Why use terrain heightmaps in your workflow?
If you are a 3D artist or a concept artist, every now and then you need to create an environment and very often those environments include various types of terrains. Even if you’re using tools like Scatter, you need an interesting surface for your repetitive elements (instances) to scatter on. The easiest and most useful way to make it is to use a heightmap.
How does it work?
Let’s first see what Wikipedia has to say about it:
“In computer graphics, a heightmap or heightfield is a raster image used mainly as Discrete Global Grid in secondary elevation modeling. Each pixel stores values, such as surface elevation data, for display in 3D computer graphics. A heightmap can be used in bump mapping to calculate where this 3D data would create shadow in a material, in displacement mapping to displace the actual geometric position of points over the textured surface, or for terrain where the heightmap is converted into a 3D mesh.”
In short, it’s just a black and white image. All you need to remember is that the values towards white will push the geometry up, while those towards black will push the geometry down, which helps define peaks and valleys.
How to create a heightmap?
You can create terrain heightmaps in many different ways. I create all my heightmaps inside one or two different tools. The first one is Gaea, where I generate terrains so I can bake heightmaps, and the second one is Terrain Mixer for Blender 3D, where I mix the heightmaps from Gaea so I can create an unlimited number of new ones super-fast. It comes with a bunch of terrain heightmaps as part of the package, which means that you can start playing with it right away.
In this video, you will see how I build terrains with Terrain Mixer for Blender 3D. This is just to demonstrate how easy it is to use it. As you already know, Blender 3D is amazing (and free) software for animation, editing, 3D modeling, and digital sculpting. Terrain Mixer is a specialized tool for terrain generation. Feel free to download the terrain heightmaps that I’ve generated right after the recording of the video.