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What are the methods/tools for generating realistic skies with clouds and atmospheric shading?

FOSS alternatives and spherical projections get extra points.

share|improve this question‌​extures This tutorial might be useful. – user7488 May 20 '11 at 6:45
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Terragen Classic is free for personal and non-commercial use:

There are tutorials how to do it around the net.

Then, of course, there is Terragen 2, e-on Vue, and Bryce.

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I use TG classic with much success. – drxzcl Oct 27 '10 at 10:42

get a camera ;) /cheeky off

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Including a summary of the technique would make this answer even better. – Steve S Aug 30 '11 at 18:20
There is a summary of the technique at the linked blog post. Well, pointers. – Cubed2D Sep 2 '11 at 14:55
I realize that, but including the info here has advantages, such as preventing your answer from degrading (as much) due to link rot. See and – Steve S Sep 2 '11 at 15:41

I've seen someone generate impressive skymaps by modeling a scene in Blender, complete with elaborate particles, shaders, post processing, etc., and then use six 90-degree cameras to render out the skybox (which you could then convert to spherical, if you wanted. Might even be able to render directly to spherical.) This is of course most useful if you've got some kind of fantasy or surreal environment that'd be difficult to capture with photography.

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If the 3D package you are using supports render-to-texture functionality you could always unwrap a sphere/hemisphere and bake an environment (your skybox in this case) to the unwrapped sphere texture. You can do this with a 6-sided box as well. I've played around with this in 3DS Max but I think Blender can do it too.

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Try using Bryce to generate sky bitmaps for use with your skydomes. There is a lot of variation in Bryce's generated imagery.

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