• X-Plane Scenery Tutorial

    X-Plane Scenery Tutorial

    By Richard Nilsson

    "The secret to realism is
    describing a thumb so well that
    a reader sees the whole hand."
    -- Alex, "Fallen Angels"
    by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn

    General Considerations In Scenery Development

    I'm grateful to the X-Plane developers for making a riveting sim so easily available to us, and making it open enough for us to share custom scenery for everyone's enjoyment of the flight experience. Thanks to Ted Green, Ben Supnik and Tyler Young for giving us WED (WorldEditor), a superb resource organizer and scenery placement tool. I also appreciate the efforts of the OpenSceneryX team and other X-Plane community users including Jacques Brault, FlyByGuy, Simon W and many others who've contributed lots of scenery resources.

    I'm not an expert at any of this, and I make no claims that my way is the best, fastest or most efficient way. I just like to do it and I'm going to tell you how I do it. My way seems to work well for X-Plane 9.7 and usually for X-Plane 10. It's just A way, not the only way. I just wish it wasn't so complicated!

       
    Even a work-in-progress adds realism.

    Hinting And Layering

    If you have ever seen the marvelously immersive dioramas in museums or at model railroading clubs, you will understand the concepts of layering and 'hinting.' You will notice that good dioramas contain high detail at the focus of the subject in the foreground and that the level of detail decreases with distance. This illustrates 'hinting,' and it works because the observer's mind automatically assumes the detail continues into the background as it would in the 'real' world, even when it knows that in this miniature reality the diorama detail decreases. This is due to the mind's observed effects of distance in the 'real' world. Little things become less distinct with distance because of optical effects including the lessening image size projected on the retina's assembly of discrete rods and cones, and atmospheric filtering because of airborne smoke, dust and water vapor. Sims are written to take advantage of this principle, deciding at some arbitrary distance to stop rendering fully, or at all, objects of a particular size.

    Consequently, to generate a realism-suggestive airport scenery, you should concentrate detail in the area immediately available to the eye during ground operations (parking, fueling, taxiing and runway arrival/departure). For purposes of maintaining frame rates for a smooth flying experience, detail can trail off fairly quickly as the distance from the airport proper increases.

    Layering is the technique of combining varying complexities and types of textures to generate visually a feeling of reality. For instance, airport ramps can take on more reality if a cracked, dirty or stained translucent overlay image is applied as a draped polygon over the sim's default gray asphalt or concrete taxiways and aprons. Lettering added by draped polygons should also exhibit 'weathering' or the appearance of being partially chipped, stained or smudged by a combination of blurring and 'spattering' with appropriate digital computer graphics tools such as Adobe Photoshop or the Gimp. Similarly, building up a forest can begin with a graphic overlay to suggest areas to be textured. Supply general area shading and color blended edges by 'feathering' into the simulator's default scenery. Adding some grass, low bushes, fallen logs, rocks or boulders, forests of different tree types and sizes gradually fills the view with the suggestion of natural complexity one finds in the real world.


    Layers: Overlay image for color, two kinds of grasses, enhanced 'photo-real' runway markings.

    The same concepts can be applied to structure development. It is not necessary for example, to have highly detailed houses or commercial buildings beyond the areas immediately adjacent to the runways, taxiways or ramps. Using strategically placed simple buildings nearby then enhanced satellite graphics of parking lots or neighborhoods can 'suggest' detail without slowing down the simulator's rendering.

    Bottom line: Concentrate your attention to detail within the airport boundary and below approaches to runways.

    Targeting the basic first layer of scenery, this tutorial will tell you how to use freely available tools to create pretty realistic graphic overlay images, and place them as custom scenery for X-Plane 9 and 10. I will present the tutorial as numbered steps so that you can keep track of where you are in the process more easily. It's also the way I learned to write manuals when I did a stint as a technical writer for an automation systems company.

    Tags: scenery

    7 Comments
    1. RonaldVermeij's Avatar
      RonaldVermeij -
      Thanks Richard for sharing your knowlegde. These tutorial look great! Keep up the good work.
    1. ricardo_NY1's Avatar
      ricardo_NY1 -
      Very well written. Scenery design in WED is actually quite fun. Tedious at times as is the case with doing anything worthwhile, but it's straightforward and quite simple.
    1. alrasberry's Avatar
      alrasberry -
      Very useful article. I am trying to recreate a second world war airfield in the UK near to my home. My first problem is obtaining photographic images of the airfield, most of which is ploughed up or under industrial units. I know the co-ordinates of the airfield and have information oN the buildings on the airfield and even some photographs of buildings that remain. Is it possible to recreate an airfield in Xplane without a photograph image?
    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Quote Originally Posted by alrasberry View Post
      Very useful article. I am trying to recreate a second world war airfield in the UK near to my home. My first problem is obtaining photographic images of the airfield, most of which is ploughed up or under industrial units. I know the co-ordinates of the airfield and have information oN the buildings on the airfield and even some photographs of buildings that remain. Is it possible to recreate an airfield in Xplane without a photograph image?
      Hi Alan,

      It certainly is.

      Have a look at the first of these tutorials, and see if it helps:

      https://www.flightsim.com/vbfs/conte...gn-For-X-Plane

      Let me know how you get on.

      Cheers

      Dom
    1. alrasberry's Avatar
      alrasberry -
      Dom,
      Many thanks. Very useful stuff - just need the time!
      Alan.
    1. RikNilsson's Avatar
      RikNilsson -
      Attention please, everybody -- I apologize, but I left out an important step following the select/invert/feather/clear to smooth the edge of your graphic, in section IV, step 5. Following that, you MUST de-select (or select "None") your feathered area, otherwise all the subsequent color adjustments will only affect the graphic image from the feathering outwards. Make that step 5.5 or something

      Sorry about that!
    1. BayAreaAviation's Avatar
      BayAreaAviation -
      Very well written tutorial. It really helped me!

      Thanks!
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