View Full Version : creating fractal-based DEM's?

03-27-2007, 09:47 PM
Hi, folks. First-timer here. I've been playing around with various software programs for some time now and I've reached the conclusion that I can't draw the type of map I want to draw without using DEM's. And DEM's, by their very nature, don't exist for made-up worlds. So...does anyone know of a technique (or a piece of software) allowing me to fractally mimic a DEM? My goal is to use relief-shading techniques like those of the USGS and NPS, but until I can come up with elevation data, I am unable to do so.

I've tried doing an end-run around the need for DEM's by using contour lines, but to put in every contour line for a four-thousand-mile range of mountains that is twenty thousand feet high is...well, time-consuming. :D

At first I though Profantasy's Fractal Terrains might build DEM's, but this does not seem to be the case. If I'm mistaken, I'd love to be corrected.

As an extra-credit question, does anyone know of a program that not only allows for fractal continents, but also for fractal features on that continent? For example, I'm thinking I'd like to fractalize the outline of my mountains, or my forests or swamps or deserts, mostly because hand-drawing those borders always looks kind of fake to my eye.

Okay, that was a long-winded first post. If you've read this far, thank you! Any help is very much appreciated.


03-27-2007, 10:43 PM
I don't know of any way to generate a DEM, though it would definitely be a very nice capability. I've not played with Wilbur, but it may have DEM support. And unfortunately...the level of customization you seek is currently not available in any fractal world editors I know of...I would love to know though.

03-27-2007, 11:41 PM
Hi, Robbie,

Thanks for the reply! I figured as much about the lack of features in existing software. I'm marginally familiar with Wilbur but I always preferred Fractal Terrains. I'll do some more playing around. I'm frustrated because I've got a great coastline but I don't have the artistic talent to draw the relief features I need and I don't like using brush stamps.

Anyway, enough whining for now. Thanks again (and a great site you have, by the way)!


03-27-2007, 11:57 PM
Hi, Greg: It may be helpful to say what program you are currently using. I assume Fractal Terrains for one, but do you have access to any others?

Bryce is a decent rendering landscape program from what I can tell, but I've also seen tutorials online about doing some 3D rendering in Photoshop (and you can import DEMs via a secondary reader, I believe; once saw a tutorial about that somewhere...)

Someone recommended World Machine to me too, which may be what you're looking for: http://www.world-machine.com/download.html

Many great links for exactly what you're looking for are here, too: http://www.shadedrelief.com/

I hope this helps a bit! :)

03-28-2007, 12:37 PM
Don, thanks for the note.

I used Fractal Terrains to get a coastline I liked, then imported it into Illustrator and copied it out with the Pen Tool. Next, I drew the rivers in Illustrator. Then I imported the separate layers into Photoshop. My biggest issue is that I don't want to give up my coastline. I've tried the Render-Clouds-and-Emboss trick, but while that gives a certain texture to my landmass, it isn't specific enough for mountain ranges. I'm marginally familiar with Terragen, which I adore, but I don't believe it allows me to import my coastline. I'm pretty sure I can do it in Bryce (with which I'm less familiar) but I'm not really sure how. I was thinking of going back into Illustrator and drawing the mountains by hand in the closest thing to a relief texture that I can do, then hoping it comes out right...but I don't have a lot of faith in my artistic abilities.

I checked out World Machine, which seems to be a lot like Terragen--thanks for the link! I'd also previously scoured the shaded relief site, too. Some nice info there, but the site seems to be predicated upon already having an elevation model at hand to work with. I need, first off, to create that data for my world--and I'm not crazy about cutting and pasting from a real-world example.

As always, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again!


03-29-2007, 12:24 PM
Are you sure you need DEMs?

You can use Fractal Terrains to render a displacement map of your terrain. It's an option under one of the toolbars, you'll have to look for it.

Once you have the displacement map you can use it to make a new terrain in Bryce. (Tell me if you would like to know how), but it may need some smoothing.

If you then want to adjust that terrain, you can export the terrain image bump map into photoshop and put in your rivers etc.

Alternatively if you have access to a 3d model package which has displacement painting, you can:

Make your terrain in the 3d package and displacement paint the mountains, hills rivers etc.

Open the model in Bryce and render it using the top camera and the distance mask. (This will give you a terrain displacement map) and make any further adjustments of that in photoshop.

I think that's what you're after (3d modelling the terrain instead of having to draw it), but if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

ps. Also have a look at my 'first try at 3d maps' thread in the WIP section.


:Edit: I find it really weird that FT can import DEM information but can't export it. I'll have to give it a try, but it won't be this week I'm afraid. Have you tried posting in the Profantasy yahoo user group? They're very knowledgable and helpful.


03-29-2007, 05:41 PM

Awesome--thank you! Those are some great tips. And you're right on the money: I'm hoping to use software techniques to make up for the fact that I can't hand-draw the things I want.

Alas, I know VERY little about how to do the operations you described, but I'll darned-sure give it a shot. I can stumble my way through Bryce and see what happens. You've been gracious enough to give me some pointers already, so I won't ask you to hold my newbie hand. :D I'll give it a shot and report back with how it's going. (I'll also be sure to check out your other thread!)

I haven't posted to the ProFantasy group yet, but I've been considering it.

Out of curiosity, what sorts of 3D packages have displacement painting commands? I'm assuming 3ds Max, Maya, and Daz do, but as the first two are rather pricey ( :shock: ), I might check out Daz if you tell me it's what I need. Or am I missing the obvious? Does Bryce have this feature? That'd probably be the easiest since I already own a copy.

Thanks again for everything!


03-29-2007, 08:00 PM
Glad to be of help.

Hex (which is sold by Daz) has displacement painting....although I have the programme when it was being sold on special offer for $2 by Daz, my graphics card didn't really take to it and there were occasional crashes.

What I use is Silo, it only models (I import and render in Bryce) and it's a honey to use. Very simple and very powerful and intuitive at about $100. Yes it's not cheap, but it's nowhere near as expensive as the industry leaders like Maya and Zbrush etc. I would recommend Silo. The version which has displacement painting (Silo 2) is still in beta, but I find it works very well and it's a steal at the price. You will also get the 'stable' version Silo 1.4 which doesn't have displacement painting, but if you want to get into modelling, I would start with this. go to www.nevercenter.com

Hope this helps but if you need any more just post another message.

Here is a screenshot in silo with a simple terrain in progress. Don't be fooled though, it's not that easy to make a complex terrain using a 3d modeller alone - it will take some practice. Much better to make a rough of your terrain in silo and then use photoshop to put in roads and rivers and Bryce to smooth it and add noise.



03-30-2007, 08:02 AM
There's also Mudbox3d which is a direct competitor of ZBrush. I have ZBrush and absolutely love it for normal mapping and whatnot...I haven't fiddled with it for maps though...might have to experiment.

I didn't know FT would export heightmap data either...will have to look into that. Thanks ravells

03-30-2007, 09:16 AM
I think FT also exports Normal maps too!


03-30-2007, 07:22 PM
Much better to make a rough of your terrain in silo and then use photoshop to put in roads and rivers and Bryce to smooth it and add noise.

Hey Ravs, can you say a bit more about this? What do you mean by "smooth it and add noise"? What does importing from Photoshop into Bryce do for the shot? The other way around I know may be used for touch ups, but importing into Bryce?

Generally the photorealistic style of maps is one of my least favorites, but this idea does intrigue me for creating other player visual aids. Since I have the programs (although a 100% newbie) I'd like to know more about the process you mention.


03-30-2007, 08:37 PM
I'll try and do a proper tutorial ... but r/l intrudes..it'll have to be in a few days' time.

all the best


03-31-2007, 12:26 AM
Not too long ago, I came across a website where some Lord of the Rings fans were mapping out Middle Earth with DEM maps (I think it was DEM, anyway). Sorry I don't have a link for you, but maybe try googling for it. You might get lucky.

03-31-2007, 06:14 PM
I have made a brief tutorial (part 1) also in the sticky of the general discussions thread on 3d mapping as described above. You can find it here:


all the best


04-11-2007, 10:47 AM
Not too long ago, I came across a website where some Lord of the Rings fans were mapping out Middle Earth with DEM maps

Found it. Here's the link:

04-11-2007, 11:27 AM
Anther option is something like Leveller (yes that is the spelling) (http://www.daylongraphics.com/products/leveller/index.htm) which is designed for heightfield and DEM modeling/editing. It is $150, but seems to be the tool for the job. Some of the civil engineers at work use it to touch up/add detail to existing DEMs.

-Rob A>