Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day

The first thing that got me hooked on doing 3D was a rendering of the Earth. I was in grade 10 and my art teacher had a setup of Apple Performa computers in the backroom of the art class. It was his secret lab. Mostly he'd go back there to do freelance design work while we sat in class, painting without any direction.

One day a classmate shows me what he's working on the back room with our art teacher's help. He loads up Strata Vision and makes a cylinder with a sphere in it. He quickly applies a glass material to the cylinder and a pre-made Earth texture to the sphere. Rotating the view, he puts it at a 3/4 angle so we're looking at the top and sides. After pressing a render button I watch the computer process this information and give a full color image after a few minutes. I was blown away. The glass material actually refracted the image and the Earth was bent out of shape and warped as you would expect if it was encased in a solid glass tube.

That was it. Up until then I had dreams of being a comic illustrator. Smash! Shattered. Having a similar computer at home, I installed Strata Studio Pro (which a classmate found for me) and I started plugging away at it. (As a side note, how did anyone even find software online in the early 90s?)

Fast forward to present day... While students here at the college have been finishing off their year and my lectures and marking have (nearly) finished, I took a couple days to put this Earth rendering together. I had been thinking of it for a while and what approach I wanted to take. I knew that  I didn't have to have an amazing render to start with because I had, in a way, already built my comp in my head. Here are the layers I used to come up with this final image:

Before I get too far, I should say that I didn't paint these texture maps from scratch. NASA has an amazing collection of image of Earth already unwrapped and ready to apply as textures to you 3D models. You can find them here. They come in various sizes, so I grabbed all the biggest ones.

You can see the "Earth Day Beauty" in the top left corner is a far way off from looking like the final composite at the top. Here's an image of my composite from Nuke:

My process was this:
  • Combine the day and night image using the sunlight mask. 
  • Use the land/water mask to color correct land and water separately. 
  • Throw the clouds on top balancing the shadows to try and give them an illuminated look. 
  • Add atmosphere using existing alpha channels combines with Nuke's built in tools. 
  • Build a lens flare for the sun. 

Voila! Instant Earth!


  1. So great to watch over the shoulder of talented people. :)

    Love the layers of atmosphere - how did you make the self-shadowed clouds?


    1. Hey Jay!

      I cheated on the clouds. I just pushed the B&W map into the displacement slot and played with it until the height seems reasonable and gave me shadows. I didn't bother with scattering though which is why I did a rendering without the self-shadowing and just blended the two in the comp.

  2. Useful article! Earth Day is April 22, 2022, We have a collection of quotes to inspire you to do your part to take care of the planet. To celebrate earth day you can find a quote from quotewalalove and share it with your friends and family . To read our article about Positive Earth Day Quotes, visit our website!