Creating Terrains with Satellite Data, Volume 1

Maya Based Workflow with Alex Alvarez

Chapter List


In this first title 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.

Duration: 477 minutes

Format: HD 1280x720

Chapter List

  • 00. Preview
  • 01. Introduction
  • 02. Google Earth
  • 03. National Map
  • 04. Global Mapper
  • 05. Photoshop
  • 06. PhysicalSunSky Setup
  • 07. Displacement Setup
  • 08. Visualizing Displacement
  • 09. Tuning Displacement
  • 10. Texture Res Bump Map
  • 11. ColorMap Overview
  • 12. Removing Shadows
  • 13. Visibility Distance
  • 14. Reflection
  • 15. Bump and Color Correction
  • 16. Key to Fill Ratio
  • 17. Photographic Sky Background
  • 18. Working with UV tiles
  • 19. 32k map to 8k tiles
  • 20. Multi Resolution tiles
  • 21. Procedural Rock bump map
  • 22. Layered textures
  • 23. Gloss map final Edit
  • 24. Conclusion

Alex Alvarez

Founder / Director The Gnomon Workshop and Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Alex is founder and director of The Gnomon Workshop and of the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood. Having dedicated the last decade to educating students and professional artists 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 courses at several major trade conferences. Alex is president of the Los Angeles Maya Users Group and sits on the Advisory Boards for and CGsociety. He continues to work on personal and professional projects, recently as a creature development artist on the James Cameron film Avatar. 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 tutorials, 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 tutorials encapsulate what I gush about. Crazy and creative character design coupled with empowering technical know how. "

    - Neville Page
    Character / Concept Designer