Fast 3D Topographies in Cinema 4D Tutorial

September 2, 2014


Inspired by these beautiful renders by Lee Griggs I set about figuring out how we might make in Cinema. This was the result.








Rusty Swamp

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to quickly be able to create an rolling fields of geometry by using the Hair Module and photos or noises for height and color. This technique is not only fast easy to set up and render, but offers a limitless playground to experiment with different looks and effects. Have fun!


Tutorial Focus:  , , , , ,
Software:  ,

  • Just watched this and I think its an amazing effects with simple approach. another Chris Schmidt brilliant tutorial. Thanks for sharing. A.

  • lookin’ real nice!

  • Really nice, tut, Thank you very much. A lot of creative possibilities with this technique just percolating in my brain.

  • Impresionante lo fácil que es, me encanta, soy fan de ustedes, lo que se; es gracias a ustedes.

  • Chris, Thankyou! – apart from uncovering a rather wonderful technique for fun, random object/image creation, you’ve just presented a viable solution to something I’d been pondering, and had only recently been trying to create with MoGraph clones, or extruded planes! – brilliant!

  • Well done, Chris! Very interesting!

  • Hey! Wonderful tutorial Chris, thanks! Here’s a little more advanced approach using X-Particles and the results are amazing:

  • You can also get interesting results a moving texture, like this I made a while back:


  • Thank you Chris! Very informative tutorial!

  • Thanks Chris! Another killa tut…greetings from the A…the real A!!!

  • Great tutorial! Gonna spend so much time playing with this.
    Here is my first bit:

  • Great tutorial. Love the idea.

  • Here’s a link to my animated version I show in the tutorial.

    • One of your best tutorials! Thank You!

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the tut really cool stuff.
      Question, I am to see the displacement of these hairs in my viewport but can seem to render them out to the picture viewer. I’ve checked on the Hair Renderer in the effects in my render settings and all. Still no render. Any reason why this would be happening? I’ve been going nuts trying to figure it out even restarted a completely new scene file and I still cant get it to render to the picture viewer. Help or tips would be greatly appreciated.

    • hi chris! thanks for that amazing tutorial! one question. how did you animate this? is it a displacer? unfortunately i dont get a movement like you did. would be very happy for a tiny tip 🙂 thanks a lot for your great work guys!

  • Great work! Love the idea and it’s simplicity!

  • I was looking at what Beeple did the other day and I was just wondering: How the hell did he do that? Then you came right at the good time!

  • Hi Chris, great tutorial as always. For the seventh image, how did you manage to create the glow or lighter gradient around the edge of the landscape?

  • Thanks for another awesome tutorial. Thought I’d try another xpresso rig for this.
    Hope you enjoy!

  • Hi Chris ! Thanks for your tutorial, really effective and tasty looking 🙂 but when I was playing with it, my machine freeze a couple of times and I started to look for a different approach to get a similar result without using hair simulation, I started playing with Displacer deformer and got as far as there , to be precise I used Displacer Deformer and pixelation effect on the displacement map of the texture (width 2000 x 2000 , 300×300 segments) and adding extra subdivision on the Plane, renders only a bit longer but never freeze machine… even faster results without adding Subdivision surface but I got stuck there: , and I was wondering if you could advice on how to increase a mesh of the texture plane as it looks that mesh defines the density of the cubes on the plane… if you know how to do that then that could be a super fast way to get almost same results to your tutorial, wondering what do you think about that… Bests! Chris Zloty

    • The trick would be matching how many subdivisions there are.
      A 10 x 10 plane would need 10 x 10 pixels, but put a single subpoly division and it would be 20*20, 2 ssd would be 40*40. Always doubling.

      Here’s my thought, subdivide a plane however much you want (More sub, more detail) then select every poly and do a tiny inner extrude (Depending on how much space you want between). Now do another inner extrude, but very tiny, perhaps even 0. Set the selection, then apply the material that is going to drive the height, but limit it to that poly selection.

      Could be interesting.

  • Gracias es genial !! Como siempre !!

  • Hey Chris,

    What an inspiring tutorial – couldn’t wait to try it out.

    I’ve decided to try this approach with a sphere and it’s looking pretty fantastic but getting the pixelated colour texture to line up with the hairs is proving really difficult as you can see in this image –

    Does anyone have any ideas how to get this to line up properly?

  • You, sir, are a genius. Great tutorial.

  • Great tutorial Chris!
    just a curiosity: which are the specifications of the workstation you used (CPU,GPU,RAM)? i tried to follow on my own workstation and i experienced a lot worse performances 🙂

  • My first try with my xpresso rig made from Chris’ tutorial…
    Here’s the rig if you’re interested…

  • Just curious how you added the animation, did you add a layer shader into the length channel with noise, or something else? I watched the tutorial earlier today but can’t recall if you went into detail about that.

  • PS – Thanks, that was awesome!

  • Great tutorial, very easy to follow along with. I was just curious how you achieved the result you got in the first image with the hurricane and it in isometric view. Was that all in the image or did you add other effects to it? Also, how did you get the ocean to be infinite in the third image? Thanks and sorry for lots of questions

    • That first image was made by Nick, I think there is just a tiny bit of color correction is PS. The Atlantis one has a really big cube that makes up the ocean, the environment object is adding fog which helps fade it is it reaches the horizon. Then there is a visible light with noise to make clouds, which reflect and help the effect.

  • Amazing Chris,
    Can you explain more on how you animate them, did you keyframe hair object’s material to changing height or overlap different materials …

    Many thanks,
    Keep up the great works.

    • It’s just procedural noise, set to a small animation speed. (slower the better it seemed to look). Be sure to do speedy test renders by getting rid of lights/effects/size/blurs and check the motion. Nothing worse than waiting for a long render only to see that noise is too fast/slow.

  • Thanks for another amazing tut, you guys!!

    Coincidentally a week ago I was looking into Lee Griggs work, he did indeed do them in Maya. Mr. Griggs works for the good people at Solid Angle so these are part of their Arnold Renderer gallery. (So stoked Arnold is coming to C4D!!!)

  • Sorry for another question
    I’m trying to use SoundEffector to control Length of the hair by using XPresso, and the Sound-Sample-RangeMapper-Length doesn’t work.
    Any suggestion ?

    Thank you

  • Chris, this is, yet again, another GREAT tutorial. Simple, quick and fantastic results.

    I’m surprised you guys didn’t explore XParticles to create this. Leegriggs has a tut using XP, it’s a little more like the Griggs stuff:

    I’ll DEFINITELY be using both technics for different reasons moving forward.


  • As always Triple-C: Cool idea, cool output, cool tutorial.

    I just wanted to mention, that the original works were not created in Maya, but rather Solid Angle’s Arnold, just to be precise… I think, that’s the renderer, which got a new bridge to Cinema4D these days.

  • Nice I have been trying to figure out how some of those spheres in man of steel were animated. Thx to Chris now I have a bigger insight

  • Really nice, tut, cool techniq,Thank you very much

  • Great tutorial here thank you very much Chris!!!

    One question about hair object,
    I am new to cinema4D
    how can we drive the length of the hair to grow? beside keyframing in the length value inside the hair material.
    can we some how use plain effector to do that?
    I want to try growing the length of hair start from one side to another.

    If anyone know how to do this, please share

    Thank you

  • Nice one Chris! had a ton of fun with usual.

  • Quick Animation I made with this technique!

  • Hi , made an xpresso for this , hope you like it

  • Thanks for this great tutorial Chris, play with noise is very funny!

  • This was a super cool tut.
    Thanks Chris!

  • Great tutorial. Heres mine with a city on the water vibe

  • Hi Chris,

    I tried to create a Honeycomb of polygons however when I apply the hair and set to polygon center, I’m not getting a single hair in the center of the polygon. Some polygons I get 2, others 3…can’t really figure out why that might be. You can try this by just creating a single hexagonal poly and then add hair, set to center it generates 3 hairs instead of one.

  • Thank you Chris. Great tutorial!
    So, I am new to cinema4D and I would like to know how to use the instance type. I’ve created a tube but when i’m using it with instance -> object, everything is disappear!

    Thank you

  • Great tutorial Chris!!!

    One question…..In the images I have made so far…there is a lot of variation in the heights….even for areas with similar colors….in some of the images by Lee Griggs there is much less variation in heights… that driven solely by the image you use as the texture or can you suppress some of that inside of C4D…..I was playing around a bit with the contrast and gamma on the length channel of the hair material but wasn’t too happy with the result….any help would be greatly appreciated!!!

  • hi there.
    my rendering machine is at RMA at the moment, so i cleared my boredom doing my attemp at this. pretty much all the time i got “no memory” error on 2GB laptop, so i made this using as less i can. thanks Chris for this amazing stuff you have been doing. keep the great stuff up mates

  • How can i do this kind of thing to music?????

  • Really great tutorial, as always, thanks Chris!

    It inspired my weekly project:

  • I would like to use this technic on a job I’m doing but need to use HEXAGONS.
    the sweep option works well but I cannot work out how to get caps on the object as the option is greyed out Any suggestions appreciated.

    • Make an Hex model (as low poly as possible, and make sure the axis is at the base) and set the hair to instance. Set the hex as the instance.

      • Thanks Chris
        I got there on my own in the end I just had to walk away from the computer for 5 minuets. I have just finished a job where the client needed a map of the all the regions of the world made up from there Logo shape. The cloner could not manage the amount of clones I needed but the hair render looked epic and spectacular. Great example of thinking outside the box. Clients are over the moon.
        Thanks again your tutorials have been a great help.

  • Thanks for the tutorial, great results, i’d really like to reach this result :
    must be a differetn technique ? do you think we coul’d get something like this with hair ?

    here’s my contribution, hope you’ll like this

    made with c4d, physical renderer, DOF f1.2, AO, photoshop (curves+knoll light (custom)+ magic bullets (custom))

  • one thing you did not say, is desactivate dynamics in the hair tab, i did an animation and walking throw the timeline was hawfull without uncheking the dynamics

  • Hi, Chris!
    Thx, tut is aweeeesome!)
    Could you explain in more details how did you create fog straightly on the landscape in animation. You said it was volumetric light. but what are other tweaks?)

  • great Tutorial…!!!

    Small Doubt….how to Optimise the scene file….? I mean after completing i just want a mesh file with Textures….i want to remove Hair …?

    Thanks In Advance…

  • Great tutorial!

    Is it possible to export it as .obj to be rendered in another 3D package?


  • First of all, great tutorial, thanks Chris!
    My question is, can I control height of the objects manually?
    I didn’t see you mentioned in this tutorial how to control the height.
    I watched tutorial when guy uses a x-particles plugin, so there he’s using two different images. one control colour, the second control height.
    thanks in advance.

  • I did this tutorial exactly as you did Chris, I just changed it from 400×400 to 500×500. The render took me more then 7 hours!. Rendering setting were exactly the same as yours. I think it’s to much for such an image.
    I use Mac Mini 2013: 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5, Intel HD Graphics 4000 1024 MB, 10 GB 1600 MHz DDR3.
    I definitely understand this is not proper computer for 3D renders, but anyways, for your’s one pass took around 2 seconds, on mine it takes at least 13(!!!).
    Any thoughts on that? Maybe there is tricks&tips to speed up the render. but keep same quality?

  • Well, Nice Tut Chris… But i think the source that give you the Idea to create hair driven pilla is made by X-Particle…just simple texture emitters inside X-Particle… i tried making some of them.

  • Thanks for this tutorial! I was looking for an interesting way to do elevation maps in C4D, and your technique was a huge help. If you want to see what I made with it, check out!

  • Yet another really great tutorial from the greyscalegorilla kru!!Thx Chris! I really like the stuff you guys are doing!! Another thing… recently I found a cool looking picture on deviantart. It´s an abstract tentacle – here is the link:
    Although there is a video-tutorial it´s not really useful (its muted and quite short – not to mention that the result in the video doesn´t match with the actual posted picture of the tentacle). So therefore I thought maybe you guys could make a tutorial? I would really appreciate it!

    thanks in advance.

  • Thanks for the tutorial! Check out my take of it here:

  • I’m wondering what people’s experiences with render times were with this? I had an awesome time doing this tutorial. Very cool results as a newbie, but in trying to export a still frame of this it’s rendering for about 20 minutes now. It’s doing the progressive pass from the depth of field I think, and it’s on pass 1000+. Does it ever stop? I’m on a pretty decent machine with 32 GB Ram, etc.

  • Hi Chris/Nick

    This might seem like an odd link to the tutorial, but I used your technique for the square hair guides to create motocross tyre nobbles on a low(ish) poly tube. Et voila!

  • Great TuT, Got me thinking if there was a way to use the proximal shader under the length property in the hair material. I wanted to grow hair ( extrude geometry) as an objects passes close to it. or Would the have to be some sort of script to do do this?

  • Hi there, I have been trying to apply the same effect on a sphere in order to create a world map out of dots but it seems that the circles I choose don’t get assigned to every polygon-segment. I’m left with a sphere that doesn’t have dots everywhere and then the texture of the world map doesn’t leave dots only where the image of land is?
    Can you give any advice?

  • Hi,
    Nice tutorial, One Question!
    When I animate my plane (rotation/potition) the guides wan’t follow, they just stay at the same place?

    Any ideas on solving that?

    thnks in advance

  • Hi, awesome effect! I just don’t what to do with the background… Cause it’s just grey..

  • Awesome Tutorial!
    Do you reckon it’s possible to create something like this using the hair method?

  • Thank you very much for this amazing Tutorial, exactly what i was looking for, Big Thanks 🙂

  • This is one of my attempts
    the main lighting line was a spline and then i added the finger type parts with photoshop
    Link is from my facebook picture

  • Everything went perfect… but since i’m not experienced at all using Cinema 4D i have no idea how to animate this like you and everyone else did =/ i do not understand the “procedural noise shaders” explanation

  • thank you so much for all your great help you works have been most helpful. i have moved from been a novice in this field to a mature mind in my office, you guys are the answer to the cries of many, writing from Nigeria
    love you guys greatly

  • Hey is it possible to make the top of the hair follicles have a different texture? I am wanting to overlay a map texture on top of the scene but only on the top cap of every layer. so that the sides of all the follicles do not have said texture and just the end cap. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Has anyone had any luck creating a globe, or by using this technique on a sphere?


  • why I can not use sound with this figure? and with another yes

    perchè non riesco ad usare sound con questa figura e con altre si?

  • Hi there I’ve been on a project with the help of this awesome tutorial but have a problem. I’ve been working on adding this same effect to a sphere with great luck but can’t get the length height map to work on a Icosahedron. The reason I need it to be a Icosahedron is because the guides/hairs start clumping together at the bottom and top of a sphere (because of the smaller polygons at the button of a sphere). Is there a way that I can make all the hairs evenly apart or making the length work on a Icosahedron?

  • I am using C4D R17.055 .. It doesn’t have “Hair” option in stimulate tab !..Where can I find it ?

  • My first GSG tutorial! I enjoyed your clear presentation. A few quick results:

    Chris, how would you set up the lighting effect that the Lee Griggs renders used? I like how the shadows are cast toward the camera, with lots of light reflecting off the tops of the cubes. Do you need to bevel or subdivide the hair cubes somehow?

  • Thank you, Chris, for this tutorial…although you recorded it some time ago. This inspired me and I created some nice scene

    this one I’m especially proud of

  • How do you make your animation??
    I did all the tutorial but I want to animate my plan like you did in your example !

    Thanks for all 🙂

  • Superb, what a weblog it is! This web site
    gives useful data to us, keep it up.

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