November 9th, 2018
That calculus class you didn't want to take? That's how Xfrog store their models in a single page of text
Xfrog has been an industry leading company for more than 30 years. It has developed its unique software and created the largest database of botanically accurate 3D plant models in the world. We got the chance to ask the creators of Xfrog a couple of questions and delve a bit deeper into their work, which really boggles the mind: each leaf of their models has a different texture, a model has no polycount and can range from 3,000 to 3,000,000 polys, and, at the same time, is just a single page of text.
Tell us a bit about your company and what you do.
We have created procedural software Xfrog and used it to build over 5,000 Plants. Our software and plants have been used in over 50 feature films and we have been nominated for a Scientific Oscar. Xfrog is also used by many leading architects such as Frank Gehry, and we also help many landscape architects visualize their dreams with our plants being from all over the World. Our plants are also used by many game companies. We love most Architectural Renderings as our plants help clients believe and enjoy 3D architectural models. We enjoy seeing users create such renderings very much.
Xfrog Corporate History Presentation on Vimeo.
When and why did you start 3D modeling?
After I graduated in Computer Science I did some programming jobs which did not enjoy. I found that building 3D models was more interesting. This happened a very long time ago. Before most people who read this were born. Before the Internet.
You have hundreds of XfrogPlants models on CGTrader, and by now you must have covered the most common plants. How do you choose which plant to model next? Do you research the market in any way?
We ask Landscape Architects what they need most. They all have different answers as they want plants local to their part of the World. So we listen and make lists and build from those. We have 4 new libraries coming as well many new renderer formats this year.
Lettuce 3D model by Xfrog
What makes your models unique?
They are procedural so they do not have a polygon count. They are mathematical high order equations. That calculus class you didn't want to take – that is how we store our models. Parametric values for equations. It is easy to do, it's all sliders in our software. But the actual model is only stored as 1 page of text. That text can be altered with programming or with Xfrog sliders, and therefore the poly count is fully editable. So we can make a tree that is 3,000 poly today, and tomorrow increase its quality and output 3,000,000 poly. And in a few years, 300,000,000. Trees are very complex. Just the leaves alone are extremely hard to model without instancing and repeating textures. Nowhere outside our research does there exist a tree with a different texture per leaf, with each leaf having its unique geometry, not instanced. Such a leaf canopy is millions of polygons and no problem for Xfrog.
Organ Pipe Cactus 3D model by Xfrog
Tell us how Descartes and Euclid shaped your design philosophy.
They established that two points make a line, and 3 lines make a triangle, and while this gave order to chaos and the polygon that you all depend on in computer graphics, trees have no straight lines. None. Nature does not have these man-made mathematical ideas. They are abstract ideas to give a way to make geometries which are wholly man-made objects. Great for a building as those are, but they are all about straight lines. Useless for plants. So we have a big love/hate of these guys. Thanks for asking. We wish they would have been less rigid. Mostly, not until Mandelbrot did we find a mathematician that really excited us. But we do appreciate Euclid and Descartes, as without them there would be no X, Y, Z and polygons. There would be no 3D computer graphics that we all spend all day using.
Your team has been together for many years. How does your modeling workflow look like? How do you manage collaboration between designers and make sure their works are up to Xfrog quality standards?
We find a regional project that is needed, like US East or Mediterranean, and build a list of plants that are the most important and that we can find real and not too far away from us in botanical gardens. Then we visit the trees, sketch them, photograph them, and compare those to books, we have a very large library of plant books, and internet images, and finally we arrive at a set of variations that we wish to build, which hopefully represents the Species. For each region we only build plants that are native to that region. It is a type of purity in our organization. And then, after we build the plants (and our modelers are botanical experts), we do test renders and a small group of folks judge these and give feedback on what to change. And then eventually, after a few rounds of this, the plants are ready, and we convert them into 15 popular formats and publish them on our site and yours.
Golden Bamboo 3D model by Xfrog
What are the greatest difficulties you face in your field of work?
People who sell models for $9. It destroys the value of digital assets. And people who take our plants, edit them, and sell as their “own model”. These we prosecute, heavily. And there is also the daily 1,000s of attempts to hack into our website.
What major trends do you see in the 3D industry?
In my world, photogammetry and lidar to capture trees. Its already possible to get fantastic trunks. We are very excited. And we also see VR and AR growing exponentially as ways of showing and interacting with renders and animations. What client doesn't want to immerse themselves in a garden facing their building that's about to be built?
What recent developments in nature modeling most 3D designers are not aware of?
Perhaps photogammetry to create 3D models from photographs. Or subsurface scattering of light, which gives highly believable leaves.
What software do you use in your work? Also, how can designers on CGTrader get your proprietary software, which was nominated for the 2015 Scientific Academy Award?
We use every software you can name. And it always more new software each month, especially render software.
Anyone can buy Xfrog from our website for $99. It is a Windows standalone, and a Plugin for Maya and Cinema4D.
Giant Sequoia 3D model by Xfrog
Tell us about your experience with CGTrader.
Very happy – quite a lot of sales and we hope to go from number 10 seller on your site to number 1, by end of this year.
Feel free to add anything you’d want our users to know.
We wish to let you know we have some of our models free on our website.
All renderings used in this article were created by Xfrog.
Tell us what you think!