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DEM Earth Review by C4D Cafe  

2015-11-29 00:16:17|  分类: CG资讯 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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DEM Earth

Introduction


DEM Earth is plugin for CINEMA 4D Release 13 and higher that creates highly detailed 3D landscapes from DEM (Digital Elevation Map)data i.e. real world terrain data. The plugin can then apply various texture maps like Satellite imagery or road maps precisely over this terrain. The plugin is made by well know CINEMA 4D developer Paul Everett from CINEMAplugins.com.

CINEMA 4D has long had the ability to load DEM data and generate terrains but they are not accurate i.e. proportions and sizes wrong. A common problem is getting the right format DEM files and searching around for DEM files can be a frustrating experience. Not so bad if you're after DEM data for the USA as this is easy obtain for free from the United States Geological Survey site. Other country's data and in the right format can be hard to find. The next issue has been applying satellite imagery or road maps and getting everything to match. Something quite difficult to do although there are applications available that can do this but many of these applications are quite technical to use. What makes this plugin so useful is it does all this hard work for you. It's really easy to use and you can add other 3D content into the scene as well. Here in New Zealand where I live the weather forecast each night on TV uses 3D computer generated landscapes. You then get animated rain, text overlays etc. DEM Earth combined with CINEMA 4D can do all this very easily. Anyone familiar with the TV coverage of the Tour de France will have seen the 3D terrains they use to preview the race route. DEM Earth can do all this. Here's a taste of what DEM Earth can do. Video by Mike Batchelor.

DEM Earth teaser video by Mike Batchelor

The plugin costs US 286.82 / EUR 189.99 for a single user licence. Multiple user licence's are available and the plugin works on both PC's and Mac OSX. The plugin comes as a download and includes the documentation. You also get 1 year Premium Support. This gives you access to software updates, 30m high res DEM data, Image downloader, GPX downloader, ASC Loader, Geocoder and account support. After this period you can renew the premium support for EUR 89. DEM Earth will continue to work whether you renew premium support or not.

The way the plugin works is you enter GPS coordinates for a location (I'll explain this shortly) and the plugin downloads and unloads Nasa's 30m DEM data on the fly and generates the terrain for you. You can then optionally overlay various texture maps like Satellite images and these images are downloaded and applied. Note that the textures are downloaded from publicly available sources and you do need to check on the rights usage if you're going to be using DEM Earth for commercial work.

Before I get into the review proper I should mention that I was looking forward to reviewing DEM Earth as I've previously tinkered around with DEM's and used them in conjunction with a CNC Milling Machine to create a mould. I then used a Plastic Vacuum Forming machine to make a 3D plastic map of the terrain. That actually worked really well but I had problems screen printing on the plastic prior to the vacuum forming and getting everything to match properly. I have since sold these 2 machines. I'm also interested in accurate 3D terrain models as I'm a keen cyclist and use GPS device on my bike. After uploading my ride data to the Internet I get a map of my ride and an elevation graph. With DEM Earth I can go a step further and see my rides in 3D. Very cool.

Installation

DEM Earth comes as a download along with an email with your account user name and password. Once you have downloaded the files, all you need to do is extract the zip file and copy the folder "Tools4D_Dem_Earth" to your CINEMA 4D plugin folder, which is located in your CINEMA 4D application folder and restart CINEMA 4D. You'll then get a main menu item (versions prior to 1.56 had the menu in the Plugins menu) for it as shown below plus some options in the main CINEMA 4D preferences. In the preferences you have to enter in your user name and password. You can also optionally change the folders where the downloaded DEM data files and textures maps go. You're then good to go.

DEM Earth menu

DEM Earth menu

DEM Earth Object  DEM Earth Object icon

At the heart of the plugin is the DEM Earth Object. Once created you enter in the GPS coordinates from the location you want to create a 3D terrain for. As Mike Batchelor demonstrated in the video above an easy way to do this is to use Google Maps and right click on the map and select "What's here" then from the dialog box that pops up you select and copy the GPS coordinates. The documentation that comes with the plugin suggests using Bing maps as the GPS coordinates pop up where you right click. Google Maps or Bing Maps, it doesn't matter as both are easy to use. An alternative to using on-line maps is to use the DEM Earth Geocode utility and type the name of a place. The utility then does a search and gives you the GPS coordinates. More on this later. Let's work through an example and go through the various settings.

So I'm into cycling and one of the most famous cycling routes from the Tour de France is the hill climb up Alpe d扝uez. So all I need to do is a Google search on "Alpe d扝uez map" then copy the GPS coordinates. Here's the Google map.

Alpe d扝uez on Google Maps

Alpe d扝uez on Google Maps

Now that I've got the GPS coordinates copied I can then paste them into the DEM Earth object by clicking on the Paste button in fact, if you have the GPS coordinates copied into memory when you create a DEM Earth object, those coordinates are used and you don't need to paste them in). The DEM (Digital Elevation Map) data will then be downloaded from the Internet and the terrain will be created. You only need to download the data once for each location as the data is cached on to your hard drive (the location where the files are cached is controlled in the Preferences). Here's what I get after pasting the coordinates into the DEM Earth Object. I've circled the area that I'm interested in.

DEM Earth Object

GPS Coordinates pasted into DEM Earth Object

As you would expect there are range of settings to control how the terrain looks. I want to zoom into the region I circled above so that's done using the Area Zoom slider. The mesh resolution is fairly low at 250 so I can increase it using the Subdivision slider. The size of terrain is controlled by the Size slider. Okay, so I've zoomed in, resized and increased the subdivision. The area I'm interested in, the switch-backs hill climb are not centered. I can fine tune this by using the Offset.NS and the Offset.EW spinner arrows for the coordinates. Alternatively you can interactively click on the terrain (not the object axis) and drag it around. If you drag a long way you may end up downloading the next DEM data tile. I'm happy with the Y axis height of the terrain and by default the height matches the real world height. There is a Height Amplification slider where you can increase or decrease the height scale. Often the terrain will be too flat and you need to exaggerate the height to make it look better. I don't need to do this as this area is plenty mountainous. Here's my updated terrain.

Zoomed in

Zoomed into area of interest

Now it's time to overlay the terrain with a texture map and there's a range of options available. You also have to decide how much detail you want in the texture that gets applied. If you want high detail you crank up the Level amount. Note that increasing the level can result in hundreds of texture tiles being downloaded thus chewing through a lot of bandwidth. The other thing to note and the documentation is careful to point this out that while the DEM data is freely available to download and use, the textures may be subject to copyright so if you're using the plugin commercially as I suspect many people will be doing, you will need to check out texture usage thoroughly. DEM Earth stitches together all of the downloaded texture maps into one large seamless texture map.

Applying Texture Maps

To get a texture map for your DEM Earth terrain, select the DEM Earth object and go on to the Map Loader tab in the Attributes. You then choose the map source from the Layer dropdown. Options include: satellite, scientific and cartographic texture maps. You can apply multiple texture maps and have these stacked on top of each other as you would normally do with CINEMA 4D materials. You can then animate visibility of each material to change what you see. Let's apply a road map and satellite image to my Alpe d'Huez terrain. The animation shows 3 different detail levels: 12, 14 and 16. Level 16 (169 image tiles) is so fine it's only any use if you're zoomed in really close.

Road maps at different detail levels

As you can see the map detail is excellent. Next up I'll apply Satellite imagery and you can choose texture maps from several sources and the following example alternates between 3 sources. All are level 15 detail (that's 49 image tiles downloaded and welded together). During the course of the review the Developer released a new version of DEM Earth. This included support for Bing Map layers (Satellite images). You need a Bing API key but these are free to get. I found the Bing images to be very good quality and downloaded quicker than the other satellite images.

Satellite imagery from 3 sources

In this case the satellite imagery is quite similar although one has text on it. I found for some places where there were mountains that there were huge differences with the textures i.e. some had lots of snow while others had very little (Photos taken in summer maybe?) plus some texture tiles might have had a blue or green tint so that there's a noticeable difference between adjacent texture tiles. Another issue is the texture map may includes clouds if the photo was taken when it was cloudy. Generally I found Bing satellite textures to be the best.

One very useful texture map and Mike Batchelor demonstrated it was the Water Mask. This creates an accurate Alpha Channel mask of where rivers, lakes and oceans are. A problem I've encountered in the past using DEM's was accurately defining where water areas are. Getting accurate water information is a mouse click away with DEM Earth. Here's Wanganui, New Zealand. Not far from where I live. I used a Water Mask to define sea, the river mouth and a few small lakes. I had to adjust the sea level slightly to get things to match (tides maybe?). This is using Bing for the textures. The others had clouds or no textures were available at the tile resolution I wanted.

Water mask

Water Mask used accurately define where oceans, lakes and rivers are

The blue tint on one texture tile is not caused by the Water Mask. The 2 texture tiles just have a different tint which in this case just happens to be a colour close to the colour I used for the water.

Here's a favourite area of mine. The Grand Canyon in the USA. On my wall in my office I have a plastic vacuum formed 3D raised relief map of the Grand Canyon. ESRI World imagery map layer level 13.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, USA

Animation

As you would expect, settings in the DEM Earth plugin can be animated. A common type of animation would be a fly through type animation or the terrain scrolling past the camera. Below is an example of making the terrain scroll. Just a matter of recording a key at one GPS location then pasting in the GPS coordinates for another location at another frame. DEM Earth will then download all of the required DEM files. To do the textures you have start at frame 0 where you are in one location, scrub the timeline until the terrain has scrolled and no texture is visible. You then download another set of texture tiles. Repeat as often as necessary. The animation below took 5 lots of downloading. As far as I can see, everything is pretty much seamless. The Developer advises me that you can mix detail levels as you might want high detail in one area but not another area. If you do so you will often see image edges, so the best thing to do is to add a gradient shader in box mode to the high res layer then apply a small a mount of turbulence. This has the effect of blurring, or confusing the edges, so you don't see them. You also need to be sure higher res levels and their texture tags, are ordered on the right side of the lower res texture tags, so they appear above.

Click on image to play animation

Scrolling terrain animation. Click here or image to play (QT 24mb)

You would have noticed I used a PinPoint object to fix some Text to the terrain and as the terrain scrolled the text maintain their correct position. For the 2 lakes to get their names I hovered the mouse over them in the viewport. In the status bar the Latitude and Longitude coordinates are displayed (you also get the altitude). I then looked up those coordinates on Google maps to get the Lake names. Of course the other way to get the landmark features is to overlay a map. You then set up your PinPoint objects and finish off by overlaying over the map the satellite imagery.

Geocode Tool  Geocode icon

The Geocode tool is a simple utility where you can type in or paste in GPS coordinates and get the name of the town, city or general region of where it refers to. You can do a reverse look up and type in the name and get the GPS coordinates. You can then copy the GPS coordinates into a DEM Earth Object. You don't even have to past the coordinates in. Once you copy the coordinates and then create a new DEM Earth object, those copied coordinates in memory will be used. Here's what the utility looks like. I used to get the GPS coordinates for Wanganui, New Zealand that I used in the Water Mask example above.

Geocode utility

Geocode utility

PinPoint Object  Pin Point icon

The PinPoint object is a special Null type object and is used for adding visible markers to your terrain. The way they work is you create one and then make it a child of the DEM Earth object. When you do this the PinPoint object's GPS coordinates match that of the DEM Earth object. You then drop an object like a sphere, text etc that you have created as a child object of this. As you adjust the positioning and scaling of the DEM Earth object the Pin Point object is automatically updated to match. To offset the position of the PinPoint Object you move the child object around. If you want more than one object you just add more objects as child objects of the PinPoint object.

The PinPoint object has a number of options. The "Lock" option locks the initial scale of child objects. Generally this option can be left locked. When you drag and drop the PinPoint object and its child objects under the DEM Earth object, if the Locked option is unchecked prior to the drag operation then the object such as a sphere will maintain its size / scale. If the Locked option is checked then the child object will be resized and the size is determined by the zoom factor of the DEM Earth object. Once the PinPoint object is a child of the DEM Object, unchecking the Locked option will make the zoom factor match that of the DEM Earth object. Confused? In practice it all makes sense once you've done it a couple of times. The Copy and Paste buttons allow GPS coordinates to be copied and pasted within DEM Earth objects and also using external GPS coordinates.

Way Object  Pin Point icon

The Way object is essentially a spline. After creating the Way object you define the spline point by adding objects that you used for PinPoint objects into the "Objects" field. Alternatively you can use Null objects. You then get a Path Spline that can be used with a Sweep object. You have normal spline options like "Intermediate Points" and "Angle". An "Arch" option allows you arch the spline between points. The image below demonstrates PinPoint objects and the Way object.

PinPoint and Way Objects

PinPoint and Way Objects

GPX Support

DEM Earth supports the GPX file format. GPX is a file format that stores routes, waypoints etc. I use them myself where I can plot a route that I want to follow on my computer using on-line mapping services. I then upload the GPX file to my Garmin GPS cycling computer. I then get turn by turn instructions. It works the other way as well. I can go out for a ride not following a route and the ride data can be saved in GPX format. To load a GPX file into DEM Earth you just drag and drop a GPX file onto CINEMA 4D. Here's the result of adding in a GPX file of a bike ride I did a few weeks ago. 113km and 2400m of hill climbing. The red spline was created automatically. All I did was drop the spline under a Sweep object. DEM Earth automatically downloaded the appropriate terrain file. I then used the Map Loader to apply satellite imagery from Bing. Very slick and really easy to do.

GPX file loaded into DEM earth

GPX file loaded in DEM Earth. Route generated automatically

Here's another one. This time a GPX file of Sir Edmund Hilary's successful ascent of Mt Everest in 1953. The red spline is the route and the red spheres are the camp sites. I did not have to amplify the height. Everything is correct proportions.

Mt Everest

Mt Everest - 1953 route by Sir Edmund Hilary

Strata

Strata is the sedimentary rock layers below the Earth's surface. The DEM Earth object has a "Strata" option that when enabled gives the terrain object in the viewport some depth. You can then apply a material with a gradient. The material is restricted to the Strata parts of the terrain by adding the word "strata" into the selection field of the texture tag. Below is the example file supplied by the developer. It's an animation with the surface moving. 2 materials with gradients have been used. One for the surface and one for the Strata.

Click on image to play animation

Click on image or here to play animation (QT 1.9mb)

Coverage Command  Coverage Command icon

The DEM Earth Coverage command is a visualization tool using CINEMA 4D's Picture Viewer that lets you browse the downloaded DEM files that you collect while using the plugin to show you where you have got coverage of. What I suggest is that you do, is in the preferences, make the 3 cache folders locations somewhere easy to get to. The default folder locations are in a hidden system area and are hard to navigate to. When you do that and use this command you can select either the 30m or 90m DEM data folder. You then get a World map with red squares of where you have DEM data for. Here's an example showing New Zealand. The red squares are the regions I have DEM data downloaded for. If I create a DEM Earth object for these locations the data will be loaded from my computer rather than the Internet.

Earth Coverage Command

Earth Coverage Command uses Picture Viewer to show what regions you have DEM data for

Miscellaneous

There's a few other things that DEM Earth can do. There's a GeoPoint Converter that together with the Tools4D OpenStreetMap importer,easily overlay massive OSM data sets onto DEM Earth objects. DEM Earth can import files in ASC format. This allows the importing of raw 3D data. More info here. Another new feature in DEM Earth 1.56 that I haven't tested is Abstract height mapping. This allows you to blend the height from different geographic locations so that you can create unique abstract landscapes.

Documentation

DEM Earth comes with a PDF manual. This covers installing the plugin and how to get started. I found the documentation to be a bit of a work in progress i.e. not finished. While the DEM Earth object and its basic usage is covered, advanced settings are not covered. Other objects like the PinPoint object were completely missing from the documentation as they came along after the documentation was written. This is because the developer has been piling on new enhancements and hasn't got back to updating the documentation. That said, most of the objects not covered in the documentation aren't that difficult to figure out how to use. Could be, by the time you read this review that the documentation has been updated to cover all DEM Earth objects and tools? I should however mention that the developer has a support forum and many of the newer enhancements are explained in blog type entries that include images and example scene files. Using Strata for example wasn't covered in the documentation. No problem, I headed over to the developer's site and looked it up in the forums. The developer himself is also only too happy to answer questions.

Another thing that I should mention is if you go to the Vimeo site there are a number of videos about DEM Earth. Some are new and some are a bit old when the plugin was being developed but some of the more advanced settings and things like the DEM Earth Geo Referencing tag are explained.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed using DEM Earth. As mentioned at the start of the review, I've had a little bit of experience with DEM files before. Back then doing stuff with DEM files was often a frustrating experience especially if you wanted to combine a texture map with the terrain. DEM Earth makes the process so simple it's ridiculous. So for anyone needing to use DEM files to create accurate terrains plus apply matching texture maps then I highly recommend DEM Earth. The plugin is under continuous development and new enhancements are being added regularly. During the review a new version (1.56) came out with enhancements and bug fixes.


DEM Earth Review by C4D Cafe
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