Skatter Extension: Part 2 – Realistic Trees and Rendering

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced Skatter, the amazing extension that allows you to mass-place objects onto surfaces. Specifically, with Skatter you can create detailed, vast forest plantings, lawns, and similar vegetation patterns.

In this post, I’ll show a quick demo of using Skatter to generate a quick mass vegetation planting for a bridge model. Then I’ll discuss rendering in Lumion. But if you don’t have a sophisticated rendering app like Lumion, you can also get great results from SketchUp alone.


This model uses high-resolution aerials – see my post on how to do this. (Also, another extension that helps with aerials is Skelion – see my post on that as well.)

Place Trees with Skatter

For this bridge project, here is the terrain:


And here’s the model with its high-rez aerial.  I want to mass-place 2D trees along both sides of the river bank, as can be seen in the aerial.



The terrain aerial is a single surface. And Skatter works great with terrain : )

The trick is to separate different areas of the terrain into their own separate groups. This might seem hard, but it’s actually simple – I just need to create an outline of each location were vegetation will go. The aerial serves as a great tracing guide. I use the Tools on Surface extension (which I’ll post about soon) to draw lines, circles, arcs, and rectangles right on the terrain. This took me less than 10 minutes.

I have four separate terrain areas. The next step – load the surfaces as hosts and the 2D face-me tree components as scattered objects. I’m using uniform distribution.

When the preview looks good, click (re)Generate for an instant forest.


Render in Lumion

Now I want to render my forest to be look more realistic.

Many rendering programs like Vray, Thea, Shaderlight, and Lumion allow you to swap out one type of component vegetation with another. Which means my cartoonish 2D tree can be replaced by a tree worth rendering. This is called proxy rendering and each renderer has a different process for this, always relatively simple. I mostly use Lumion these days (though I am a big fan of many others).

For Lumion, without going into much detail, I do a process called Node Replacement – I import the 2D trees into Lumion along with the base SketchUp model of the bridge and aerial. Then I select a 3D tree from the Lumion rendering library with which to replace the SketchUp tree.(If you’re interested in a detailed tutorial about Node Replacement in Lumion, let me know in the comments.)

Nice, right?




Render in SketchUp

Don’t have something like Lumion? Never fear, you can get a nice render in SketchUp as well. But remember, heavy use of 3D trees in SketchUp can eat through memory and slow down performance. I always recommend that you place all vegetation on a layer, so that its display can be turned on and off as needed.

The tree-switching process is simple: Right-click on any 2D tree. If you have a library of 3D trees on your computer, choose Reload. To search for a 3D tree, choose 3D Warehouse / Reload.



When you’re ready to export images, navigate to the view you want and turn on shadows. A nice concept render.





About Daniel Tal

Daniel Tal, ASLA, is a professional speaker and a registered landscape architect with over 17 years of experience. He is a 3D modeling and visualization expert, has authored two books with Wiley and Sons: SketchUp for Site Design and Rendering in SketchUp and is the tech-editor at large for Landscape Architecture Magazine. Tal runs a 3D modeling and visualization studio for Stanley Consultants, a 1,000 person multi-disciplinary engineering firm. Read more about Daniel.



  1. I am interested in node replacement in Lumion. How can I replace SKP component (2D TREE) to Lumion 3D Tree?


  2. I am also interested in learning more about node replacement in Lumion.


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