Because of the smooth interaction of tree systems, the billboard and crossed-plane techniques of image-based rendering (IBR) have been used for tree visualization for many years. However, both the billboard-based tree model (BBTM) and the crossed-plane tree model (CPTM) have several notable limitations; for example, they give an impression of slicing when viewed from the top side, and they produce an unimpressive stereoscopic effect and insufficient lighted effects. In this study, a sphere-board-based tree model (SBTM) is proposed to eliminate these defects and to improve the final visual effects. Compared with the BBTM or CPTM, the proposed SBTM uses one or more sphere-like 3D geometric surfaces covered with a virtual texture, which can present more details about the foliage than can 2D planes, to represent the 3D outline of a tree crown. However, the profile edge presented by a continuous surface is overly smooth and regular, and when used to delineate the outline of a tree crown, it makes the tree appear very unrealistic. To overcome this shortcoming and achieve a more natural final visual effect of the tree model, an additional process is applied to the edge of the surface profile. In addition, the SBTM can better support lighted effects because of its cubic geometrical features. Interactive visualization effects for a single tree and a grove are presented in a case study of Sabina chinensis. The results show that the SBTM can achieve a better compromise between realism and performance than can the BBTM or CPTM.
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