View Full Version : Planet Map for Earth-Like Planet in Sci-Fi Setting

08-28-2009, 09:53 PM
Here are the first baby steps of my newest project, a planet map for a sci-fi setting. The art director asked me to create a planetary map and a single continent map from the planet map, with potentially other continents to follow. I havent' commenced the continent map yet.

The art director's instructions for the planet map boil down to the following:

"The planet itself is totally earth like. It was created by aliens for the specific purpose of housing humans. So the planet would have earth standard poles with ice caps, temperate zones and tropics. The ratio of water to land would be earth standard, 70/30."

Hence, the planet I'm mapping has an axial tilt of 23.5 degrees (Arctic and Antarctic regions 23.5 degrees from poles, tropics 23.5 degrees from the equator), is about 7,900 miles in diameter, is about 25,000 in circumference, and has a water-to-land ratio of about 70/30. I'm assuming climates and weather will be similar too.

Beyond that, however, I've suggested strayed a bit from Earth's random distribution of clunky land masses, creating instead a planet map with an appealing visual balance and dynamic pattern of land-mass shapes. If aliens designed the planet, I'd prefer to assume they're aliens with a sense of style.

My first step is finding a balance of land masses and ocean with a compelling visual appeal. I'm striving for a good abstract flow. I care nothing for color yet. Mountain ranges, forests, plains, swamps, and deserts are vague thoughts for later. Islands of a non-continental scale interest me only as points of balance and linear flow. Textures? What, are you kidding? All I want is a powerful interaction of negative and positive space, a sense of dynamic movement, and a touch of cadence.

I do all my mapping on Photoshop CS 2. But we're at the beach now, so I'm working on my wife's office laptop, onto which I've loaded Photoshop Elements 5. Hence, I'm missing most of the instruments I customarily turn to in my efforts to make images sing. I have no History window. I can only undo one step. I can't make quick masks to add gradients. I can't transform saved selections. On and on it goes. It's like trying to conduct a symphony with only four musicians. One has a mouth harp and a deaf ear, another an upside-down plastic garbage can and two mismatched wooden spoons, the third a metal spoon and six glasses with different levels of water in each. The fourth likes to whistle. Sometimes.

On top of that, my wife's laptop's screen desaturates colors. Maps that look radiant on my home computer look gray on this one. Hence, everything I create on this one will likely be garishly oversaturated on my home computer. If these colors prove blinding, mea culpa. I'll fix them when I get home in a week.

Here are my starts. I'm attaching 5 images with this post, more with the next two.

I began by creating a generic blue background. I then drew land masses with the brush tool. I did so organically, without any preconception of how the final image should appear. Chain-of-consciousness mapping, I guess.

By viewing the images sequentially, you can see me turning land masses, flipping their orientation back and forth, and beginning to find a sense of balance. For instance, Map 4 flips the two hemispheres in Map 3.

(All posted images on this thread are copyright 2009 Edward J. Reed, all rights reserved.)

08-28-2009, 10:00 PM
Similarly, Map 6 (attached below) rotates the eastern continent shown in Map 5 (last post) 180 degrees. (Look at the cross-shaped bay on the western shore of the eastern land mass in Map 5. It's upside down on the eastern shore of the eastern land map in Map 6.)

In Map 6, I finally found the shape I wanted for the central ocean. I like how the waterway arcs down through the inner sea on the western land masses, opens into the central ocean bisecting the picture plane, and sweeps out to the south west beneath the western land masses.

I also found the kinetic balance I've been seeking between the western and eastern hemispheres. While keeping this balance, the two hemispheres' land masses remain markedly different in configuration, so the image doesn't feel too symetrical to me. Connecting the eastern continental mass up to the poles also dramatically improved the overall image's flow.

(All images on this thread are copyright 2009 Edward J. Reed, all rights reserved.)

08-28-2009, 10:05 PM
The principal difference between Map 6 (attached to the last post) and Map 7 (attached below) is that I flattened and broadened the western land masses in Map 7, distorting them up into the top left corner to give the whole western continent's flow a more rakish plunge southeasterly.

I also broadened the map as a whole from 20 to 21 inches in width (leaving the height at 10 inches). I may need to broaden this further to achieve a land-to-water ratio of 30/70. I can increase the height, adding to the poles, if neccessary to accommodate a broader width showing more ocean.

I also graded the flow of the poles cold gray-blue into the land masses' tan. This will likely prove meaningless, because I'll re-color everything when I begin adding real forests, mountains, plains, and the like. But it makes the image easier to evaluate.

(All images on this thread are copyright 2009 Edward J. Reed, all rights reserved.)

08-28-2009, 10:11 PM
Map 8 (attached below) suggests through colors, in a preliminary fashion, how I might approach forests, plains, and deserts. Obviously, it lacks mountain ranges, the main factors determining where fertile and desert areas fall, so it's all subject to change.

This map shows how I've begun thinking through the land masses. I'll go back, strip out the color, draw mountain ranges and major river valleys and water sheds, and then rebuild the colors in a more meaningful fashion.

For this version, I applied the selection I created circumscribing the land masses to constrain my brush strokes (so I didn't color into the oceans), created a new, empty layer, and then colored in sections with Photoshop's brush tool. Nothing fancy.

(All images on this thread are copyright 2009 Edward J. Reed, all rights reserved.)

08-29-2009, 04:02 AM
I like the colors and shapes so far. Interested to see where this is going.

08-29-2009, 02:20 PM
Awesome stuff, I am envious as heck of that shoreline ... perfection :)

08-30-2009, 05:26 PM
I should still be able to post close-ups of areas I'm proud of or wrestling with. I'll just hope I don't need advice and assistance on big-picture issues!

09-06-2009, 01:32 PM
I just signed on as one if the writers as well as a cartographer for the book for which I've commenced this world map. And, sure enough, the publisher had me sign a non-disclosure agreement for all work product related to the project. While I'm thrilled to be on board, the NDA puts an end to my freedom to continue posting the developing map on this WIP thread.


When I reach problems, I'll ask permission to post map details to get the benefit of all your wisdom. I hope they'll give me that clearance!