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Creating Terrains with Satellite Data, Volume 1

Maya Based Workflow with Alex Alvarez

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In this first DVD of a two-part series, Alex Alvarez shares his techniques for developing terrains using satellite data. In Volume One, the skills necessary to create terrains with a high-altitude camera are explored. We start by location scouting with Google Earth, settling on a region of the Grand Canyon to develop. The National Map, a free service from the USGS, is then used to download the corresponding elevation data (DEM) and satellite photos. As the data is delivered in tiles, we then use GlobalMapper to stitch, and re-tile, the data into a format that can be used in Maya. After removing shadows in Photoshop, Alex thoroughly explains how to setup displacements in Maya and Mental Ray, rendering with the Physical Sun/Sky system. He also delves into how to utilize multiple UV regions with multiple tiled textures on a single plane, allowing for the creation of vast terrains, often needed for fly-through animations. Creating the various textures, such as bump, reflection and gloss using the mia_material are demonstrated, as well as the use of the layered texture node. Filter Forge, a powerful Photoshop Plug-in, is also used to develop tileable procedural bump maps to improve the high-frequency detail of the terrain. Anyone interested in creating natural environments in a Maya based workflow will benefit from this thorough lecture and demonstration, whether it is to recreate real-world locations, or use them as a starting point for imagined environments.

  • Google Earth Location Scouting
  • Locating / Downloading Satellite Data
  • Digital Elevation Models (DEMs)
  • Stitching Satellite Data
  • Removing Shadows
  • Displacement Set-Up
  • Height Field Utility
  • Layered Textures
  • Procedural Rock Bump Maps
  • Working with multiple UV regions
  • Multi-Resolution Tiles
  1. Introduction
  2. Google Earth
  3. National Map
  4. Global Mapper
  5. Photoshop
  6. PhysicalSunSky Setup
  7. Displacement Setup
  8. Visualizing Displacement
  9. Tuning Displacement
  10. Texture Res Bump Map
  11. ColorMap Overview
  12. Removing Shadows
  13. Visibility Distance
  14. Reflection
  15. Bump and ColorCorrection
  16. Key to Fill Ratio
  17. PhotographicSky Background
  18. Working with UV tiles
  19. 32k map to 8k tiles
  20. MultiResolution tiles
  21. Procedural Rock bump map
  22. Layered textures
  23. Gloss map finalEdit
  24. Conclusion

  • Product Code: AAL28
  • ISBN: 1-59762-723-2
  • UPC: 805366018412
  • Duration: 477 minutes
  • Formats: DVD-ROM, Digital Download

DVD-ROM Requirements:

  • 1GHz or faster processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 64 MB Video RAM
  • DVD-ROM Drive
  • 5 GB of hard disk space
  • 1280 x 1024 display

DVD-ROM and Digital Download Requirements:

Minimum Operating System:

  • Microsoft® Windows® Vista®
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional
  • Apple® Mac® OS X 10.2


  • QuickTime Movie Player (Version 7.0 or higher)
  • Acrobat Reader (Version 5.0 or higher)

For more information on DVD and Digital Download policies click here here.

  • Software Used:

  • Autodesk

  • Adobe

  • BMG
    Global Mapper

  • Google

Alex Alvarez

Founder, Director The Gnomon Workshop
Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Alex Alvarez is the founder and president of the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood, the Gnomon Workshop, Gnomon Gallery, SketchTheatre and Gnomon Studios. Having dedicated the past fifteen years to educating students and professionals around the world, Alex has helped change the face of computer graphics and design education. He has been published in industry magazines, websites and books, plus he has taught workshops at several major trade conferences. He continues to work on personal and professional projects, recently as a creature development artist on Avatar, Star Trek, Green Lantern and Prometheus. Prior to Gnomon, Alex worked for Alias|Wavefront as a consultant and trainer for studios in the Los Angeles area. Alex is an alumnus of the Art Center College of Design and the University of Pennsylvania.

"Whenever I need to breathe life into my characters, Alex Alvarez is where I go. Whether it be to collaborate on concepts with him directly or to watch his DVDs, I am always confident in accessibility to great information. Not only has his technical prowess pulled me out of many holes, but his character sense has given rise to some wonderful moments on some major motion pictures (Avatar and Star Trek). These new DVD's encapsulate what I gush about. Crazy and creative character design coupled with empowering technical know how."

- Neville Page
Character/Concept Designer

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