University of Cape Town
Overview of innovation


Computer and digital artists have a need to create realistic digital terrains for a variety of applications including games, movies and virtual and augmented reality, to name but a few. There are issues of productivity involved in creating these terrains: it is possible to create realistic terrains with current software but very often the development is accompanied by a great deal of time, expertise, and effort. Additionally, these existing software offerings tend to require very fast computing capability and are computationally complex. 

Technology Overview:

Researchers at UCT have developed the Realistic Terrain Synthesis system and software (RTS), which is an improved method for creating a realistic-looking virtual 3D terrain on a computer. It synthesizes new terrains in real-time, subject to the constraints sketched/selected by the designer, utilising real terrain examples drawn from a database of Digital Elevation Maps.

In contrast to current approaches, the developed technology adapts parallel texture synthesis to produce terrains. Texture synthesis is a software technique that, given one or more input colour images or photographs, is able to generate larger images in the same style by cutting and re-stitching the inputs. 

The UCT innovation is an adaptation of existing texture synthesis to the specific case of digital terrains, along with extensions to allow user-driven constraints that provide artists and animators with a high level of control over the dimensions and type of terrain. A designer will start with a working terrain with target dimensions and an associated height, choose a template terrain (such as bare terrain, a canyon, a mountain, vegetation, a river, or rolling hills, etc.) with an associated height dimension, and then modify the working terrain by “height matching” it to the template terrain, thus creating new terrain.


Existing terrain generation software tends to produce unrealistic terrain or uses computationally complex simulation processes to create realistic-looking terrain. These processes, being slow, do not support quick iterative design cycles and are expensive. 

The RTS system fills a niche since there are no current terrain generation software systems which combine its speed, ease of use and user control.

The computer algorithms also achieve seamless integration of the various terrains for a more realistic image. This is in part due to the novel coherence constraints.

The UCT RTS thus provide users with:

  • increase speed in the terrain design and generation phase
  • ease of use with simplified tools
  • fine user control
  • seamless integration between terrains 


This technology provides a platform which enables faster and realistic digital terrain generation. Potential application areas are: 

  • Games
  • Computer-generated graphics in movies and animations
  • Virtual and augmented reality applications
  • Environmental simulations
  • Other general applications where 3D computer artists and animators are tasked with creating digital terrains.


The technology has been developed to an early Alpha prototype stage. UCT has researchers working in the realm of digital graphics and can provide support with technology development, integrations and technology transfer. UCT is looking for: 

  • Licensing partners
  • Development partners
  • Application partners
  • Companies who want to develop products and services using the technology



Type of Intellectual Property protection
Innovation Opportunity Type