Blender – cloud shadows over terrain with cycles

I have been trying to make some 360 VR animations of scenes on earth orbit and for that my starting point has been this excellent How to Create a Realistic Earth in Blender tutorial.

However, to render for 360 in Blender the camera has to be set to Panoramic Equirectangular, and that means that Cycles render engine must be used.

This article describes how I managed to get one of the basic requirements for a realistic earth rendering which is making the clouds cast shadows over the terrain.

I started by setting up a simple scene with two planes illuminated by a distant sphere with an emitting material (the white sphere on the top). The two planes represent the terrain and the cloud cover separated by a very small gap.

Scene setup in blender

I used two high resolution images to texture each of the planes:

Separate renders of both terrain and cloud layers:

Rendering with both layers. The shadows cast by clouds over the terrain are clearly visible.

Cloud shadows over terrain render

This was done using the following settings for the Terrain and Clouds materials:

Please note that an additional clouds_inverted.jpg image is used. This is an inverted image of the clouds.jpg image to drive the transparency of the cloud layer: high (white) areas on the cloud cover are transformed into low values driving reduced transparency and projecting shadows over the terrain.

Next step will be modeling how a giant Suzanne will look like from orbit…

BMW E46 3d model – part 1 – Blueprints and reference material

First things first. I started by collecting blueprint images of the E46 from the net. The red and black lines were drawn to align the views and guarantee they are resized to the same scale.

These blueprints were then set as background images on the blender project:

Using these background images and several pictures of the vehicle, the main lines were sketched in 3d:

Sometimes I had to use some tape on the real model and check if the curves were right:

After a few iterations I did a test render of the model and a turn plate animation to check the overall look of the curves.

Vehicle suspension action animation in Blender

For my project to create a 3D model of the BMW E46 I want to model how the suspension works and how it reacts dynamically. The following picture shows a clear view of the front axle suspension and steering linkage. The boomerang-shaped bright parts are the aluminum suspension arms which pivot around the line that passes trough the rubber mounting and the pivot point on the top center of the arm and support the wheel hubs.

The challenge is to create blender objects and rig them correctly to represent these components and the way they move and articulate. For that I created a small blender project with a suspension arm (orange) and shock absorber linked to a wheel hub. You can download this project and play with it.

The key interpolation method Elastic with Amplitude and Period parameters seems particularly interesting to simulate the behavior of an elastic system. This is something to explore later.

Anyway, here it is a small rendering of the suspension action:


BMW E46 3d model – part 0

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I have finally started developing a 3d model of the BMW E46. There are a few very good 3d models out there if you’re willing to spend some money. Believe me it takes a lot of work to create these!

This one from is quite amazing, although from this angle the hood looks awkward:

Another one from In this case the headlights and interior need some more detail, but still a very good model:

There are also tons of free models available with varying degree of awesomeness:

Even though I will probably never reach the level of the top models, I decided to give it a try for the fun of it. My goals are to create a 3d model with:

  • a “convincing” external appearance
  • a moderately detailed interior
  • representation of major structural and mechanical components to enable the creation of animations for maintenance operations
  • as far as possible, movement and articulation on the suspension components

My 3d tool of choice is Blender, even for 3d mechanical projects like the voind robot.

With a couple of these vehicles on hand I am starting this project. In the next posts I will update the status of the model.

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