Land Expo landscaping presentation notes and photos

So I promised I’d post a transcript or record of what I talked about at Land Expo, and this is the blog posting for it. You may wish to open up the Flickr slideshow in another window to follow along with the presentation, given June 11, 2009, which comes after the cut;

Landscaping and You – Prim management and effective solutions


My name is Aki Shichiroji, and I’m here to speak with you about prim management and effective solutions towards landscaping on the mainland as well as estate land.

I guess I should give you a bit of background behind my experience – I joined SL in July of 2006 and began creating content shortly afterwards. By May of 2007, I was doing building and texture work for Aimee Weber on a contract basis, and I’ve been working with her company ever since.  We’ve developed sims for the National Oceanographic and Astronomic Administration (NOAA), the US Navy, Siemens, the University of Denver, the MacArthur Foundation, and more.

Alongside that, in about August of 2007, I began developing my own trees and plantlife as I was at a point where i was often low on L$ and I really didn’t feel like dropping L$1500 a pop on no-copy content that didn’t suit my needs in the first place.  So, drawing on an existing appreciation for the art of bonsai and nature in general, I decided I was going to make a few trees and experiment with selling them – a side business to my original main store, which still exists, but which was built around avatar related products.

Fast forward to today, and that little side business has become a major part of my Second Life.  What started out on a 2048sqm lot has expanded considerably to a full sim, and I’ve also had some success developing landscaping solutions for various commercial and private parties.

Along the way, I’ve often fielded questions and concerns about landscaping, so that’s pretty much spurred me in to volunteering to speak with you today.


When landscaping in Second Life is mentioned, it’s very likely that Heart Gardens’ palm trees, golden beaches, and ocean as far as the eye can see will come to mind.  You might think of places like Svarga or Straylight also as touchstones for ‘what to do’ with one’s land.

But when it comes to your own land, what many make seem easy may be difficult, particularly when one’s own land situation is vastly different from those touch-stones.  After all, very few of us can afford to spend $1000USD startup and $295/mo for a private region.

So it’s quite common for folks to either own land on the mainland or rent on an estate property… but it doesn’t mean there are no options at all when it comes to moulding the shape of a new home.

Many people begin with 512sqm lots and expand from there, so that’s where I’ll start.

First of all, as a landscaper, I do have to admit my bias is towards creating exterior environments that work with the right house.  But with a smaller lot, that can be difficult, and I’ve often heard folks complain that landscaping is a pain because it can be so primmy.

Indeed, there are some trees out there that take upwards of 100 prims – i’ve even made some myself.  But that doesn’t mean all landscaping products are the same – in fact many tree and plant makers are opting for lower prim sculptie solutions that are way less demanding on the alotted prims per parcel.

As such, I think eventually the urge to purchase more land for prims will give way to the urge to buy it for more space.

Here’s an example: (Please see slide #5)

As you can see here, i’ve fashioned a base and a basic house… you could arguably add a few more prims to the house for the doorknob… maybe some girders inside… but this is fairly typical, coming in at 27 prims.  Most of the houses i’ve seen suitable for 512sqm lots are about this size, and range between 25-45 prims.  I would go no farther than 50 prims.  You’d have 62 prims left for everything else, so maybe some low prim furniture, a TV or something like that, and you’d still have some prims left over for outside, if you so choose.

The key to creating an interesting landscape in a situation like this, then, would be to find an effective focal point and not to overcrowd everything, despite the fact that most landscaping elements need quite a bit of space.

Here’s what I would suggest (See Slide 6) – place a balancing element across from the house in some manner – using the compositional rule of thirds is usually a good idea – it basically means that if you draw a line in thirds across the space you’re using, placing things along one of those lines would be better than say…  putting it along the edge, in a corner, or smack dab in the middle.

From there, you can build up to that focal point, or play off it by filling in opposing areas to balance things out a bit.

Something that’s very important for current day landscaping is that you should keep your viewer up to date – to 1.21 at least, if possible.  That’s the first viewer that offered viewing of oblong sculpts, and oblong sculpts go a long way towards cutting down on prims while not sacrificing overall volume of vegetation.  You can get a lot of low prim grasses, plants, and trees that are made with sculpties – Aminom Marvin was one of the first to make a two prim tree. I’ve seen Heart Gardens put out some really nice flowers, and I’ve made a few varieties of grasses, flowers, trees and ferns as well.  There are also a variety of other low prim trees like these – perhaps not as low as Aminom’s, but designed with both aesthetics and prim economy in mind.

The other thing to keep in mind in all cases is the fact that you can play with vertical space.  It’s very easy to ‘plant’ a tree on a flat roof that’s intended for outdoor use anyway.  Like for instance: if you had a flat roof that has deck furniture out, you could probably use a bit of shade or a plant around to liven things up. Just pop it in a planter of some sort – like a large pot – and move it around to see what works best. (Slide 7)

The same principles hold for larger parcels, though with more room, you get more opportunities to create smaller points of interest and areas for privacy.

If you have a look slide 8, you’ll see a project I put together for a client a couple of weeks ago.  The lot itself is about 64x128m, but I was given about 60×60 to work with.  Here’s my overall process:  I will plan out everything spatially on graph paper – usually where i mark off every 4m as a box. (You can see a few of my garden plans for this client on slide 9).  I try to sketch out a few rough options to play with the ‘balance’ of the land, and I try to figure out which areas will balance out others, particularly in relation to existing structures if there are any.

The first and third sketches are fairly symetrical – very straightforward, certainly different from eachother, but ultimately not what we were looking for.  The second one was a little closer, and ultimately we made some changes along the way.  Basically, we wanted to create almost two seperate areas – the building to the south is a cathedral, and we wanted to make this garden area to the north more of a gathering area, for a party.  So we added a large clearing, couched the edges with wrought iron, and created a garden inside with a number of resting areas alongside this open area.

As you can see, there’s a fair bit of variation between the taller trees and the ground cover.  You’ll also find that there are areas where I lowered the land a bit to allow for water elements to be added and to integrate the sim’s own natural water level.

A friend asked me ‘what’s new with water?’ lately, and that’s really quite an interesting topic in itself.  For years and years, waterside land has been a big big deal for folks shopping for mainland property.  It still is – even more so, since Windlight offers such a visual bonus.  You get more realistic lighting of waves, plus reflections of the sun and moon, trees, avs, and other objects, if your video card can handle it.  That said, however, not everyone can get their hands on an affordable piece of oceanside land, and in many cases, perhaps, folks might already have land and are seeking to add water where none exists.

So this can be a difficult thing to handle, especially on the mainland where terraforming options are often limited to +/- 4m or sometimes even less.

There are a few free resources available to every SL user. If you open up your inventory and do a search for waterfall, in the Library, you’ll find a folder in there labelled waterfalls.  It includes textures for water particles, ripple textures, and water surfaces, as well as a small script that will animate the texture from one side of the prim to the other.  With these materials, you can make your own (very basic) moving water for your land.

However, if prim editing isn’t for you, or you are looking for other, more realistic examples, you might want to look for water solutions by either Ante Flan or Naiman Broome (see slide 12).  You can get sculpted water sets from Naiman these days that not only move around a bit but simulate waves on the prim itself.  There are a lot of other fountain and stream makers out there, so be sure to look up fountains and streams as well if you’d like to add those to your land.

To integrate these, it’s probably best to figure out the highest extent your land can be terraformed, as well as the lowest.  I would terraform land a bit higher, and then add a depression in the middle to accomodate a stream in based on this knowledge.  You can see that I’ve done that here on this project I’ve been working on in Furness. (slide 13)


If you’re on the mainland, you’ll probably also find that you will have neighbors to contend with, and their build style might not really work well with yours.  In fact, this is often the case.  So how does one landscape with this in mind?

I think in all cases, it is best to avoid putting up walls, but when it comes down to it, you may need to. I haven’t had need to track one down for myself, but there are a number of such products on Xstreet – you can search for ‘privacy screen’ or ‘tree screen’ and come up with a large number of results.

This can be somewhat incongruous though, and I think it’s doubly important in such a case to include some 3D trees to make the affect a bit more believable.

A great example I came across at some point last week was this mainland build by Jules Artful, whose build I have pictured on the screen now.

As you can see on the lower left portion of the screenshot, there are these small town-houses…  these are actually full bright.  Jules was aiming to recreate historically accurate Pict living, and these weren’t fitting in so well with the land she has.  So she put up some basic tree screens, and then used other trees to help her main area blend in and hide what was beyond.  You can still see the houses a little bit from the inside, but at least these additions allowed the focus of her land to be the pict recreation, not the blinding houses across the parcel line.  The end result is a peaceul, enclosed setting.  The land, if i recall correctly is only 4096sqm, but feels much larger.

Alternatively, again, the sky is your limit when building in Second Life.  While such an alternative might not be the first choice, sometimes it’s necessary to just build your home at a higher altitude rather than deal with neighbors or a malaise of visual garbage at ground level. This is where skyboxes come in, and in such a case, you can still make your skybox look very much like a ground-level build, by using ground textures (grass, dirt, stone, whatever) or entire floating objects (such as these) to simulate ground.  You can then proceed with an unencumbered view and greater peace of mind.  You’ll need to make sure that all of your prims are still on your parcel, but at least you’ll have more space to breath.


Once you get in to larger parcel sizes – like 4096sqm or larger, the prim alottment becomes less of an issue, and you may find that your house and furniture take up about half… and the landscaping could take up maybe a third or less… especially if you’re using low prim but high quality products.

This lets you play around a bit with some smaller, still low prim, but higher detail objects.  Folks like Logan Bauer and Miriel Enfield make some wonderful low prim individual flowers.  If you’re looking to create a bouquet for instance, check out Logan’s place at Arctic Greenhouse for some stunning roses and lilies.


Still, with a private region, you have far greater flexibility as far as terraforming limits and ground textures.  If you are thinking about renting with an estate or perhaps getting your own estate to work with, what i’d highly recommend is that you set up an Opensim on your home computer first.  This will let you experiment with ground texture settings, terraform as you wish, save, and then upload to the SL grid when you are ready.  This is a huge time-saver, especially since only Estate owners can change or upload ground textures and terrain maps.  You can also use Opensim to mock up what sorts of plants you want where, where you’d like to put your home, so on and so forth.

For terraforming, I like to use Backhoe for Macs, but if you’re on PC only, using Terragen or Photoshop to create your height map, then converting the height map to a terrain map in Bailiwick is the way to go.

If you bring in a terrain map though, be prepared to do a bit of editing afterwards.  A lesson in terraforming tools is probably best saved for another session, but the most recent viewers should have adjustable sizes and strengths for you to play with to get just the right effect.

What I can say, however, is that the best terrain designs keep varying heights and specific points of interest in mind, while avoiding sharp and severe shifts in height, which may cause land spikes or odd roughness.  This is what my friend NeoBokrug Elytis calls ‘land static’.  To avoid this, you’ll want to make sure you use gentle transitions overall and work slowly, smoothing any rough areas as they form.

There is a wide world of possibilities available as far as low prim solutions – so it’s ultimately possible to have your own little piece of paradise on any private region.  Theoretically, you could place a low prim – maybe 3-4 prim – tree every thirty meters and still have a couple hundred prims left over for a home on an openspace, though i wouldn’t recommend using land on a 700 prim region for a residence, and neither does Linden Lab.

Even so, landscaping in SL isn’t a terribly prim costly thing anymore, and some good landscaping can go a long way towards improving the overall presentation and mood around your home or other sort of build.

With that in mind, hopefully if your’e in the market for new land, you’re now armed with a few good ideas as far as what to look for.  If Landscaping is the thing for you, a small double prim lot might not work out as good for you as a larger, normal or lower prim lot, which might end up being more economical.


So at this point, i’ve set aside a little time for questions, if there are any.

Questions brought up mainly dealt with making terrain files.

Ali Akami: the RAW files apps do they work with Vista now?

– Unfortunately I do not know, as I work on Windows XP and have not worked with Vista for this purpose. However;

Syaoran Nyoki mentions: Raw support was included with Vista.

Zaphod Theas: Do you have tips on making raw files in photoshop?

– I like to start with a 256x256px file. Darkest areas will be lowest, lightest areas will be highest. To achieve smooth transitions from altitude to altitude, use a blur brush or select the given area and apply a gaussian blur to it. This will average out the greytones. Abrupt changes in shade will cause abrupt changes in height. Save as a .raw and use Bailiwick to convert and add your terrain/parcel properties before importing to SL.

Mellifera Szondi: I have seen some plants that are multi face yet single prim…. are those becoming more standard in landscaping? more stable?

– Yes and no. People with much older video cards will certainly have a harder time loading sculpts, however, sculpts have been a part of the SL viewer for the better part of two years, and oblong sculpts since 1.21… which has been at least since January. The last viewer to *not* support oblong sculpts dropped off the radar in May of this year. I think implementation of Oblong sculpts has a ways to go yet, however once they are loaded, they are more stable and make less of a FPS hit on the viewer than other low prim plant solutions, such as particle effect ground cover.

Ali Akami: What about grass and wild flowers that are temp prim based?

– I’m of the opinion that temp rezzers are not the best solution to go with, particularly because temp rezzers affect sim performance as well as viewer performance. Similarly, temporary visual solutions such as particle plants can be detrimental to the viewer experience.


That’s about it for me – If you’d like to learn more, I have a booth on the southern edge of Land Expo 3 and I’ll try to be there for most of today.  Pop on over and give me a shout if you want to pick my brain about landscaping and stuff like that.  I’ve also got a sim called Sylvan, which you’re all welcome to visit.  The landscaping there is an ongoing project since I’ve really had very little personal time to develop it of late, however it’s open for all, and sees changes often.  You can also find my tree store, Organica there, up at 1000m.  Just check my picks for the location, if you’d like.

I want to thank you all very much for hanging out and listen to me jabber!  I hope you all have a great time at the rest of the Expo!