dvGarage, a QuickTime-only site dedicated to “building the next generation of visual media artists,” has released “The Terrain Toolkit.” Converted from USGS Digital Elevation Map (DEM) data, the product contains over 900 grayscale images that represent height data of many locations in the US.
The Terrain Toolkit — compatible with Mac OS X and Mac OS 8.6-9.x — was developed in a partnership between dvGarage and scientific programmer Stephen Keith. It’s planned as the first in a series of products dedicated to bridging the gap between scientific data and media artists. The Terrain Toolkit is also available for Windows. However, the Mac version includes a DEM viewer capable of opening, viewing, and converting DEM files to grayscale images.
“Though they’re free, DEM files can only be used in a few applications in their raw form,” said Alex Lindsay, founder of dvGarage. “By converting the files to grayscale imagery, 3D artists can easily use the information as displacement maps. This process turns simple planes into complex geometry in minutes.”
Conversion also allows for further editing in Photoshop to create landscapes based on reality, but conforming to specific needs of production. This can be tricky when dealing directly with DEM information.
“Beyond terrains, these files are a vault of organic information,” Lindsay said. “While we mostly look at micro detail for texture maps, this is macro information. It’s unique and developed over literally billions of years. It’s a rare source of raw detail for texturing.”
The Terrain Toolkit has a manufacturers suggested retail price of US$129. However, it’s on sale through June 13 for $79.