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  Real World Terrains in Howler

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Other Dogwafflers of the Moment

Digital Landscapes: Real World Landscapes


      My objective with digital landscapes is to revisit some of the beautiful places I've lived, worked or played.

Check my update late December 2017 with Landsat imaging New!

      I was fortunate to have a long career as a forester in the U.S. Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest regions. In my profession, Digital Elevation Models and shaded relief images were not only critical land management tools, but often simply beautiful. Today in retirement, I enjoy experimenting with them for artistic purposes.

    Natural resource managers use technical GIS software to work with geographic data, but now I want something looser, freer. That’s where Howler, Photoshop and a few other creative applications that I use come into play. You need only master a few basic skills to produce interesting shaded relief landscapes of real world places, and Howler’s “Puppy Ray” shader is essential to my process.

<<< Crater Lake, Oregon

    I begin by downloading a height map that represents earth elevations as a greyscale image. The U.S. Geological Survey offers free height map data that is simple to get.

I recommend a site called “terrain party” (very easy) at - or you can go directly to the USGS map data portal (more complex). Terrain party requires only a few clicks, and you’ll have a small zip file with all the elevation data you will need. Just open one of the downloaded height map image files (usually in PNG image format) into Howler, and you’ll soon have a 3D world if you follow these steps:

        With a greyscale height map open in Howler, use the Image > Make Seamless command. This is to allow a blended transition from one edge to the opposite side's edge, in case you're tiling and replicating the terrain patch, such as with the Puppy Ray renderer found in PD Howler. If you're not going to repeat the surface patch in this manner, you can skip that step.

        Click Filter > Transform > Puppy Ray > Puppy Ray GPU, and you’ll be in a 3D version of the height map.
        Within the Puppy Ray window, you can now experiment with the various camera, lighting and location controls to position a view you like. You might need to turn off the water plane to see and adjust your terrain. (Or you can raise the terrain above the water plane). After you get a view you like, change the render quality to final and save your image. There are tons of parameters to explore, textures to add, lighting effect such as global illumination and preset skies. See here to explore:

From there, I use a mix of Photoshop and iOS apps to further modify the image for different artistic styles. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. You can try for photorealism if you wish with other tools available in Howler, or go with more abstract looks that I usually prefer.

    Another option with Howler is to skip step 1, above, and open a downloaded height map directly into Howler’s 3D Designer (click Filter > Transform > 3D Designer). It offers a different tool set and can also export your terrain as an Object file for use in other 3D apps like Blender or Poser. If you want to add more erosion, sediments, texturing or coloring based on height and slope, and numerous other tricks of the trade, you can try 3D Designer ( and various filters such as some of the diffusion filters or Stylize filters.

bird flock flying in front of Half Dome in Yosemite >>>

    As a footnote, I initially considered using Google Earth for the type of landscape artwork I had in mind but discovered such use would be a violation of Google’s master agreement. It is far more satisfying to start with public domain geographic data and edit it with a tool like Howler to make my art rather than risk infringing upon Google Earth’s copyrights.

You can see the full images on my Flicker page:

I posted a few Howler-related Digital landscapes (see the Album by that name) and will add more in over time.

    Have fun!


Here are a few more examples:
Raptor, Oregon - Oregon landscape digital painting.

  Mt Herard, Colorado     - Digital landscape of Mt Herard, located east of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Sangre de Cristo - The foreground is a shaded relief image of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America, just east of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Update late December 2017 with Landsat imaging

I added a Flickr image of the Grand Canyon made in Howler's 3D Designer.
Here is Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Canyon:

Adding Landsat Textures

Howler just got a little more real world...

FYI, I did drape a Landsat image over a terrain in Howler's 3D Designer. Turns out that it is very easy to do since the height map downloaded from Terrain Party includes the latitude/longitude coordinates in a text file.

I just displayed a Landsat view of the same scene, same region, then took a screen shot, then cropped it to the same lattitude/longitude coordinates as I had for the height map from Terrain Party.

I then resized that Landsat image to be the same dimensions (width and height in pixels) as the greyscale height map, and finally loaded it into Howler and made it Swap image.

An example of the Grand Canyon scene (just a straightforward drape, with no other image manipulation) is shown below as an example.

Here is a smaller version. Click it to see the 1280x1280 version. Or view the 2000x2000 original

 See more in my Flickr Album

Thanks for watching!