HiRISE Data Visualization Made Incredibly Simple
I have long had a fascination with space imagery. I think it is one of the first things new 3D artists try. Make a sphere, slap an Earth texture on it and render a pretty blue marble image. I am guilty of those as well. But while most people move on to making weird looking guns or tanks for games or overly detailed creatures for films my fascination with space imagery and space in general has never faded. I worked on several space related TV and movie projects doing all kinds of things from creating alien planets to realistic earth flybys. And they are always loads of fun to create.
One of the things that makes creation of other worlds—and indeed our own world—much much easier without spending hundreds of dollars on something like World Machine or Terragen (and then having to wrestle with the programs’ idiosyncrasies) is the fact that NASA is a publicly funded entity and that means they have to publish every bit of data they collect. They only ask that you credit them whenever possible for the use of the data.
One such collection is the HiRISE catalogue, a roughly 50,000 image large collection of high resolution imagery from Mars, that grows by a few images every day. You can browse the entire catalogue and if you find an environment that suits you just download the black and white non-map projected as well as the RGB color non-map projected JPG images and use them in your 3D app as displacement and color textures. That gives your a very quickly slapped together believable environment.
You can of course use several of these images and blend them together to create entirely new worlds at any detail and resolution you desire.
Another thing that is available at HiRISE is the DTM collection. It’s a much smaller, roughly 400 images strong catalogue of actual elevation data instead of just photographs. You see the HiRISE camera orbits Mars and whenever it takes a picture of the same area a second time, but from another angle, we get actual triangulated height data back. Again, free for us to use.
That use of DTM data just got quite a bit easier to do. Matt Brealey, a former Foundry employee, created Areo and AreoBrowser to help with searching and then using the perfect HiRISE DTM for your project. I probably best let Matt show and explain these two awesome tools himself.