Displacement mapping is a fantastic technique available in 3ds max and other modelling programs, which is useful for creating (and sometimes faking) geometry. Essentially, this model only requires one input, a monochromatic bitmap. By creating a dynamic link with photoshop, and experimenting with different brush strokes and different opacities, I was able to achieve rapid testing and form finding of this terrain surface.
To make things more interesting, I decided to sink the terrain and model a valley, adding the water into the render. Positioning of light was also key to set up the desired reflections across the surface of the water. Finally I also added a noise map as a material over the terrain to further enhance it. Coupled with the shadows it creates all over the surface, the effect is rather dramatic in creating a more believable scene.
Below is the displacement map which I generated in order to create this landscape. As you can see, it really doesn’t look like much. The main tools I used in photoshop to generate this were an underlying noise map, black and white brushes with varying opacities, different types of brushes such as a grass brush or ink splotch, and a gradient fill overlay. The strength of using this method is in the dynamic link between photoshop and 3DS MAX. I’d only make one change at a time and was constantly flicking back and forth between the two programs.