Thanks goes out to the guys at for their video tutorial on “Painting” with Instanced Particles, from which this tutorial drew its inspiration.

Object instancing using particles can be a powerful feature in Blender that is often overlooked. While not as strong as something like Maya’s paint effects, you can still quickly accom-plish things that would take many hours of tedious hand placement.

For this scene we are creating a sea anemone growing on the ocean floor.
Lets start by creat-ing a basic plane and subdividing or use multires. Then use Blender’s sculpt-mode to build up a very simple sea floor.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-1.jpg

Now we need a stalque of the anemone to duplicate.
This is a simple box that has been ex-truded and twisted a few times with sub-surf thrown on top. The important item to ensure here is that the origin point is located at the base of the stalk. This will ensure that the base of the “hair” particles we create will be at the base of the stalk. Don’t worry if your rotation is off. You can still edit the base object after using it in the particle system.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-2.jpg

So let’s get to the fun part, painting the particles.
First we need to apply a particle system to our sea floor. Use a hair type system with the amount set to 0 as well as a Normal and Random of 1.0. Alos set the visualization mode to object and put the name of your particle in the OB field. I just left the default name of cube for mine.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-3.jpg

Now switch from object mode to particle mode and press the “N” key - this will bring up the tool box for particle editing. Select the Add button and set Strength to 1, then you can paint your particles onto the surface of your object. To delete particles simply switch to the Cut button.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-4.jpg

Just have fun here and create what you want your image to look like.
The final result here includes a second plane in the back-ground to remove the open feeling of the camera shot.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-5.jpg

If you want more vari-ety of shapes, then you can apply what we are going to do now with the fish. Here we have a relatively simple model of a fish which has been given the name of fish.

Now for the scene we want fish of dif-ferent colors, so simply duplicate the fish and apply a different texture to each one naming the duplicates fish.001, fish.002, etc. This would alos be a good time to modify each mesh slightly, although I have only
changed the texture. For the emitter object we create an icosphere and use the sculpt mode to deform it.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-6.jpg

This is to create the feel of a school of fish, so they clump together. The particle system is a very standard system. The only real difference is that the visualization is now set to group mode and the GR field has the name of the first object in the set “fish”.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-7.jpg

The lighting con-sists of a hemi light situated behind the cam-era which gives the underwater camera light ef-fect. Basic ambi-ent occlusion and mist to en-hance the shad-ows with the AO set to a blue clouds, give the underwater feel.
Then two spot lamps with a caustic texture map to create the feeling of light coming through the ocean surface. Finally a few low level lamps to lighten up a few areas.
All of the textures are pretty much just a color map and a bump map with the exception of the stalks of the anemone. The stalks are many layers of procedural tex-tures with subsurface scattering turned on. This part is very much a trial and error procedure until you get the look you want.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-8.jpg

Finally the image is rendered out using nodes to en-hance the edges, create a slight depth of field effect, and some tint adjustment.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-9.jpg

The image was then rendered twice, once with the fish and once without. This was done so that the fish could be easily masked out in Photoshop, because some will end up overlapping or looking too similar. The only other post-processing was to paint some light highlights and shadows on some of the stalks.

MaKING OF: Sea anemone-10.jpg

Hopefully this gives a bit of an insight into my process for creating this scene and motivates you to try out the particle instancing in Blender. I think it is an overlooked feature that allows you to create scenes that would take hours in much less time.
Issue 24 | Oct 2009 - "From Out of the deep"
Arland B. Woodham III aka Barry
I am a Graphic Specialist for a company that creates mili-tary training courseware.