• Tutorial: Grow Your Own with X-Plane

    Grow Your Own with X-Plane

    A Tutorial on Creating Trees & Plants for Scenery Enhancement

    By Paul Mort

    Whether you prefer aircraft, scenery or object creation, or the simple joy of flying, in this great hobby of ours there is one thing that we all strive for: a flight simulation world that is as close to the real thing as you can get.

    As a freeware developer myself, in my opinion there is only one way of achieving this goal and that is to use photographic textures. Focusing on trees, in this tutorial I will show you how to create photo-realistic scenery that will enhance your flying pleasure.

    What We'll Need

    In order to produce credible vegetation for our flight sim world, we will need three programs:

    • Gimp 2 (a graphics package). This program is free to download and use. Just visit www.gimp.org to get the latest version. At the time of writing this tutorial, the latest version is 2.8.18.
    • SketchUp Make 2016. Also free to download, this program is used for designing 3D Objects. It is available at www.sketchup.com
    • Finally, we will need the small plugin, SketchUp2xplane. This will convert objects from SketchUp to the native X-Plane format (.obj). The latest version is 1.70 and is available from https://marginal.org.uk/x-planescenery/tools.html

    Choosing Our Pictures

    The first thing to say is, as this is not a tutorial on Gimp or SketchUp, I shall be assuming you have a working knowledge of how both programs are used. If you are unsure I highly suggest learning about them. My series of SketchUp tutorials can be found here.

    Now that we have our three programs downloaded, we are ready to go.

    Using as an example the fir tree pictured below, we need to obtain or produce an image with a transparent background (.png). This image and will then be imported into SketchUp.

    Note it is possible to create a .png image from a normal .jpg, using a white background. I will show you how later, but for now, let's just keep things simple.

    Back to our tree, when we left click on the image we can see the blue lines which mark its edges, thus also illustrating the background (of that specific image) is indeed transparent (Figure 1).

    Figure 1

    One very important factor about the image is, in order for it to be successfully converted to X-Plane, it must be 512x512 in pixel size. In order to make resizing easier, when searching on Google, look for square images to use. This will give us the correct aspect ratio to work with.

    So, imported into SketchUp we now have .png image (resized to 512x512) with a transparent background.

    So far, so good.

    We do not want our image floating in the air or partially buried in the ground so placing the image in SketchUp is very important. The red axis is our ground level so adjust your image until it is sitting on top of this line. A small portion below ground is fine as it is all transparent in this case, and so I have taken advantage of that by quickly and easily removing all the unwanted grass and earth surrounding the base of the tree. I did this by simply lowering the tree slightly below the red axis, making the grass and earth.......disappear (Figure 2)!

    Figure 2

    Now the tree has been correctly positioned on the red axis, we need to create a solid surface to place our texture on. To do this using the Rectangle Tool, draw out a square exactly centred around the blue lines of your image.

    Tags: trees

    1 Comment
    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Great tutorial Paul! It's amazing how important trees are in a sim!