How to create terrains from contour lines in less than a minute with 3ds max and “Populate: terrain”

As an architectural illustrator you will quite often need to create the terrain of a site following the contour lines provided by the architect. In some cases modeling the terrain can take up as much time as the building that sits on it (it happened to me on several occasions).

Fortunately, now there is a really easy way to do it using a free plugin called Populate Terrain.


As I said in the title, this can take less than a minute and it will probably be the shortest tutorial I have ever written.

  1. Attach all the splines that compose the contour lines into a single one and make sure there are no coincident (overlapping) vertices. If you imported them from autocad there is a 99% chance you will encounter these. They can be easily corrected by selecting each group of overlapping vertices and weld them together.

  1. Place each segment of the spline at the correct height, following the topometric  indications (these are usually written in the cad file next to each line).

  1. In the “tools” menu, click on populate terrain. This will open the plugin menu. With the spline selected, choose contour lines, increase the number of subdivisions and click “process”

That’s it! As simple as 1, 2, 3.


 Not only you can create a terrain surface really easy, but on top of that, the generated mesh is based on quad polygons.

You can also use the “populate:terrain” plugin to convert a shape to a surface like the image bellow.

For more information visit the developer’s page.

Congratulations to Marc Lorenz for developing this wonderful plugin.

Trackbacks / Pings
Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>