Unlike one of my cousins and her husband who breed the most beautiful blossoming cacti and orchids I have absolutely no talent for anything to do with plants and gardening. I always somehow manage to put everything to a quick death. Yet in an odd way I enjoy the mathematical beauty of such structures and spend a lot of time to re-create it digitally. Back in the day I spent hours on end with L.J.Lapre‘s LParser and over the years I must at least have looked at every plant and landscape generation plug-in or tool out there. I even got XFrog for Cinema 4D and while I mostly use it for abstract structures and background designs in combination with all sorts of MoGraph (including its L-System options in MoSpline) there are times when I just recreate some flower, moss or tree just for the fun of it. It’s actually kinda meditative and soothing. Of course I do similar things in After Effects as well which brings us to the actual point.
First, yet another Christmas pine tree. I already have several of them in sometimes more, sometimes less realistic form on my website, but I suppose one can never have enough of them. The good part about this one is that you need no plug-ins at all other than what already comes with After Effects. “How’s that possible?” you may ask. Well, it’s actually quite easy once you set your mind to it. This little beauty comes to you by the powers of Card Dance which I often tend to call the most powerful effect you don’t know you have. Yepp, you don’t always need Form, MIR or Element 3D if you just sit down and take the time to understand how something ticks. Sadly, that rarely ever happens and so people often end up asking for plug-ins that essentially offer the same functionality and would cost them money. You’d be surprised how many “We need a better Shatter effect!” cries would be void if people only learned how to create Shatter Maps and Gradient Maps to control fragmentation and forces. In any case, head over to the download site and play with the parameters and learn the maps techniques involved. And just to wet your appetite further: This is only a simplified version. I actually have one with working shadows in my collection. ;-)
With my obsession about generating structures of course I immediately looked into ways how far you can take things using Plexus. The beauty of it is its simplicity. It’s basically just a point cloud generator that gives you a couple of tools to determine where those ponts will eventually be and then how to visualize and connect them. Therefore it’s just one step further to arrange those points to mimic plants. Some of that you already know from previous posts like this one. One of the techniques I employed in there and that you may not even have discovered yourself is that with the Instance object you can create instances of instances of instances. Do you follow me? Perhaps not, but it really works! Thinking I could just toy around this took on its own life quickly and I got myself in the usual trouble. Of course I wanted to do a nice, full tree, but soon enough had to realize that this may be too complex, after all. There are a couple of things that gave me (and will give you) a hard time:
- You end up using many, many layers just so you can keep different sets of points separate and put them in their own groups.
- The hierarchies do not refresh interactively beyond a certain point, so you end up a lot hitting the Refresh Instance button or toggling layer visibility to enforce refresh. This seems to be even worse when layers are not visible.
- You won’t be able to get any animation of this stuff because the evaluation will not update correctly.
- A lot of times you are flying blind. Because you only want to propagate the point positions, you add all your renderers to the topmost hierarchy item. Due to the refresh issue, though, you never know what changing a value does. I often ended up applying temporary point renderers just to see this stuff.
- There are some spatial orientation issues in a manner of speaking. E.g. the Noise Effector only seems to be applied locally at a certain hierarchy level, even if you add it elsewhere further upstream.
- Rotations are a bit messy because most of the time the plug-in tries to produce helix arrays.
Of course all of these issues could be fixed, so in summary I would perhaps formulate a few feature ideas/ requests for Plexus 3:
- Allow an option for permanent refresh and evaluation of the hierarchy so you can interactively sculpt your structures.
- Perhaps change the rotation mechanics to be more predictable.
- Fix the local space vs. world space transform and deformation issues.
- Implement a true L-System.
In any case, I’ll still pursue this a bit and try to produce a few more plant like things. In the meantime perhaps my pine twigs will be useful for some Christmas stuff. Get them here.