Christina Psarrou
Initial version.
Copyright © Solid Iris Technologies
In computer graphics, geometry instancing is
the practice of rendering multiple copies of the
same object in a scene at once[1]. This technique
is primarily used for objects such as trees, grass
or other models which can be represented as
repeated geometry without appearing unduly
repetitive. So, whenever there is a need to
render the same object in many copies, the
instancing method can be used.
Figure 1: Instancing with Thea Render
(render by Juan Carlos Uribe)
Figure 2: Instancing Tool in Thea Render
Thea Render is a render engine that allows
users to render multiple copies of selected
objects, with the use of its embedded
instancing brush. You can find this tool along
with its options at the Settings panel, at Tools
tab (see figure 2).
As it is seen in figure 2, the user can choose the
desired instance -object- to generate and the
canvas -surface- on which the copies will be
placed. Apart form these basic selections, a lot
of other options, allow the user to create more
effects for fulfilling specific needs, such as
different sizes, directions or angles of the new
copies. Your created instances, will be saved in a
Package and you will be able to see it at the
Tree View.
For deeper understanding of each parameter,
an analytic description is following, along with
some visual examples that will help to
distinguish the results and the effects that each
option can lead to.
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Instance: this option, allow the user to specify the object that will be generated by the program
(initial object). After selecting the desired object by clicking on it at the Viewport or at the Tree
View, just click at the rotating arrows button at the left side of the instance selection, in order to
apply your object to instancing tool (you will now see its name next to it like on figure 3).
Figure 3: Selection of Instance
Canvas: this is the main surface where the instances will be placed. After selecting your desired
object that will be used as a canvas, click at the rotating arrows next to canvas option to apply it
(as you see in figure 4).
Figure 4: Selection of Canvas
Tip: instances are placed on the canvas according to their Pivot Point . Most of the times, it is
more useful to place pivot point of the instance at the point that will be adapted to the canvas
(for example at the bottom of a grass object). In order to change your pivot point, while having
your object selected, press “p” key to enter in the pivot mode, change your axes accordingly and
by pressing “p” again, exit pivot mode. You can also enter in the pivot mode, from the
corresponding option of the toolbar at OpenGL Viewport (as you see in figure 5).
Figure 5: Enter in Pivot Mode
In our case study that will complement the options explanation, we will try to cover with grass a
surface with slopes and also “plant” some flowers on it. For that purpose, we will use a surface as
a canvas (figure 6), a grass patch as an instance (figure 7) and a flower as instance too (figure 8).
Figure 6: Sloped Surface for
Figure 7: Grass Patch for
Figure 8: Flower for Instance
Note: apart from instance and canvas selection, that user needs to define for using the instancing
tool, the other four basic tool buttons for creating and erasing instances, are located at the
bottom of the Instancing Tool window (see figure 2 and 9).
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Populate: after selecting your desired settings,
by clicking on the populate button, your
instances will automatically be placed on the
canvas according to your specifications.
Brush: by clicking on the brush, the cursor
becomes a brush and you can manually click
and drag it on your canvas (at the Viewport)
and create instances on the selected areas.
Erase: by clicking on the erase button, the
cursor becomes an erase tool, and by clicking
and dragging it on the surface, you erase from
these areas the generated instances.
Clear: by hitting the clear button, you can erase
all the instances that have been created at
Figure 9: Basic Instancing Tools
Tip: In case your canvas is an infinite plane,
populate button is not functional (automatic
population cannot be carried out due to the
surface infinity), so it is advised to use the brush
Direction: this option defines if instances will be
directed by canvas surface normal (0%), by
global z-axis (100%) or somewhere in between.
In figure 11, by using a very simple example, we
can see these options, for an inclined surface.
Brown cubes have direction 0% and they are
adapted to the surface while purple-blue cubes
have direction 100% and they are parallel to zaxis, without taking under consideration the
angle of the surface.
Tip: a normal to a surface at a point is the same
as a normal to the tangent plane to that surface
at that point.
Figure 11: Different Directions
Figure 10: Normal to a Surface
In our case study example, when changing the direction percentage for generating grass on the
selected surface, we have the following results.
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Direction: 0%
For zero direction the instance (grass) is placed
exactly by surface's normal. It means, that the
instances are placed in such way to follow the
curvature of the surface.
Figure 12: Direction 0%
Figure 13: Direction 50%
Figure 14: Direction 100%
Direction: 50%
For the half value in the direction percentage,
the instances are oriented between the z-axis
and the surface normal. Actually, for grass, a
percentage around 10-20% would create a
more realistic effect, as grass follows the surface
curves, but it is also directed towards the sky.
Direction: 100%
Full percentage of the direction value, makes
the instances to be oriented along the global zaxis. As we see, the grass instances, are totally
horizontal (they just follow the height of the
surface and not its normals) and in our case,
with grass as an instance, the result is not very
realistic. The final choice of the right value
depends on the instance object that is used.
Figure 15: Different Normals
Normal: by changing this percentage, the
instances will have random varying orientation
related to the canvas normal. This time, by
increasing the percentage, instances will use as
fixed point their pivot point and they will rotate
all around it, in all directions. Figure 15 shows
the results of a simple example. Red squares
have normal 0% and they are all at the same
direction and tilt as the initial object, orange
squares have 50% normal, so they are rotated
somehow from their initial position, while blue
squares that have 100% normal, are rotated
completely differently.
Figure 16: Rotation around pivot point
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In our case study, while changing the normal percentage, we have the following results.
Normal: 0%
For normal 0% (all other values are also zero),
instances are generated at the same direction
as the original initial grass patch.
Figure 17: Normal 0%
Normal: 50%
For half the percentage, instances are changing
their directions and are placed randomly on the
canvas (with their pivot point to stay pinned on
the surface).
Figure 18: Normal 50%
Normal: 100%
For full percentage of the normal value,
instances are rotated even more in all possible
directions. For grass, large normal perturbations
create a rather unrealistic effect, while for other
instances, this may be useful.
Figure 19: Normal 100%
Roll: this option enables the user to roll the
instances; rotate them around the z
(longitudinal) axis. For 0% roll, all instances will
be the same as the initial one (see brick squares
at figure 21) while for 100% roll, the objects are
rolled around their z-axis (see wooden squares
at figure 21).
Roll around
Figure 21: Different Rolls
Figure 20: Roll around middle axis
At our case study, we use this time as instance, the flower model, which is not symmetrical
around its z-axis, to see better the roll perturbation while using the instancing brush.
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Roll: 0%
For zero roll, instances are generated exactly as
the initial one.
Figure 22: Roll 0%
Roll: 100%
By increasing the roll percentage, the flowers
are rolling by their z-axis as they are generated
on the canvas.
Figure 23: Roll 100%
Figure 24: Different Scales
Scale: this option gives the possibility to the
user to change the size of the generated
instances. For scale 0%, the instances will be
exactly the same as the initial one. By increasing
this percentage though, the size of the new
instances will be different. In figure 24, we see
that the red squares that have scale 0% are all
the same to the initial one, while the yellow
squares, that have 50% scale are smaller or
bigger than the initial one. Higher percentage,
leads to bigger difference between the smallest
and the largest created instance.
By using again as instance the flower model, we can see the results by changing the scale value.
Scale: 0%
For zero scale percentage, all flowers have the
exact same size as the initial instance.
Figure 25: Scale 0%
Scale: 50%
By increasing this percentage, instances start to
have different sizes. The bigger the percentage,
the bigger the difference between the smallest
and the largest instance will be.
Figure 26: Scale 50%
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Scale: 100%
With full scale percentage, the instances are
having even bigger deviation from their initial
size, as we also see in figure 27.
Figure 27: Scale 100%
Minimum Distance: this option defines the minimum distance that will exist between the
generated instances. For creating grass for example you need a very small distance while for trees
the distance should be bigger. It is totally dependent on the desired results and the scene.
In our case study, we will use different distances to show how the flowers are generated. Note
that by choosing large minimum distances, even if you want to create more instances -large
population value-, only a certain number of them will be placed as they need to follow the rule of
distance that you have specified.
Figure 28: Minimum Distance 5 meters
Minimum Distance: 5 meters
In our example, by giving 5 meters as a minimum
distance between new copies, the flowers will be
placed in such way that there will be no other
instance in radius of 5 meters around each one
of them, as we can also see in figure 28.
Minimum Distance: 1 meter
If the minimum distance is smaller, instances
come closer to each other as we can also see at
figure 29.
Figure 29: Minimum Distance 1 meter
Figure 30: Minimum Distance 0.1 meters
Minimum Distance: 0.1 meters
2. The smaller the minimum distance is, the closer
the instances come. For grass, very small
minimum distance is desired, in order to assure
better coverage, while for trees or flowers it
depends on the result we need to create.
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Front Side: this option, which is enabled by default, means that instances will be generated at the
front side of the canvas object. When disabled, instances will be placed at the back side.
In our example, we use these two options for the flower instance and we see the results below.
Front Side: Enabled
For front side option enabled, all the instances
(flowers) are generated on the top side of the
surface, as we can see in figure 31.
Figure 31: Front Side
Front Side: Disabled
When disabling this option, the instances
(flowers) are now placed at the opposite side of
the surface, as we see in figure 32.
Figure 32: Back Side
Snap to Grid: this option allows the user to place the instances along to the selected axes at
specific distances.
For a better understanding of this option we will use a simple example of small cubes with green,
red and blue colors, which represent the colors of the axes as well (x-axis: red color, y-axis: green
color and z-axis: blue color).
Figure 33: Step 2 meters
We are enabling the snap to grid option and we
enter the following parameters, for each square
that we use as an instance, thus, creating three
• For generating the green square, we use X
step=0, Y step=2 and Z step=0.
• For the red square, we have: X step=2, Y
step=0 and Z step=0.
• For the blue one, we set: X step=0, Y step=0
and Z step=2.
At figure 33, we have the three instance
packages, and we see that the green cubes are
snapped along the Y axis (with step of 2 meters),
the red cubes at X axis of the canvas (with step
of 2 meters) and blue cubes along its Z axis (with
step of 2 meters). Their distance from the axis
center is defined by the step we have set. If we
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use a larger distance, for example 5 meters, we
see at figure 34 the way that instances are
placed. They follow the dimensions of the canvas
but they snap to the grid of it with the desired
Figure 34: Step 5 meters
Tool Radius (pixels): this options allows the user to change the size of the brush or erase tool. By
increasing it, instances can be created in a larger area than the default one and correspondingly
instances will be erased in larger areas by one click on the instances at the Viewport.
In our example we use the “Brush” to create some flowers and the “Erase” to delete some grass.
Tool Radius for Brush
By specifying the pixels of your tool, you can
adjust the brush tool and generate instances to
your desired areas by clicking and dragging your
cursor. Instances will cover the area included in
the red square (tool radius), like in figure 35.
Tool Radius for Erase
You can also erase specific areas of generated
instances, by using the erase tool. By increasing
the pixels of the tool radius, you are able to
erase bigger surfaces. Int the right figure we are
erasing the grass by clicking and dragging the
cursor on the instances.
Figure 35: Brush Tool
Figure 36: Erase Tool
Population: this is the amount of the desired instances the user wants to generate on the canvas.
The population of instances can vary depending on the scene, the selected instance and the
canvas size. For creating a grass or a carpet, large population promises wider coverage of the
surface, while for trees or flowers for example, user may need just a small amount of them.
In our example, we will use the grass patch as an instance to fill our surface while using different
populations of them. Tip: You need to use a small minimum distance as well, to allow your grass
patches to come close enough and cover the surface.
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Population: 50
If we use as desired population the value 50, as
we see in figure 37, for this particular canvas
and the desired effect, this amount is quite
Figure 37: Population 50
Population: 500
By increasing the number of instances, the
surface is covered by more grass patches and
starts to look more realistic.
Figure 38: Population 500
Population: 5000
With the use of a very large population number,
the whole surface is covered by grass, as it is
seen in figure 39.
Figure 39: Population 5000
Modified Density: this option, allows the user to create even more complex scenes, since there is
the possibility to enter a pattern (by adding a texture image), which will define the areas that
instances will be placed. In general, for a given texture, instances are placed only over the white
areas, while black ones stay empty. For gray areas, the application will probabilistically decide
whether to place instances or not, based on the brightness level. It is better to use gray-scale
images, to be able to specify and control better the areas you want or not to place instances.
Apart from choosing the desired texture, there is also the option to set the desired texture scale,
by changing the numerical value next to the modified density option (see figure 40), for handling
the gray parts of the image and increasing or decreasing the possibility to place an instance on
them. At the next example, we use different values to experiment with this parameter. For easier
observation we have applied the gradient texture on the canvas too.
Figure 40: Modified Density
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Modified Density: 0
For a zero value, the whole area is considered to
be black and the possibility to add an instance is
zero as well, so no single instance is created, as
we see too in figure 41.
Figure 41: Zero Possibility
Modified Density: 0.2
By increasing this value, some lighter areas are
now used for generating the instances, as we
see in figure 42.
Figure 42: 0.2x Possibility Scale
Modified Density: 2
As we are increasing more this value, the
possibility for darker areas to start being used
as active canvas is getting higher. For this value,
as we see in figure 43, almost only the very dark
area is not covered by grass.
Figure 43: 2x Possibility Scale
Modified Density: 100
This is the maximum value that we can set, and
is making even the most dark areas (except the
pure black ones) to receive instances, as we can
also see in figure 44.
Figure 44: 100x Possibility Scale
By using our case study example again, we use another texture (it is black and white only, so there
is no need to change the scalar value) with a specific pattern as you can see in figure 45, to create
some grass areas and place flowers in between them. At the following images we see the
necessary settings along with the final results.
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After specifying the instance, the canvas, all the
other perturbations etc., we can enter the
population as well as the pattern, as seen in the
image below. The result is shown in the figure
45, where grass is only generated on the specific
white areas of the texture.
Figure 45: Grass Creation
Figure 46: Grass Pattern
By inverting the colors of the previous texture
(we could have used another texture as well) we
can place instances to the empty areas, flowers
for example. We see that the result is the
creation of an exact pattern of combined grass
and flowers, that fills the whole canvas.
Figure 47: Flowers Creation
Figure 48: Flower Pattern
By this way you can create unique designs, like carpets for example (see figure 49), by creating
different instance packages each time and filling different areas of your canvas.
Figure 49: Example of a Carpet
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