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Tutorials - Blender Game Engine

Making a Beautiful Sky

A complete skydome creation tutorial by Dim

To complete this tutorial, you will need a good handle on texturing in Blender, the basics of the GIMP, and some basic knowledge of Terragen. The software we will use is Blender version 2.42a, The GIMP version 2.2.13 and Terragen version 0.9.43. Note that while there is a free version, you may not use Terragen commercially without purchasing a license. Note that you may use Photoshop in the place of the GIMP, but many of the keyboard shortcuts and locations of different features will be different. Also, I recommend that you go through my stone texture tutorial before you begin if you are new to texturing.

I am creating this tutorial about making sky domes largely to illustrate an alternative to the sky box, mainly because of the difficulty involved in creating skyboxes, and their simplistic geometry often leads to less than flattering effects. People often dislike sky domes because they use more geometry, it’s harder to make good textures for them, and it’s very difficult to make them seamless. Well, the amount of additional geometry is negligible, and this tutorial is aimed at fixing the other two issues associated with sky domes, in order to make beautiful skies. This tutorial is however not right for everyone and every situation, so if this isn’t your thing or you want an alternative, please check out Social's Seamless Skyboxes tutorial.

This tutorial is essentially split into four sections, and different software will be used in each one, except the last.
  1. Terragen - how to use Terragen to actually generate the pieces needed to make a sky
  2. The GIMP - using the GIMP to stitch all the pieces together into a beautiful texture
  3. Blender - using Blender to apply the texture to your scene
  4. Extensions - how to make a sun for your sky, and other extensions
Now then, let’s begin.

Section I.
Generating Sky Pieces With Terragen

Ok, the first thing we’re going to do is fire up Terragen and make our panoramic sky texture. I really recommend that you follow this part of the tutorial and learn how to make your own sky textures, but if you are in a hurry, or have some other reason to not want to learn this part, use some of the sky textures found here: and crop off the bottoms, then proceed to the "Polarization” heading in the GIMP section of this tutorial. Keep in mind that if you use those images, you will not be able to have a dynamic, moving sky.

First thing we’re going to do is make a sky the way we want. There’s a few things we’ll want to do first though. One is to render a preview of what our cloudscape looks like now. On the “Render Control” dialogue, uncheck the “Land” box, so that when we render it, it’ll take less time. Then click the “Render Preview” button and you’ll see what the sky looks like now. It’s not bad. Now click the “Image Size” button and set both our height and width to 512. While still in this dialogue, select the “Quality” tab, and increase the “Atmosphere” and “Cloud Shading” values to what you like. Keep in mind that both of these values will slow your render time down significantly, so use them only on the final renders of each cloudscape. So far, your setting should look like this:

Image of Terragen Render Settings

Before we render this, let’s put our camera in the best position so that we can rotate it and get a panoramic view. Use these setting to get it to the place we want.

Image of Terragen Camera Settings

Now click “Render Image” And see how it looks!

First Test Render

Now we should adjust the cloud settings, and colors to our liking and the mood we’re interested in representing. Click the “Cloudscape” button on the left. During this part, mess around with all the functions and render previews often to see how things work. There’s a few buttons in particular we’ll use. The first one is the “3D” check box. Check that instead of the “2D” one. Also, you’ll notice the “Depth/Thickness” field. Adjust that to around 10ish, or to your liking. Also, I boost up the “Density/Contrast” slider to about 60. This slider gives “weight” to our clouds; it makes them look like they may be carrying water. When you change this slider, it generally darkens things, so I slide the “Darkening” slider down to about 20%. Also, we need to click the “Generate Clouds” button and take a look at some of these options. “Persistence” controls how many smaller clouds are generated around larger ones. “Recurrence” is currently not implemented as of this writing. “Largest Cloud Size” is pretty self explanatory. Right now, these settings are probably good, but tweak them to your liking. Once satisfied, press “Generate Clouds”, and then render a preview and our clouds should look pretty nice. Ideally, when we render this, we don’t want any clouds touching the top border of our render, since it’ll save us some time later. This is pretty much unavoidable, but just try to minimize it. Here are the settings I used:

Image of Terragen Cloud Settings

Ok, now that we have the general type and shape of our clouds, we can change the color however we like, to make sunsets, icy grey skies, or Martian sunrises. Open up the “Atmosphere” dialogue on the left. This will let us change the color and density of all of the atmospheric effects, such as “Simple Haze”, “Atmospheric Blue”, and “Light Decay/Red”. There is a short description of what each function does next to it. “Simple Haze” most importantly changes the cloud color for us. “Atmospheric Blue” basically changes the color of the whole sky. “Light Decay/Red” basically adds a colored filter over your entire scene. I was going for a reddish sunset so this is what I entered in the “Simple Haze":

R:176, G:128, B:128

This will let my clouds fit into the scene better. And here are my “Atmospheric Blue” settings:

R:196, G:81, B:256

All told, the render looks something like this:

Second Test Render

Image of Terragen Sun Settings For this next part, you need to decide whether you will have a static sky (one that never moves), or a more dynamic sky, that has the clouds move about. If it’s static, skip to the next section (“Capturing the Panorama”). In order to have a sky with moving clouds, we’ll need to have the sun separate from the clouds, because it doesn’t make sense that the sun would be moving at the same speed as the clouds. In order to accomplish this, we’ll make the sun small enough that we can’t really see it, but have its effect on the atmospheric haze preserved. Open up the “Lighting Conditions” dialogue, and adjust the suns “Heading” and “Altitude” to 0 and 10 respectively:

Do a quick render and see how it looks. Kind of cool, but not what we want. We’d rather the sun not be there. To accomplish this, set the “Disc Diameter” to .1, and the “Corona Size” to 0 in the “Suns Appearance” tab. Also, in the “Lighting of Atmosphere” tab, set “Glow amount” to 50%, and “Glow Power” to 0%. This should make the sun a tiny speck in your render that will easily be erased later. Here are the settings I entered:

Image of Some Terragen Settings

If you render it now, it should look something like this:

Third Test Render

As you can see, all that’s left of the sun is that small circle in the center of the render. To eliminate the sun entirely, simply set “Disc Diameter” to 0.

Capturing the Panorama:
First thing we’ll do is create a folder in your directory of choice. Terragen saves their renders in the .bmp (windows bitmap) format, and these files can often grow very large, keep that in mind when saving. Also, when saving, use logical nomenclature, like simply saving the first image captured as “1”, and the second as “2”, etc. This will greatly ease the process of stitching the images back together to form our panorama. So now, render an image from your current camera viewpoint (this should be the coordinates I presented at the beginning of this text), render your image and click “Save” on the image’s window. Again, make sure you use appropriate names on your files. Now that we’ve saved that, we’re going to rotate our view, and snap another shot. To accomplish this step, center your cursor over one of the camera’s bounds indicators on the camera diagram on the “Rendering Control” dialogue, like the image on the left below. Then right click, and your camera should have rotated to the position shown in the image on the right.

Image of Camera Direction Indicator Image of Camera Direction Indicator

Another, simpler way of doing this is to simply increment your “head” value by 35 degrees each render. Now render your image, and save it as “2” or something similar. Rinse and repeat this process until you have taken a full 360 degree shot of the cloudscape. Here’s a collective shot of what all the images look like in order:

Image of the Panorama Pieces from Terragen

The first thing you’ll notice is that these won’t tile, there are huge seams between them. This is not a problem though; we’ll fix it in a second. But the main reason for it tiling so awfully (well, not tiling at all really) is that each time we took a render, we re-rendered half of the previous one. This is particularly prevalent in 2a/3a, 6a/7a, and 10a/11a. We did this so that we could eliminate as much of the perspective in each shot as possible, so that it will fit well on our sky dome. It’ll make more sense later once we’ve stuck it all together. That wraps it up for the Terragen section of this tutorial. To learn more about Terragen and it’s features, check out

Section II.
Putting the Pieces Together With The GIMP

Open up the GIMP and File>Open (ctrl+O) your first image in the series, in this case, “1a” for me. First thing we’ll do is save our image as something else. Go to File>Save As (shift+crtl+S) and save it as Panorama.jpg or something similar. We’re saving it as a jpg to keep the filesize low, because in the end, this texture will wind up being very large, and .bmp is a very inefficient file type. For example, if you take a look at the folder that holds all of your rendered images, it should be around 9MB, and that’s only 12 images.

We’ll begin by resizing our canvas so that all the images will be able to fit on it. Go to Image>Canvas Size and resize it to 3072 pixels wide, and 256 pixels high. I got the width by multiplying the number of images by 256. 12x256=3072. The reason why it’s 256 is that, like I said before, we’ll only use half of the image because we re-rendered half of each render. Also, the height is 256 pixels because we’re simply cropping off the bottom half of the image (the black part).

Now we actually add the other images. The way we’re going to do this, is to open each one, copy and paste it, then put it where it needs to go. To do this, open your second image, File>Open (ctrl+O), and select all of it, Select>All (ctrl+A). It should now have a moving white border around all of it. Now copy it, Edit>Copy (ctrl+C), and then paste it onto your other image, Edit>Paste (ctrl+V). It should now be a floating layer. In your Layer dialogue, Dialogues>Layers (ctrl+L), make sure you have the floating layer selected, then right click on it and select “New Layer”. The reason we’re keeping them on separate layers, is so that, should you make a mistake, you won’t have to backtrack much to fix it. This is good practice on most all images you edit.

Now, select your movement tool (M), and drag the pasted layer 256 pixels to on the positive x axis (to the right). In the GIMP it’s easy to tell how many pixels you’ve displaced your image. At the very bottom of the image window, there is a bar with the coordinates while you’re moving the layer. It’ should read “256,0” like so:

Move: 256,0 (img)

Your pasted layer should now be overlapping half of the original image like so:

Image of Overlapping Sky Pieces

Continue this process, until you have placed all of your images into this file. Remember that each one moves over 256 pixels. Also note that I made a mistake, in that my 12th image is entirely unnecessary, and can simply be forgotten about. And don’t worry if the pasted images don’t reach the end of the image’s width, we’ll fix that later anyways.

After you have put all the images together, right click on a layer, then select “Merge Visible Layers” and agree to “Expanded as Necessary”. Then right click on what should now be one huge layer, and select “Layer to Image Size”. You should now have an image that looks like this (but over 4 times the size):

Image of Overlapping Sky Pieces

You can see that the image repeats a bit as you go from the left side back to the right side:

Image Showing Repeat

To correct this, select the entire end of the image that tiles (including the alpha part, if your dimensions were off, like mine):

Cropping Off the Repeat (img)

Once you have that selected, go to Select>Invert (ctrl+I). Now that your selection is inverted, go to Image>Crop Image, and it should cut off the end that isn’t selected.

This next part is tough because it relies more on skill and experience then a set method, neither of which can be taught through a single tutorial, but I will go over the basic techniques, and the rest is up to you.

So far, in your image, you should have a bunch of seams, but I will show you a couple techniques to get rid of them completely. Firstly, we’ll use smudging and blurring. This is great to get rid of a fine line, but has many limitations, including the fact that what ever you smudge or blur becomes smoother, losing detail. Secondly, I’ll show you how to use the clone tool to copy bits of your image and apply it to another part of the image. Just a note, I generally work at 200% or 400% zoom for this part.

Smudging: For this technique we’ll primarily be using the “Smudge” tool (S). What this tool does, is drag some of the color values from the where you begin to drag, into the color values of where you end up. Experiment a bit with it on your image, and remember that ctrl+Z will undo this if you make a mistake. When smudging, it’ll be important that we have a small detail brush for the smaller parts of the image, like the small clouds at the bottom for example, and a much larger, smoother brush for the large parts of open sky that need to be blurred. For the finer brush, I could use the “Circle (13)” that is one of the default brushes. But for the bigger one, we’ll have to make our own, bigger and smoother than the default brushes. To make a new brush, select the small “New Brush” button at the bottom of the “Brushes” dialogue that looks like a blank document. For my brush, I’ve entered the following:

Brush Editor: 30x30 (img)

This will make a nice large smooth brush that will smudge well. Here’s a seam that needs to be dealt with. We’ll use smudging to get it to look nice.

Image of Seam in Sky

I’m going to use my large smooth brush for the open top part, and my finer brush for the little clouds down below. After a couple minutes, my image ends up looking like this:

Image of Seam in Sky Smudged

That looks pretty good except for that place in the middle, which is much too blurry for my liking. To fix that, we’re going to need the clone tool.

Cloning: The clone tool (C) basically sets whatever you want as the brush (taken from your image, or another image), and allows you to paint with that. This is really helpful for traditional tiling especially, since you can take different parts of an image and put them over any other part. The way you do this is you select your source image by putting your brush over the image and then ctrl+Leftclick on where you want to start the source from. Take some time now to play around with it, and remember to use ctrl+Z if you make mistakes. I’m going to pull a bit of my image and place it over that ugly blurriness.

Image of Seam in Sky Smudged and Cloned

There, that looks much better to me. There’s not much else I can help you with on this, it basically comes down to whether or not you have an eye for it, and the skill to pull it off. Don’t be afraid to undo and redo things over and over again to get it the way you want it. Finish erasing the seams on the entire texture, and then we’ll move on to actually making it formatted correctly for use in the game engine. Here’s what I had by the end:

Image of Final Panorama

To make the texture suitable for a sky dome, we’re going to have to make it round. To do this, we will use the “Polar Coords” filter in the GIMP, but we need to do a couple things first. The first thing we need to do will make your image very large. If you have a slow or old machine, save before you do this, because the GIMP does not handle the images in your memory very well. Also, right here, I will make an error to show you the results. This is why we didn’t want to have clouds touching the top boundary of the image.

That being said, go to Image>Scale Image and scale the height to whatever the width is. For example, my image is 2670 pixels wide, and 256 pixels tall, I click the chain icon (to break it), and enter 2670 in the height field, and press ok. Now my image is huge and stretched, but no worries, this is what it should look like. Now this part is the bit you may wish to watch out for if you have and older machine. Got to Filters>Distorts>Polar Coords. “Circle Depth in Percent” should remain at 100, and “Offset Angle” should remain at 0. I press ok and…

Image of Undesired Results

Presto! Almost. Because I had some clouds touching the top of my image, they were drawn together and look really awful. To correct this, go back to the step just before you scaled up the height a lot (using ctrl+Z). Go to Image>Canvas Size and make the height 384 pixels. Next, set the Y offset to 128, and accept. Your image should now look something like this:

Image of the Enlarged Canvas

Right click on the background layer in the layer dialogue, and click “Layer to Image Size”. Then select your “Color Picker” tool (O) and select a color from the topmost part of the sky. This was my color:

Color Picker - R:150 G:105 B:148 (img)

Next, select your magic wand tool (Z), and click on the white part at the top of the image (where you added the new canvas), and then, using the “Fill” tool (shift+B), fill the selected area with your color.

Image of Color Filled Canvas

Now, using the “Smudge” and “Clone” tools, fill in the tops of the clouds where they were cut off. If you saved your Terragen file, you can go back and render more clouds to use with the “Clone Tool”. After you’ve finished this, do what we did before: scale your height to the same as your width, and run the “Polar Coords” filter. If all goes well you should end up with something like this:

Image of Color Filled Canvas

That looks more like it! Eliminate the seam at the top middle of the texture using the techniques I’ve taught you, and then we’re mostly good to go. The next thing to do is save this texture at an appropriate size. Because it’ll be pretty big, MAKE SURE it’s saved as a power of 2 (2, 4, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, etc.). If I wanted it to look really good, and didn’t care too much how large my file will be or about load time, I’d put it at 2048, since that’s a really nice resolution. But for me, I’ll keep it more modest, and save it at 1024x1024. For more information on the GIMP, visit

Section III.
Making and Texturing the Skydome In Blender

Open up Blender, and right click on the default cube and delete it (X). Center the 3D cursor at the origin of your graph by left clicking, then snapping it to the grid (shift+S, Cursor to Grid). Now we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ll make the object that we’re actually going to map the texture to. Go to the top view (num+7) and add an “Icosphere” (Space>Add>Mesh>Icosphere, Subdivisions: 2) Note that if you’re picky about your geometry, I’d recommend 3 subdivisions. Now switch to a side view (num+1, or num+3), and enter “Edit Mode” (tab), if not already there. Select all of the vertices (A), and scale it to .5 on the Z axis (S,Z,.5). Now we should have a flattened sphere like so:

Image of a Flattened Icosphere

Now box select only the lower half of the object like so:

Image of a Icosphere Bottom Selected

And then delete those vertices (X, Vertices). We should now have 1/2 of a sphere left. Now select all of your faces (A) and click on “Draw Normals” in the edit buttons, under the “Mesh Tools 1” tab. Now you should have a bunch of blue lines emanating from each face. These show you which side of each face a texture will be applied to. If you look at a face and the normal is not facing you, it will be invisible. Right now all the face normals should be facing the outside of the dome, but this isn’t good, since the scene will be inside the dome. To correct this, select all your faces, and click “Flip Normals” in the edit buttons under the “Mesh Tools” tab. Alternatively, you can recalculate your normals inside (ctrl+shift+N). A couple more things before we slap our texture on here. Select all your vertices (A) and then click “Set Smooth” in the “Links and Materials” tab in the edit buttons. This will make it so that the scene’s lighting will react semi-realistically to the light source.

Next, we’re going to select all the vertices along the bottom of the dome like so:

Image of a Half Icosphere Bottom Selected

Scale them to 1.2 times their size to get rid of the sharp falloff they create. Then subdivide them (W, Subdivide). From the top view (num+7), select only the recently created vertices from your subdivision, and scale them outwards far enough that it rounds out the edges of your figure. All together, your mesh should look like this:

Image of a Icosphere Bottom Selected

Next, go to “Object Mode” (tab), then “UV/Face Select Mode” (F), and your object should be white. Select all of the faces on your mesh (A). Now right click on the tiny black bar between the 3D view and the editing buttons, and select “Split Area”. Split the 3D view to your liking:

Image of Join Areas Menu Selection

In the bottom leftmost corner of your new view, click on the icon that looks similar to a grid. From the menu that appears, select “UV/Image Editor”. You should now have a small grid with a blue triangle in the center. With your mouse in the UV window, LSCM unwrap your mesh (E). You should now have a round, spider web-like group of wires. These are actually your 3D object, unwrapped to be 2D. Now load your image (Image>Open). And it should already be mapped right on. Now, in the 3D view, switch to textured view (alt+Z), and voila! We have a purdy sky. Here, I’ve plopped it on a 5 second landscape.

Image of the Final Mapped Sky

And here is the same effect in a project I’ve been working on.

Image of Another Mapped Sky

For more about UV texturing, go here:

Section IV.

Making a Sun:
Well, our sky looks pretty nice, but it’s lacking the thing that would actually allow us to exist, the sun. To make it, open up the GIMP and create a new image at 256x256 pixels. Before you accept, click the + next to “Advanced Options”, and open the drop down menu where it says “Fill With:”. From this menu, select “Transparency”. Next, we’ll create a new layer (Layer>New Layer). On this layer, using your box select tool, make a series of smaller squares, alternating black and white (use the fill tool to add the colors). It should end up something like this.

Image of Layered Black and White Squares

The order that I put them in is there for a reason. The way this will work, is that these are guides for the oval selection tool. The reason why the outside one is so small is that it’ll be a soft pink color, but we don’t want that to overpower the rest of the sun. The second color, that gets the most space, will be a yellow, and the next, small strip is an even lighter yellow. The center will be white. Now, using your oval selection tool and the fill tool, create all these colors, each on it’s own layer. Go from largest circle to smallest. Use the “Opacity” slider in the layer dialogue to make it so that you can still see your black and white guide layer. You should end up something like this.

Image of Layered Colored Circles

Now, delete the layer with the black and white boxes (Layer>Delete Layer). Then, right click on any of the visible layers, and select “Merge Visible Layers”. They should all compress into a single layer. Now, on this next step, the last thing we want will be for the sun to touch the boundaries of the image, because that will create sharp edges, which the sun doesn’t have. To fix this, scale the canvas size to about 384x384 (Image>Canvas Size). Make sure you click “Center” during this operation. Next, right click on your layer and select “Layer to Image Size”. Ok, now we have all of that out of the way, go apply the “Gaussian Blur” filter (Filters>Blur>Gaussian Blur). Set the “Blur Radius” to 100 in box the x and y fields. Press ok, and it looks like we have our sun! But we aren’t quite done. Scale your image to 128x128 (Image>Scale Image). Then save it as a .png, so that it preserves the transparency we gave it. It should now look like this.

The Final Sun Image

Now to put this in Blender, map it the same way we did the sky, but in the “Edit Buttons” (while in “Face Select Mode”), click “Alpha” under the “Texture Face” tab.

Making the Sky Dynamic:
This is a pretty simple step. To make the sky simply rotate, which usually looks good enough, go you your “Logic Buttons” and enter the following:

Image of Logic for Dynamic Sky

For advanced users, you could alpha the background of a sky, leaving only the clouds, and then set it up so that you have multiple moving cloud layers. It’s also possible to achieve day/night effects and switches, using the color and alpha IPOs in Blender.

That about wraps it up. It’s possible to achieve very professional quality skies with this method, it’s just basically up to you and how much time and energy you’re willing to put into it.


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