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Forest Pack Pro review

Rating

4.5/5 Remarkable

Pros
- Easy to learn
- Offers some unique features
- Great support program and license management
Cons
- No on/off toggle for Forest objects
- No Forest object icon inside the viewport
- “Limit to visibility” feature could be improved
Recipient of MU’s Editor’s Choice Award

By Matt Guetta, August 29 2011

Introduction

QUICK SPECS

Forest Pack Pro

Software type: Max plugin

Version: 3.5.4b

Category: Scattering

Company: Itoo Software

Price: 180€ (at time of review)

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Forest Pack Pro is a scattering plugin for 3ds Max developed by Itoo Software. It’s designed to create environments made out of vegetation, from a little grass area to a forest with thousands of trees, and to mainly distribute, instance, and randomly modify certain objects’ properties in a scene.

The plugin can be used with Mental Ray and V-Ray, proxy objects of both render engines are supported. You can also use the native instancing system of 3ds Max and the scanline renderer.

Let’s see how the software performs.

Initial impressions and workflow

The interface is clean and efficient, small images are used to help quickly identify the various features available, and most parameters are similar to those used in 3ds Max and other 3d packages.

Forest Pack Pro can manage two kinds of objects: templates and custom objects. Templates are planes with textures, a kind of billboard, useful mostly for backgrounds trees. The second type, custom objects (i.e. custom meshes selected by the user), are what we will focus on this review. When you load an object Forest Pack Pro assigns it a unique ColorID (which you can choose to use or not), this is useful for dealing later with objects’ distribution.

One way to define placement of objects in Forest Pack Pro is by drawing some splines in the viewport and using them to define areas for including or excluding placement of objects.

You can easily attach multiple splines in order to achieve a complex area shape. A falloff setting is available to help make your zone’s limits look more natural. Areas are easy to setup, one just needs to pay attention to the direction of splines.

Using splines for creating exclusion areas

This feature could be improved: if you’d like to use a map instead of splines to define the area where meshes will be scattered, this could be done through the Distribution panel, but you’d lose the flexibility it offers to switch from groups, to scattered or dense maps in a click. So you would have to paint all the features in Photoshop. The possibility of using complementary, separate maps for areas and distribution would be a welcome addition.

Distribution is the feature that will help you scatter objects. There are many ways to achieve a desired result. Forest Pack Pro allows you to choose from a small but efficient library of bitmaps (that offer dense, very scattered or grouped distribution). You can also use your own map and some renderer-specific ones (I’m thinking of V-Ray’s VrayDistanceTex, for example). After choosing from the Forest Pack Pro map library or your own let’s see how this works.

A Density panel allows you to define the size of your map and the density in the distribution of objects. It works the same way as a simple UVMapping of your ground. The size of the map can be seen in your viewport.

Diversity and clusters are surely some of the most useful features in Forest Pack Pro. With them you can easily group objects that were imported using the Geometry panel (which were assigned a specific ColorID). For example if you want to create some autumn grass, some parts of the surface are going to be covered by short grass, some by tall plants and some parts will be left empty.

Clusters feature being used in the test scene

With Forest Pack Pro you don’t need to use multiple objects to create this effect, using diversity and clusters makes it easy. In order to make things look natural, it’s possible to apply roughness, blur and noise settings to the cluster map. All these changes can be seen in real-time in the viewport, a feature that is not available in some other scattering plugins.

Finally, a collisions feature will help you reduce the number of objects in your scene without losing surface covering. This is one of the basic features of a scattering plugin and certainly the best way to optimize render time and RAM usage.

Using the Surface panel, objects can be aligned to the surface’s normals. Another interesting option is the altitude parameter. This is really efficient, it lets you limit object placement to a certain altitude range with just a few clicks. In my test scene I used this option. All four Forest Pack Pro objects are linked to the same surface, trees are only placed at the top, grass at the bottom, and in the middle there are some little bushes.

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Comments

by Chris - August 30, 2011 7:04am

Thanks Matt for your effort and the good reading.

by Jason Addy - August 30, 2011 3:33pm

Great work Matt, a very informative review and nice test scene!

by Hristo Velev - August 31, 2011 4:33am

Cool review, I was curious about FPP :) Thanks!

by Matt - August 31, 2011 3:16pm

Thanks all, happy to see the review is useful.
If you’ve got specific questions, I’ll do my best to answer.

by paulb - September 2, 2011 11:15am

Thanks for the great review.

I love your test scene! I’m wondering if you’d share briefly a little of your lighting setup and post processing. It looks to have film noise and purple fringing and subtle atmospheric affects maybe?

by Matt - September 3, 2011 2:30am

@paulb: Thanks. For lighting setup, I used an HDR combined with a
V-RaySun, you can find a tutorial on Peter Guthrie’s blog. For
post-processing, I combined passes from a 32-bit Exr with Photoshop and
made some basic color corrections (Curves, Levels…).
The Atmospheric effect was made with a blue-tinted Z-depth pass. Finally
I added color correction (color balance…) and effects
(vignetting, chromatic aberration…) with MagicBullet PhotoLooks.