold dust and gas.

  Important point to note, is that the dark patches will seem to "cut out" large chunks of stars and galaxies, because the dark nebula is in the way, but, other stars may be in front of that cloud of debris, so it may have stars showing, or there maybe extremely powerful stars behind or in the cloud still shining through.. It has to be understood that space is not a simple flat plane, but a massively deep sphere surrounding us, so many items are layered up in front of our eyes, just like a Photoshop image.

  The colours in nebulae are caused by gasses bombarded by extreme heat and radition and thus turned into plasma, the fourth state of matter, and it is incredibly hot. It can glow in many colours, although some astronomical images are given "false colour" to show things up better or just to look good, nebula do come in a wide variety of colours. They also get compressed by shockwaves, leaving edges or regions of bright narrow ribbons, check the Horsehead nebula pic below to see this.

  Making a nebula with a Vue material, requires using a fractal to drive transparency, as you only want the nebula to cover a percentage of the object, and another fractal to drive a colour map of your choice (and remember some nebula have black areas or are totally black). Many, many ways to do that, I show one below.

  You can apply the nebula material to a plane, or to a terrain. Procedural terrains can help create some really intricate features due to varying height affecting the nebula. You can also rotate nebula so they are at an angle to camera, again, producing interesting looks. Remember that nebula and space objects can have many layers, so you could have 5 layers of different nebulae, with 2 layers of stars in between, or in front of them.

THE ACTUAL HORSEHEAD NEBULA, COURTESY OF NASA
real horsehead nebula from NASA
HOW DEPTH MAY MAYBE SHOWN IN VUE
depth of space and objects in vue
VUE NEBULA, ON A TERRAIN
terrain nebula
VUE NEBULA, SAME TERRAIN OBJECT AND MATERIAL,
BUT CONVERTED TO A PROCEDURAL TERRAIN

procedural terrain nebula
TERRAIN SCALED UP AND MOVED FURTHER BACK,
SO YOU GET SMALL, DISTANT NEBULAE

distant terrainnebula with scaled nebula material
TERRAIN CONVERTED TO A PLANE,
NOTE HOW THE LOOK CHANGES

terrain converted to plain nebula
PROCEDURAL TERRAIN POSITIONED AT AN ANGLE TO CAMERA
angled terrain nebula 1

ANOTHER ANGLE VIEW OF A NEBULA TERRAIN
angled terrain nebula 2
ANGLED TERRAIN FOR NEBULA IN VUE
angled terrain vue from side
VUE FUNCTIONS TO CREATE NEBULA
vue functions used ot make nebula

4) NEBULA USING 16 BIT TIF IMAGES
  Vue5 Infinite and some Vue6 versions can import 16 bit .tif images, which is great because an 8 bit image lacks the ability to do very fine detail ...well, you can use an 8 bit image, but it has fewer variations of greyscale...only 256 shades of grey from white to black...and we need greyscales...why?
  Ok, greyscale images can be used to drive terrain heights, colour and other distributions in Vue, the most common use being heightfields for terrains or to distribute ecosystems, they can also be used to draw out nebulas. Now, why use a greyscale rather than a colour picture?
a) because it's easier to make a transparency (alpha) if need from white or black.
b) because...it lets you alter the colour as you want, using a Vue function, leaving the greyscale for transparency or other things! ;)

  Such greyscales need to be VERY large to allow for fine detail, if nebula is going to be close, i.e. 2000x2000 pixels or larger...so, best for PCs with 2 gigs of RAM or more. Also, always remember, Vue is perverse, it inverts grreyscale data, as compared to how EVERY other app uses it ;) So white = transparent, black = solid.

  Just plug the greyscale into transparency function (or use an Alpha if wish but that's more hassle IMHO)

  If you use 8 bit, try and use as wide a variety of shades as possible, from just above black to pure white, or reverse. Gaussian blur and smear can help improve smooth gradients between areas.
A GREYSCALE TO MAKE A NEBULA,
BUT ONLY 8 BIT AS IT's IN .PNG FORMAT

(Note you have to invert greyscales on import to get them to work how most apps use them, sigh)
greyscale for nebula
TIF NEBULAS, ALL USING SAME IMAGE,
JUST THE VUE COLOUR MAP VARIED
tif nebula1
tif nebula2
tif nebula3
tif nebula4
VUE FUNCTION, .TIF IMAGE USED TO DRIVE TRANSPARENCY,
SIMPLE FRACTAL DRIVES COLOUR

tif image used otdrive transaprency of nebula

5) BRIGHT STARS
  Some stars are either very bright, or very close. How many of these you want to show is up to you, but it's quite simple really: just make point lights, set them so that they "Influence" no objects at all, so they don't slow renders down (edit their properties, go into Influence).

  Directional lights also work and are often better as you can put them far away in the scene (point lights you'd need to ramp their power way up if far back), but...you cannot save directional lights in groups, which sucks, as I make a bunch of Point Lights and save them as a "Star Object" in Vue. Otherwise I save, load and duplicate a Directional Light.

  It is the Lens Flare that really sets how the star will look, and they must ALL be similar in a scene (except for any special ones like maybe a supernova), or it will look fake. Note that the lens flare is caused by the one lens showing up all the same flare...it's just the Flare Intensity (the power and size) and colour of each you need to vary. Have a look at lens flares on Hubble site pictures and decide on what you want. I like 4 or 6 in the "Star Filter".

  ALWAYS turn "Reflections" off, in the Lens Flare editor, to stop the circles etc that normal lens flares do, otherwise you'll have bazillions of 'em messing the scene up, lol! Also, the "Ring" and "Color Shift" colour should be the same (probably the same as the light's colour), or it will look odd.

  Thanks to Monsoon for this discovery of Vue wizardry :)
BRIGHT STARS WITH POINT LIGHTS, & NEBULA
bright stars point lights
BRIGHT STARS WITH DIRECTIONAL LIGHTS, & NEBULA
bright stars directional lights
LENS FLARES FOR STARS, SUGGESTED SETTINGS
lens flare for stars
My sincere thanks to NASA, and many great individuals, such as Sir Patrick Moore and The Sky at Night BBC program, who over the years have let myself and others enjoy the wonders of this amazing Universe! :)

Also, thanks to Niandj (for discovering using terrains to put nebulas on) and Monsoon (for figuring out how to use lights for stars and spherical nebulas) :)

I hope you find this of use! :)
Silverblade,© 2008, except the NASA Horsehead nebula pic

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All original art, writing on this site, copyright of Steven James, "Silverblade the Enchanter" ©2012