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Thread: Elevation, Weather Charts for Entire Fictional Planet

  1. #1
    Guild Apprentice Podcreature's Avatar
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    Sep 2013

    Default Elevation, Weather Charts for Entire Fictional Planet

    So I’m making a map of Pern, as from the novel series “The Dragonriders of Pern” by the late Anne McCaffrey. *Hat-tip to the first woman to receive the Hugo and Nebula awards for her science fiction.*

    Okay, so I’m a big fan and I’m not a map-maker, but I need a map to suit my purposes. We'll just see how it turns out in the end! I’ll share what I come up with as I go, and list some of my main goals, and proposed methods for how I might do things. Whatever anyone wants to throw out there, advice or criticism, is more than welcome. If there’s a better way to do something, I’m likely to be ignorant of it, lol.

    Realistic stuff:
    Firstly, my goals and needs are to create a detailed height map and also weather charts for an entire planet.
    That being said, if anyone knows of some good climate maps, or guides, I'm new and need to learn as much as I can...
    Canonical references for the map I'm making can be found here: The Pern Museum/Maps and Charts/Maps from the Books and this section has some exciting maps from the book "The Atlas of Pern" which I think many cartographers would have fun using as reference to make an updated versinon. I know I'll be needing these.
    I plan to use Wilbur. I want the mountains to appear to be the realistic scale, not stylized and over-sized. I'm new to this software, and I don't really know what to expect. (Wilbur does work fine with windows 7??)

    Style stuff:
    I want to create a more simple map for demographics, roads, labels etc. Marrying the realistic terrains I plan to generate with a stylized map will be tricky for me, as I want the theme to be unified and cohesive, but when it comes to presentation and styles, I don’t know much. So suggestions for fonts, effects, presentation will be super helpful as I make updates.

    Tools: Photoshop CS6, Wilbur, and later, possibly other freeware as I learn about them.
    Right now the map project is 23760 x 11880 pixels. I need to learn more about file size... whether this is right for a detailed map of a whole world, I don't know. I definitely want lines and texts to show up crisp and clear even when scaled out. Still newish to Photoshop so here's hoping I make the best use of it!
    Well that’s enough for now, feel free to take a look at the base map I’ve created from the canon ones in the books using the same longitude and Latitude lines.

    Update 9/29/13: Better template image for building my heightmap:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    This is the old map I made, using Gimp only:

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    Thanks for reading.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Podcreature; 10-02-2013 at 12:44 PM. Reason: lots of redundant words ;P

  2. #2
    Guild Apprentice Podcreature's Avatar
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    Sep 2013


    Ok, first off, I have to say that I'm so happy I found Wilbur. Knowing that what I'm trying to do is even possible has been like Christmas every day since I started working on this project again!

    So there's a long way to go, but I thought I'd share what I've learned so far.

    I had two methods for creating my map. I could have hand drawn a heightmap, and brought it into Wilbur and gotten pretty good results. I should never have looked at NASA's heightmap of the earth. It was super detailed, and I could zoom right in and look at all the flowing, sweeping land forms, and I really didn't think I could get such diversity in Wilbur.

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    So, I went on impulse and made my heightmap from bits of Earth, overlapped them, warped, skewed, flipped, rotated them until it looked different enough.

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    (just a test, still exciting)

    But it wasn't really Pern, it was Earth and that was bugging me.

    So I blurred it and got something like this...

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    Then in Wilbur generated something like this,

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    Not bad, but I decided to keep the detail and made this from a non-blurred piece,

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    I'm excited about this stage because it's really become it's own planet. Any parts that looked hodge-podge are fully merged. Still playing with different techniques to get the size of mountains and rivers I want though. Lots of trial and error.

    I plan to overlap these, and use some pieces from each to make the final version. I'm going to do the oceans separately and overlay it. To make the mountains and sea level areas more dynamic, I may use curves to select only certain ranges in Photoshop to darken them or lighten the grayscale heightmaps. Then I can bring it all into Wilbur one more time and raise lower a little more. Hold on to your butts!
    Last edited by Podcreature; 10-02-2013 at 02:03 AM.

  3. #3
    Guild Adept Viking's Avatar
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    May 2013


    I like where this is going Please keep working on this and keeping us updated!
    Finished Maps: Skenth - Prints Available!
    Works in Progress: Arinthia - region of Skenth

    Need something commissioned? Send me a message!

  4. #4
    Community Leader Guild Sponsor arsheesh's Avatar
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    Oct 2009


    This looks fantastic! You've done a splendid job combining bits and pieces of height maps of earth to form your own height map. I'm impressed!


  5. #5
    Guild Apprentice Podcreature's Avatar
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    Sep 2013


    Thanks so much for the encouragement guys! It's helped, particularly when I forgot to save a grayscale verison of the map, and closed Wilbur(I need both the gray and the elevation .png, matching.) I had to re-do the region just when I was feeling proud of it. They "joy" of Wilbur, I'm learning, is that if you're new, there's so many numerical settings to memorize, particularly with "incise flow." If you're not the technical sort, ahem, you'll spend days trying to remember what you did to repeat an effect... Headaches aside, I've established steps that I'll be able to repeat with all the other regions. So hopefully I'll be able to update again soon with some big progress.

    It's not a big update, but proof I'm making it past the humps, and because pictures are fun...

    Here's the region before Wilbur:
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    Here's the map I was "proud of." (The ocean has a weird growth - it doesn't matter because I'm masking out the ocean anyway.)
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    And here's what I was able to recreate. It's not the same but I accepted it because it looks more realistic to me. Maybe not as dramatic in the same way, but there's more... diversity? Thoughts and opinions welcomed. ;p
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    The grayscale version looks a little wacky, but I'm sure it will look much better when colored.
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    Finally off to repeat this with all the other regions.

    Thank you Arsheesh, for your super helpful Eriond tutorial, it's what got me going in the right direction. And Viking, your map of Skenth was one of the first I found when I stumbled on the forum. It's amazing! Glad there's competent mappers here to supervise my novice attempt, lol.


    Click image for larger version. 

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    Some un-Wilberized map bits look better when brought back in.
    Last edited by Podcreature; 01-09-2014 at 07:23 AM. Reason: annoying grammar

  6. #6


    Just arrived on this forum and this looks great, hope I can do stuff like this one day xD

  7. #7
    Guild Member Facebook Connected Thorf's Avatar
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    May 2008
    Akita, Japan


    Very interesting... I am working on a similar kind of project, mapping out a whole world using Photoshop and Wilbur, like you. And I too began with the continental outlines/sea mask, and decided to build a height map in Photoshop for further processing in Wilbur. I considered using real world data, as you have so effectively demonstrated, but ended up going with my own model based on rendered clouds in Photoshop, with lots of masks and level adjustments.

    In any case, that part is different, but the erosion part is very much the same. I'd love to hear what settings you're using for erosion. I have experimented with various different "recipes", using both precipiton erosion and incise flow, noting the settings each time. But so far I've only found one set that gives me the kind of results I'm looking for. The results of your process look rather nice.

    Regarding the resolution you've chosen, I'm assuming you went with those figures to be on a similar scale to the next generation Blue Marble imagery? I made a similar decision to go with a base 21,600 x 10,800 world map. It's big, but not so big as to be unwieldy. However, I found that the erosion produced by Wilbur does not scale properly - the valleys carved by incise flow end up being far too big, and not detailed enough. I later read on another thread by Wilbur programmer Joe Slayton that the in-built "resolution" of Wilbur's erosion is 1 - 50 metres per pixel. Blue Marble is roughly 2 km per pixel. That's a huge difference in scale, but it's simply not feasible for a world map to be 50 metres per pixel. A roughly earth-sized world would end up being in the realm of 864,000 x 432,000 pixels - ten times the size of the already unwieldy full resolution of NASA's latest Blue Marble!

    I have decided to compromise, and go with a full resolution of 86,400 x 43,200 - handily maintaining compatibility with full resolution Blue Marble - but split into continental parts to make it feasible to work on even at that rather massive resolution. I've found that Wilbur works best with pieces of 9,999 x 9,999 or less, so I have split my continents up into four to six parts each, overlapping as you are doing.

    I'll be following your project with interest. I'm working on some posts about my own project to post soon, which I hope you might find useful too.

  8. #8
    Software Dev/Rep Guild Sponsor waldronate's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    The High Desert


    It's not so much that Wilbur has a preference for a particular resolution. It's more that the kind of model in use generates results that I think appear truly plausible only on roughly that scale. Note that Wilbur is missing huge kinds of effects that would appear on the micro scale such as meanders or other effects that have to do with density of flow and with mass wasting (critical physical processes for real-world erosion). Wilbur's precipiton thingy is the simplest algorithm that I could get to generate something that looked reasonably plausible to me. Incise flow is just as bad in terms of having a physical meaning...

  9. #9
    Guild Apprentice Podcreature's Avatar
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    Sep 2013


    Sorry it's been so long without an update. I've been working on the masking regions, as well as generating heightmap and elevation maps for each region, which is just a long grind.

    I'm having to just guess the southern territories, I think. They don't have to be well-formed because they're essentially uninhabited. Eeach major region was named in "official" maps, but borders weren't drawn, and I assume they are probably somewhat contested, because in the books they were never really colonized, so I've allowed a lot of the terrain to speak for the borders, stopping at barrier ranges and land I can only assume no one wants. I don't really know much about how territory borders are drawn or decided, aside from rivers, mountains, and long./lat. lines. I guess that's all that's typically used though?

    I'm also grafting on the detailed heightmaps. I'm leaving unimportant areas mainly unedited.

    Planning on using these maps to make 3D terrain which I'll touch up in Unity later too.

    This is not the intended appearance, just how I'm picking out the borders based on topology. It will later be colored, with a bump-map on it. I'll make a new map for each region. Again, I need to make a global heightmap, global elevation map, global climate map, global colored map, and demographic colored maps for each of the regions and the whole map... I'll probably have to make closer up heightmaps and elevation maps for each region too, for threadfall charts, but we'll see. That would be more work to throw on an already huge project.

    EDIT: @ Thorf: Oh, thanks for that info by the way... the reason I chose the resolution I did was simply to keep detail from the original heightmap. Since I'm going to later use these to generate 3D landscapes, I might need as high of resolution as possible. Since I'm not sure how much detail I will need when I get to that point, I would rather work with a big file now than find out later that it's not big enough. I hear you on the unwieldy part. Fortunately my computer can handle chunks of these maps and it's easy enough to overlay them in PS. True that Wilbur doesn't behave dynamically with different file sizes. I need as tiny non-stylized rivers as possible, and I just assumed bigger file, smaller details. I'd definitely love to see what you are doing in Wilbur.

    EDIT (2/13/2014): @Waldronate
    Note that Wilbur is missing huge kinds of effects that would appear on the micro scale such as meanders or other effects that have to do with density of flow and with mass wasting (critical physical processes for real-world erosion). Wilbur's precipiton thingy is the simplest algorithm that I could get to generate something that looked reasonably plausible to me. Incise flow is just as bad in terms of having a physical meaning...
    That's some cool knowledge! I really should study this sort of thing more. Just makes me a little glad I'm not entirely relying on Wilbur at least. I'm trying to let the earth images speak for realistic texture, but then let Wilbur make it it's own land. Makes me worry that the terrain pieces I picked didn't match the climate of the places I was grafting them onto for Pern. Just went with what looked nice. :/
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Podcreature; 02-13-2014 at 02:47 PM. Reason: updated image

  10. #10
    Guild Apprentice Podcreature's Avatar
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    Sep 2013


    Hey guys, sorry it's been so long with no update. I've finished (enough) using Wilbur to merge terrain, and I've gotten pretty comfortable with it, though there's still some thick river flow zones, it doesn't look terrible with the glacial look. It won't really matter when it's bumped and colored.

    Only major stuff left to do is touch-up the borders of the Northern territories, fix up rivers, edit the coastline to check that it's canon since it deformed, and I need to go over the islands with Wilbur. Oh, and I also need to hand-draw major rivers and roads on their own layer.

    After that is other political details.

    I'd like to render significant areas from this terrain using programs like World Creator, Terragen 3, World Machine and Terrasculptor.. I don't have any experience with those though. I need to settle on one that can give me a large map, with color, edit terrain and something to render it... I'd rather not pay an arm and a leg, and I also really care that it's going to be able to be brought easily enough into Unity Pro (which I am saving for.) I'm kindof thinking I could cut out a rendering program, just buy a terrain editor, and use Outerra, but I don't know anything about how possible or easy it is to get a custom world into that either, I suspect it would be way too technical, but if anyone has advice there, I invite it.

    In the meantime, back to the world maps...

    Click image for larger version. 

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