Wow, this is a really great rundown on making 3d maps and contains some amazing renders. I have used Visual Nature Studio for many a project (no vertical exaggeration for forestry cut block visualizations and visual quality assessment) but really want to try Natural Scene Designer for its ease of use. It had never occurred to me to compress the background to make room for sky- a neat trick. The terrain bending was also new to me but I can see how it could be used for some interesting effects.
I would love to hear how you tackle the addition of vectors. Short of creating a render with all your vector details burned in and then tracing to create cartographic quality output I am not sure there is an easy way to do it all in one step. Wouldn't a 3d design space in Illustrator coupled with MAPublisher be great?
Thanks for this and looking forward to more!