3D Landscape modelling and visualization is a challenging research area mobilizing multidisciplinary approaches since 30 years. A research agenda, proposed by S. Ervin in 2001, understanding the landscape from a combination of landform, vegetation, water, (infra) structures, animals and people, and atmosphere from which interrelated questions are issued, still remains. Current technics luck user interactions models and functional realistic models, including or not their dynamics. In the world of computer graphics, natural phenomena (natural environment modelling and visualization) is a hot topic since its early age, and gained significant results, boosted by the entertainment market. Natural phenomena are represented by figurative techniques, featuring the visual aspects, or exhaustive models –usually procedural- to build complex objects, on the basis of biophysical laws –or others.
We focus here on the vegetation component, illustrated by our experience within projects and referring to the plant modelling research area, we contribute to, since the mid 80’s. We keep Ervin’s distinction between dynamics types in the landscape: movement through the landscape, and movement of the landscape.
In most of 3D landscape tools, the vegetation component defines at two scales: the individual plant level, and the plant community. For individual plant representations we show that both figurative and procedural plant 3D representations can be simultaneously mobilized to build various levels of detail (LoD) representations of a same plant for efficient large scene visualisation. We introduce and underline the advantages of not referring to a representation itself, but to an abstraction, just specifying the species, location, and age. At the community level, patterns are defined as a list of plant individual representation with their density. Nowadays, photorealistic interactive 3D landscape walkthroughs are possible when 3D landscape communities are built from procedural seeding and planting patterns instantiations.
But 3D landscapes vegetation still lucks realistic behaviour (growth and structure plasticity). The literature presents interesting pioneer works on the vegetation dynamics, all based on plant growth simulations. However, community evolutions, as well as local environmental conditions impacts are challenging tasks, related to complex systems modelling, aiming to build the so-called “functional landscapes”. On another side, the increasing availability of low cost and free data (especially images) pushes new applications especially in 3D visualisation boosting the potential of augmented reality.
The future of 3D landscape modelling and visualization may thus be somehow a trade-of between causal modelling approaches and databased techniques deployment, with perhaps a better distinction between approaches related to the landscape understanding for those related to communication.
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