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For many years, I've had a dream of recreating the area where I grew up in 3D, just as it looked back then, presented with as realistic as possible graphics.

I've installed (and then uninstalled) Blender, Unity and whatnot countless times. I just can't seem to wrap my head around them. I understand all the concepts of 3D graphics, but working with it seems to be impossible in practice.

Is there some software, even payware, that would let me realistically accomplish this by essentially letting me "be God" and place out trees and rocks and houses and objects, and have it look realistic?

The neighbourhood has changed a lot since, so I cannot use "street views", plus many of the paths and whatnot have not been recorded by those services. Also, they don't allow you to really walk around in a 3D world.

I actually have a satellite photo of how it looked back in the day (was hard and expensive to come by), so maybe (not likely) there is some sort of software that could take that hi-res image and figure out everything, or at least the "rough models" which I can later "tune up"?

Again, I would be willing to pay a pretty high price for such a software, but I have my strong doubts that this exists.

I would so love walking around in first-person in those old neighbourhoods. With weather effects and day/night cycles and a realistic star sky and smoke from the chimneys and birds and wind and other authentic background noises, I could spend endless hours in that world. It may sound sad, but I no longer find any joy in visiting the actual place as they have ruined it.

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What you seek is commonly called garden design software, although one can use the terms house and garden design software, or garden and house design software. The programs are many orders of magnitude simpler than 3D modeling programs such as Blender and even simpler than SketchUp.

There are always templates in the better versions of the programs available. You can pick a "canned" house layout, download more models from the 'net, and/or modify what you found to match what you require.

A large function of these programs are precisely what you describe. Trees, sidewalks, decorative items, fences, just about anything one might find in a yard can be found in the software. I've not looked for the aspect of adding a pool, but I suspect that would also be an available feature.

One such program is DreamPlan Home Design software. DreamPlan Home image

DreamPlan photo 2

Another source can be found here:

Home Designs Software

Which appears to break out the various options for design into "kitchen," "landscape," "Floor Plans," "Bathroom," etc.

Prices vary depending on complexity and ultimate objective. Personal use level programs are well under US$100 and the professional versions of some of these programs approach US$500.

  • Well, neither of those look very appealing. In fact, the second one seems faked? It looks like it uses actual photos for the "screenshots". Weird. What is the most polished and realistic and nice overall? I cannot possibly research ever single one of these on my own. – Shift Key Feb 5 '18 at 0:48
  • I agree that the level of research is likely to be substantial. Perhaps someone will post in about experience with such related software that will meet with your approval. It's a jungle out there. I would disagree about the "faked photographs" as it is imminently possible to have photo-realistic images in a program of this type. The expense of the program often will reflect the realism. I see that Virtual-Architect-Ultimate-Home-Design-with-Landscaping-and-Decks allows one to incorporate digital photos into the design process. – fred_dot_u Feb 5 '18 at 1:20
  • I really can't make sense of any of this. Sorry. Is there really no "obvious" and "standard" product to pick that is guaranteed to be smooth and streamlined and produce wonderful results? – Shift Key Feb 16 '18 at 6:59
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This started out as a comment but got too long.

I'd say that a full featured 3D modelling software (like Blender, Maya, Cinema4D, 3D Studio, or any other to your liking) is the way to go, but it will require time and investment from your part in learning it. 3D modelling is one of the most complex computer graphics areas.

Blender in particular is infamous for being hard to learn, but there is a dedicated stack exchange community, to help in case you need, and tons of online tutorials. Of course there are also many other alternatives that have a lower entry barrier, both free and commercial.

Being a Blender user I'll pass some shameless publicity, but most of what I say here also applies to any other 3D modelling suite of your choice.

Generally speaking, "easier to use" software like correctly presented in Fred's answer with pre-made assets or dedicated tools are indeed quicker to use but it comes at a price; either at the expense of "realism", flexibility, or often both.

If you are indeed willing to invest some money in this, for a fraction of the price you would probably pay for a commercial software you could probably buy a bunch of professionally pre-made models and asset-packs for your modelling software of choice, complete with textures and materials (if you choose right) and save you a ton of work, and since they are often made by professionals you might get better visual results.

A "childhood neighborhood" type of setting is probably populated with common everyday objects you will easily find in asset stores.

If you don't wish to spend the time rendering or prefer something real-time and interactive like a Game Engine there are the obvious giants like Unity and unreal, but also smaller underdogs for free like Godot and Armory3D which provide a modern pipeline and pretty decent visuals if you own the hardware.

  • Didn't seem like you read my text... :/ – Shift Key Feb 16 '18 at 6:58
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I would recommend starting in with the trial version of SketchUP. Reading the tutorials, and learning it.

Model the basic structure of the buildings and land.

Then import the model back into blender for the finishing touches, and the game engine.

I tried making a house in Blender, and couldn't figure it out, but using the tutorials for Sketchup I was able to complete the task easily.

The short comings of sketchup is I don't think it supports weather. I know it supports time of day, and maybe you could buy a weather extension.

The other issue is it isn't going to be simple, and the greater amount of detail, the higher end your video card will have to be.

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I'd start by looking into modeling in SketchUp or Form*Z free and then taking that into a world-creation realtime rendering system such as TwinMotion or Lumion or Lumen RT - these are all loosely based on porting a model from a 3D or BIM app into what is essentially a game engine front end; they're commonly-used in the architectural visualization world, which is where I am. some are based on Unreal, some are based on Unity. They all work quite well.

SketchUp or Form*Z free:

https://www.sketchup.com/products/sketchup-free http://www.formz.com/products/formzfree.html

These two are both decent entry-level 3D modeling tools aimed primarily at architectural modeling versus engineering

Three major competing arch-viz Real-time rendering / worldbuilding tools:

https://twinmotion.abvent.com/en/

https://lumion.com/

https://www.bentley.com/en/perspectives-and-viewpoints/topics/campaign/lumenrt

They all approach this idea the same way - generic content, a realtime render engine, optimised materials, and some ability to sculpt terrain, add vegetation and so on. They all include weather/time/sun controls, some lens effects and pretty darn good shading and shadowcasting given they're all realtime. They are not 3D modeling tools, so that's why this part of the process is after generating building models and other hardscape using 3D modeling tools.

FWIW, @Duarte Farrajota Ramos answer was actually spot-on, though I'm not a Blender power user, I use modo for the same tasks: I get a massive preset library, I create my own presets, I bought a bunch of XFrog plants as well, and I use The Plant Factory to model custom hero plants as needed for project-specific stuff. I can model in straight modo very quickly, and build entire neighborhoods if I need to, or start in an architectural BIM modeling tool (another of my skills) depending upon the design brief's needs.

What @Duarte Farrajota Ramos meant was that all the simple-easy pre-canned programs give you very rigid, stiff, cartoonish results, but... they're easy to learn quickly. You go from zero to thirty quickly, but can't go any faster than thirty miles an hour - like an 80 cc one-cylinder scooterbike.

A more powerful tool (whether his preference of Blender or mine of modo) will take you longer to learn and use proficiently, but if your goal is a close level of realism and fidelity to existing or remembered conditions, the quick & cheesy programs will never get you there. These kinds of tools are more like a Ducati 899 superbike - takes you $$ to buy & set up, lots of time & practise to have enough skill to ride well, but... you then get zero to 120 mph in 4.5 seconds, and your top end is far higher still: you're on a track-ready machine.

Does that help?

  • I would add a link to the suggested software and a short description of its features and how they fit the question. – Alejandro Mar 1 '18 at 2:16

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