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Tutorial: Making your own photo scenery (Read 2238 times)
7th Nov, 2008 at 7:09pm

jhefner   Offline
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Here is a little tutorial on how I made my photo scenery for the towns of Lafayette, LA and Cleburne TX.  For the purpose of this tutorial (of course, I also get to enjoy it!) I made another patch of photo scenery, this time for Las Vegas, NV.

I use four tools to make my photo scenery, all free:

* USAPhotoMaps by JDMCox.  It allows you to download scenery from Microsoft TerraServer, and save it as a jpeg file, or copy it to the Windows clipboard.  TerraServer scenery is older than that found in Google Earth, and outside of major metro areas, it is in black and white.  But, USAPhotoMaps allows you to zoom to a precise 4 meters/pixel, the optimum resolution for FS2002 and FS2004; something which Google Earth does not allow.  It is a free download at Multimedia File Viewing and Clickable Links are available for Registered Members only!!  You need to Login or Register.

* Google Earth – not the web based version, but the standalone application; downloadable from Google’s website.  We will use the images in Google Earth to overlay the image we create with USAPhotoMaps with a more up-to-date, color image.  The standalone Google Earth program gives precise control over the level of zoom, so we can match the 4 meters/pixel resolution of our image as close as possible; the web version does not give you that level of control over the zoom.

* Windows Paint – yes, the little paint program that ships with Windows.  You may wish to use another graphics program (especially later in the process when creating seasonal and night textures); but Windows Paint works just fine in stitching your scenery tiles together.  You can also resize your pasted scenery tiles, so you can make slight adjustments to each tile you paste from Google Earth, to make it match the underlying scenery from USAPhotoMaps.

* Photo Scenery Maker, by Takuya Murakami.  This program will take the scenery files we create, calibrate them to the proper size and location, compile them into a BGL file, and make a finished scenery, all in one process.  It is available for download at Multimedia File Viewing and Clickable Links are available for Registered Members only!!  You need to Login or Register.  NOTE: I notice that it now supports FSX in addition to FS2002/FS2004!

We will first create a single .bmp image using USAPhotoMaps and Google Earth.  In each case, we will copy the image to the windows clipboard or save it to a file one screen at a time, then tile them together into a single .bmp image using Windows Paint.  When determining how big a bitmap you want to create; don’t forget that Flight Simulator also has its mesh of squares.  If you capture too tight an area; when Photo Scenery Maker/Flight Simulator trims it to the nearest square, it may cut off something you want displayed.  So, allow for a generous margin all around.

In the case of Lafayette and Cleburne; each town has a population of 150,000; maybe less.  I was able to capture most of both towns with a bitmap roughly 2500 x 2500 in size.  However, when viewed at the optimum altitude of 3500 to 5000 feet; it does not fill the entire view.  You also have to fly a fairly tight pattern to stay over the scenery.  Since Las Vegas is bigger anyway, I went with a resolution of roughly 5000 x 5500.

The first step is to open USAPhotoMaps, and enter the starting coordinates.  (If you are not sure of what they are; then open Goggle Earth first; enter the location you wish to capture, and enter into USAPhotoMaps the coordinates at the bottom of the screen.  Starting from the upper left (NW) corner, we use the File – Download Map Data – Fill Screen menu command to download the aerial photographs to our computer.  Then, we use File – Copy to ‘Screen01.jpg’ menu command to save the current screen to a .jpg file.

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Then, we switch over to Windows Paint, and create a new, blank file.  Use the Image – Attributes menu command to set the initial resolution of the new image; you can change it at later date if you want it to be bigger or smaller.  Then, we will use the “Edit – Paste From” command to paste the .jpg file we just created in USAPhotoMaps into our blank file.

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We continue  going back and forth between the two programs, working from left to right and top to bottom, saving a screen to a .jpg file in USA PhotoMaps, and laying it like tile into our image in Windows Paint.  When I created the images for Lafayette and Cleburne; at a resolution of 1024 x 768; it only took about 10 images to cover the area I wanted.  But, when I roughly doubled the area for Las Vegas, the number of images required rose as well; it took about 58 images to cover it!  In making your tiles, allow enough overlap to match roads and other landmarks; and to account for the slight distortion you sometimes get in the corners.
 

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Reply #1 - 7th Nov, 2008 at 7:12pm

jhefner   Offline
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Continueing my tutorial; here is my completed scenery file for Las Vegas:

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As you can see; I decided I wanted to capture the airport in the middle and south of town completely; but am willing to let FS trim off part of the airport in the NE corner, along with that part of town.  This should give me a large patch of photo scenery centered around the eye candy, and allow me to take off directly into the photo scenery from all four airports, and fly around the city center.

Of course, the image is in black and white, so the next step is to overlay it with image data from Google Earth.  Given the amount of work, you may decide to make this step optional, and just tint the B&W image with your favorite paint program.  (With this example of Las Vegas; you could just tint it brown, and it would work in most areas.)  But, let’s take the leap, and overlay images from Google Earth.

The three things you will need to do in Google Earth to get started are:

* Zoom and pan over the same upper left (NW) corner you started with in USAPhotoMaps.

* THIS IS IMPORTANT: PRESS THE 'R' KEY.  The viewpoint in Google Earth is on a sphere that allows you to look at the scenery from an angle; you can also rotate it.  Pressing the R key sets the viewpoint to the top looking directly down, and rotates the image so that North is straight up.  (Failure to do this will make it very difficult to match the scenery, and stitch it up properly.)

* Use the zoom slider to match the zoom in Goggle Earth as close as you can to your image in Windows Paint.  I turn off all of the toolbars and status bars, along with the all of the landmarks in Google Earth.  I then toggle back and forth between Windows Paint and Goggle Earth, and try to match the landmarks on the edge of the screen as close as I can.

Then, we will use the Edit – Copy Image menu command in Google Earth to copy the current image, and the Edit Paste menu command in Windows Paint to paste it onto our current image.  We can then drag it over to the correct location, and use the resize handles in the corners and on the sides to make the fine adjustments so that our Google Earth image matches the USAPhotoMaps images as close as possible.

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We will then repeat the same process we used before to capture a screen at a time, and tile it on top of our image in Windows Paint.  We will once again work left to right, then top to bottom; we will overlap an additional amount on the bottom of each row to cover up the Google logo and copyright info.

Here we are, halfway through the process.  See the difference? No? Well, maybe Vegas wasn’t a good example to use after all. Smiley  It IS amazing to see how much the city has grown between the TerraServer and Google Earth images.

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Once we are finished overlaying our Google image data, we can save our completed image file, and bring it into Photo Scenery Maker.  This is what you see when you start a new project:

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We use the ellipse button next to the Summer field to select the bitmap we just created.  We can leave the “Support Seasons” check box unchecked; and just create a texture for summer flying.  However, if you fly over in any other season, or at night, all you will see is a grey square.

Here is where living in the Southwest is an advantage.  There are few trees in Cleburne; most of what you see in aerial photographs is grass.  It is bright green during the spring rains; turning brown as the rains slack off in the summer, and turning completely light brown with the first cold snaps in autumn and winter.

So, I took my initial image, added a little more green tint to it; and saved it as my spring image.  I did the opposite for the autumn and winter textures, backing off a little on the amount of green.  We only get snow a few days a year, so even the harsh winter texture can be the same.  (It would be nice to add a dusting of frost or snow; but I couldn’t do it evenly across the entire image with the tools I have.)  I looked at each of the textures in each season in FS; and adjusted the amount of tinting until it was a decent match for the surrounding scenery.

Since Las Vegas has little vegetation at all; we can get away with using the same image file for all seasons.  For a lightmap texture, I took my original texture file, made a negative of it (so roads were light instead of dark), and increased the contrast and darkened the image until only the roads and buildings are visible.  None of the areas I have created so far had any large bodies of water, so I didn’t bother to create a water alpha.

Once you have selected your textures, go to the output tab, and select where you want to create your scenery, and the base file name to use.  Don’t worry about the Coordinates tab; we will calibrate our image later.
 

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Reply #2 - 7th Nov, 2008 at 7:14pm

jhefner   Offline
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Continued....

Once you click the OK button, you will then see your texture in the Photo Scenery Maker window.  The next step is to calibrate it, so that it’s size, location, and orientation matches the scenery in FS.

Since we are closest to our scenery when we land at the airports, it is only logical to calibrate the scenery at the airports.  In this case, we have an airport at opposite ends of the scenery, so we can calibrate over the entire image; if the points in between are mapped correctly in FS; everything should fall right into place.

So, start FS, go to the first airport, and use Yaw and the overhead view to place an aircraft as accurately as possible on the corner of one runway.  We will then record the coordinates on the screen; then go to an opposite runway (if no other airports or landmarks are available) or to another airport or landmark; and repeat the process to get our second pair of coordinates.

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We then go back to Photo Scenery Maker, and select the Calibration – 2 Point Calibration(P)… menu item.  We then click on the exact two same points we recorded in FS; and enter the coordinates for each point.

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We are now ready to generate our scenery.  Select Scenery Generation; and in the dialog that appears, click on the Run whole process button.

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If everything runs with no errors; your scenery is now ready for use with Flight Simulator.  Here is what Las Vegas looks like with the autogen scenery in FS2002:

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And with the photo scenery in FS2002.  Autogen does a respectable job of representing cities; it mainly falls down if you know a city and its landmarks very well:

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Here is how it looks from the air; I also have installed some additional scenery for Las Vegas and FS2002 that adds the buildings you see here:

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And here it is at night.  The purple areas are the areas that were deep green grass in the original image; these should just be blacked out.  It is also a bit too bright in my opinion, and needs to be darkened a little more.  But this gives an idea of how it looks.

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This shot showing a takeoff from KLAS shows how well the photo scenery fitted with the airport details, and how it looks compared with the default scenery in the far background.  Notice that the scenery fits the terminal area quite well, the taxiways were accurately placed, and now there is a road to the VOR beacon at the bottom of the picture.  The black edges along the runway show up as bright outlines in the night texture; they should also be blackened out for a more realistic look.

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Hope this all makes sense.

-James Hefner
 

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Reply #3 - 8th Nov, 2008 at 11:25am

Felix/FFDS   Offline
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Excecllent!  thanks for sharing this!

 

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Reply #4 - 21st Nov, 2008 at 5:14pm

jhefner   Offline
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Something I realized after writing my tutorial -- you can make a "snow" texture for winter by taking the texture you created for a lightmap, and making a negative of it.  The roads and buildings will then be black; suggesting that the sun has melted the snow or they have been cleared; the rest will be white.

I took the lightmap texture I created for Vegas in this tutorial, darkened it by about 25%, and blacked out the airports and purple areas that represented grass in the original texture.  The end result was much more pleasing; it also blended fairly well with the default buildings along the edges:

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Here is a closer look at KLAS.  I left the areas around the terminal brightly lite to represent parking lots and floodlights from the sides of the terminal.

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-James
 

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Reply #5 - 9th Jan, 2009 at 11:08am

jhefner   Offline
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I have an opportunity to compare my scenery technique with "the masters."  I recently installed MegaCITY USA 2005 - Dallas/Fort Worth on both of my computers.  (The current FSX edition includes the previous FS2002/FS2004 release on the second CD, so you have scenery for all three versions in one package.)  While I thought it had a large enough spread to replace the photo scenery I made for Cleburne, it turns out it butts right up againist.  (I couldn't plan that if I tried.  Wink )

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So, here we see a patch of MegaCITY scenery, my photo scenery for Cleburne, and a tiny piece of default scenery.  It is spring, and the Cleburne scenery is in the foreground, the MegaCITY scenery in the background, and the default scenery on the left.  Notice that the roads line up well between the Cleburne scenery and MegaCITY scenery, though neither lines up with the default scenery:

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And is the same location in fall.  I tried to vary the colors of my textures a little with the seasons, but MegaCITY appears to use the same textures; probably due to the space considerations.

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MegaCITY does not have a "snow" texture for the DFW area; an entirely forgiveable ommision given how rarely it snows here.  And here are the dusk/night textures.  The MegaCITY scenery is much darker than the scenery I make for Cleburne; so perhaps some restraint with the brightness of the texture is called for.

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But overall, I am delighted with how well they look together, and it is nice to have photoscenery on every route into the DFW metroplex.  (I still have a sliver of default scenery east of Cleburne along Hwy 67, but there is little out there anyway.   Cheesy )

-James
 

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Reply #6 - 9th Jan, 2009 at 12:40pm

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....and just think how much better it would have been if you'd PLANNED it that way!!!


Very nice piece of work!
 

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