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Say I wanted to create a photorealistic (or as near as possible) volumetric cloud in the shape of a space shuttle (or any complex object I guess), can anyone recommend a particular set of tools/method to do this?

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How about making your own brush and making a cloud with that? ..and what about the level of detail you are thinking of? Is it supposed to be recognizable or very very detailed? – Joonas Mar 10 '12 at 1:26

I see two basic solutions: 2D and 3D.

As to 2D option, if you want the results to be convincing (photorealistic if you will), you have to “draw” the cloud yourself. There's a bunch of tutorials how to draw a cloud on the internet, varying heavily between one and other in both comlexity and expected final results. I'm afraid it's up to you to find the one matching your needs.

When it comes to 3D, you have to (obviously… duh… ;}) make a proper model, and set up a scene, materials and so on. Here's one (found randomly, but IMHO promising) tutorial for Blender:

I hope this helps!

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I might try filling an object with a fog (scattering medium) effect in a 3D renderer and applying suitably scaled turbulence to make it look more like a real cloud.

Alas, it's been ages since I've played around with 3D rendering, and I can't really even suggest a suitable program, much less provide instructions. Hopefully someone else here can give a better answer — I don't really expect any upvotes for this one.

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Find a photo of a cloud you can use. Then use the Liquify command to carefully move parts of it around to create the shape you are after.

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I have been trying this but have been getting very mixed results. It works well for less complicated shapes but once it starts getting a bit more complex the images generally get too distorted for printing. – TheSwansonCode Mar 8 '12 at 15:43

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