Painting Realistic Trees

Great looking trees can be the bane of architects and illustrators. Photographic cutouts, simplistic clip art or time consuming renders never seem to match the look of the rendered building. Then again, most artists don't realize just how easy it is to paint realistic trees using Jungle DVD.

It may sound too good to be true, but dimensional looking trees can be painted in just a few minutes. That's because you actually paint with realistic foliage, limbs and branches, even in print size resolutions. All you need is Jungle DVD and a paint program like Paint Shop Pro.

It's about as easy as making a sandwich because you paint on three layers. You simply spray realistic foliage clusters onto a background layer, spray branches onto a trunk layer in the middle, then add foreground foliage to a top layer. If that sounds too simple, see for yourself.

Most any version of Paint Shop Pro will do, whether it's version 6, 7 or 8. This tutorial is for the new PSP 8 interface and can be used with the evaluation version. Use the PSP 6 & 7 tutorial for eariler versions. We've provided the Jungle DVD tools you'll need, including a finished tree and shadow texture.

The first thing to do is download the tools .zip file. Create a Jungle DVD tools folder on the desktop and extract the assorted files into it.

1) Move the Birch Branch, Birch Foliage (aut) and Birch Shadow "tubes" (.tub) into the Tubes folder found inside your Paint Shop Pro program folder.

2) Launch PSP and open a "square" 512 x 512 image file.

3) Display the Layer palette by pressing the F8 key.

4) Open the "Birch Trunk" file found in your Jungle 3D tools.

5) Copy the trunk layer (Ctrl+C), close the Birch Trunk file and "Paste as a New Layer" into the image file (Ctrl+L).

6) Select the Picture Tube brush on the tool bar and open the Tool Options palette by pressing the F4 key.

7) Select the "Birch Branch" tube by clicking on the tube fly-out menu next to the Presets icon on the Tool Options-Picture Tube Tool palette (shown below and at right). That loads the Picture Tube brush with paint.

8) Begin by painting some branches along the trunk. If you want, scale the tube to a smaller size as you get near the top. Just be sparing. A little goes a long way.

It's okay if the results are not perfect. The foliage will cover most errors. If you want to do a little touch-up, use the eraser or clone brushes where the branches don't connect to the trunk or limbs correctly.

9) When you're finished painting the branches, return to the Tool Options palette and select the "Birch Shadows" tube. Change the Scale setting to 23 to reduce the size of the shadows so that they match the size of the tree.

10) You want the shadows to apply to the trunk and limbs only, so click the padlock on the Layer palette or just double click on the layer to display the Layer Properties palette, then select the "Lock Transparency" checkbox.

11) Use mouse clicks to paint with dabs, so the shadows depict dappled lighting along the tree. If you have a tablet, select Vary Opacity on the Tools Options palette.

12) After you've finished applying shadows, create a new "background leaves" layer (Raster 2) and position it below the trunk layer (Raster 1) on the Layer Palette.

13) Select the Picture Tube brush again and choose the "Birch Foliage (aut)" tube on the Tool Options - Picture Tube palette.

Even though this is a small tube, the leaves will paint a bit too large for the tree, so scale the tube size down to 75%.

14) Apply some background leaves using dabs or individual mouse clicks. Be sparing. You want gaps and openings.

15) Use the Hue/Saturation/Lightness filter (Shift+H) to darken the "background" leaves. Try setting Saturation to -25 and Lightness to -35).

16) Create a third, "foreground leaves" layer (Raster 3) and position it above the trunk, at the top of the layer list.

17) Paint some foreground leaves on Raster 3. Remember to be sparing. It is important to have some of the trunk, branches and shaded background leaves visible.

18) Once you've finished painting the foreground leaves, turn off the background layer (see right) and select Merge Visible on the Layers: Merge menu (below). This collapses the foliage and trunk layers into a single tree layer.

19) Use the Brightness/Contrast filter (Shift+B) to enhance the illusion of depth. Applying the Unsharp Mask effect will help to define some detail as well.

20) Since both of those filters tend to increase Saturation, use the Hue/Saturation/Lightness control (Shift+H) to lower saturation or increase lightness.

21) All that's left is choose how to save the file, and that depends on how you plan to use the tree. If you plan to use the tree as 2D art, you're done. Simply save the tree as a Photoshop .psd file. Using the Photoshop format preserves the layer while letting you open the file in most any image editor.

22) If the tree will be applied as a texture in a 3D scene, you need to save an alpha channel mask of the tree before merging the layer with the background. Saving the alpha channel insures the tree will be the only part that is visible when the texture is mapped to a model.

23) Make the Background visible again by clicking on the eye icon on the Layer Palette.

24) Using the Eye Dropper tool, sample some of the darker leaves from the tree.

25) Make the Background the active layer and use the Bucket tool to Fill the it with the sampled color. (Filling the Background with the foliage color prevents a white halo from appearing around the tree when it's used as a texture).

26) Re-select the "Merged" layer, copy the tree using Edit: Copy or Ctrl+C command, then Delete the Merged layer.

27) Re-select the Background layer and choose Paste: As New Selection from the Edit menu. The tree is now attached to the cursor, so center the selection on the background and click once to release it as a Floating Selection.

28) Pull down the Selections menu and choose Save To Alpha Channel.

29) Save the file using a format that supports alpha channels (tif, psd, etc.) and apply it in your favorite 3D program.

30) A few last words.


If your first tree didn't turn out as well you would like, don't be discouraged. The tutorial is about getting familiar with the process and technique. It's hard to control everything the first time through, especially if you're new to Painter. Once you get the hang of it, painting very realistic trees will be easy. Just repeat the tutorial until the sequence and commands become familiar. We've included different kinds of foliage to keep it interesting. Great looking trees will follow.

This tutorial uses only the small "trail" versions of tubes found in Jungle DVD. Larger tubes translate to bigger trees plants and foliage, and with greater detail and more striking results. Those, you'll want to add to your collection

Try the other Jungle DVD tutorials as well. Painting Shadows demonstrates how to paint tree realistic shadow textures that work with the tree, whether in 2D or 3D as shown here.

Best of painting.

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