To further the stage realism, we also needed to be able to support lots and lots of vegetation by the side of the stages, particularly in Japan's Hokkaido, which is a leafy jungle, and the thickly-forested Gateshead and Mont Blanc stages. It quickly became apparent that the kind of detail we were looking at would take us about four years to build with present techniques. Not good, as we had about two years.
We ended up building a brand new stage construction tool (named Kangaroo) and constructed a system (called X-tracking) where we could build up areas of high detail vegetation types - forests, meadows, felling areas etc - and feed this into the stage layouts. Camber and other road surface geometry can also be edited in Kangaroo fairly easily thanks to ingenious editing tools. This way we quickly got long stages chock-a-block with detailed vegetation and natural elements. From there on, our talented map builders have been spending all their time building up spectator areas, creating pot-holes, ruts, tickertape and landscaping, all based on the hundreds of photos and video footage we have collected from our rallies.
Globe-trotting and texture reference
I got to go to Nevada, Canberra and Hokkaido myself to gather reference (I know, a dirty job but someone has to do it - right?), but we generally travel in two-man teams, as it's easy for one person to miss something out - and it's good to divide up the burden of several cameras, a laptop, food and water for those long wilderness treks.
We became fairly well-known individuals on the rallies we visited and were easily recognisable with our tape measuring the ground and using big sheets suspended by sticks to isolate bushes and trees from the background for our texture photography. This (novel?) idea of screening the backgrounds away from trees and bushes saves the texture artists days and days of work as it simplifies making alpha channels and saves them from the nightmare task of having to cut out the image of a wanted tree, branches and all, from a picture of a forest by hand. We had a lot of spectators and marshals ask us just what the blazes we were up to, particularly the Japanese, who were extremely curious.
There are so many stories to tell from our trips: we've rolled a Jeep down a slope in the Grand Canyon, become surrounded by a swarm of blue parrots in a pine tree forest, gone three days without sleep, two days with just chewing gum and ice coffee (while having wonderful sushi within reach - that's the worst one!). Maybe at the end of this diary series I'll have some room for anecdotes.