Google Earth Pro for Video

This is a complimentary page to the Buttonpusher Podcast 002. It may not make the most sense if you haven’t listened to the podcast, but it may work if you’re looking for a quick gloss of what to do to get it working for you.

Be prepared…this page loads up a few graphics. If you’re on Dial-Up it may take a while to get everything downloaded…

We’re talking about Google Earth Pro here – these functions don’t work in the free version of GE. You also need to have the Movie Maker module as well. Yeah, I know it costs a little more, but it is pretty cool what it does for the price. It is $400 for an annual license & $200 for the Movie Make module. Compare that to a competitor like Curious Software at upwards of $10,000 for a license. Yes, GEP is currently only for PC’s, but since they recently came out with the Mac version of the Basic software, maybe there’ll be a Mac Pro version soon…

The sample project here is a map I made on Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the communications infrastructure for a show about Katrina’s effect on the U.S. courts. The best way of using GEP is to build tours and then render those out as movies. New Orleans Area Code Tour – right-click and download this .kmz file. Load it into Google Earth to see how I created the tour and feel free to use this as a guide to build your own tours.

Important note before you get started: The smoothness of the videos you create appears to be related to having the map data loaded in the local cache. The first thing I’d do on a fresh setup of GEP is to go in and set the cache settings to the highest values you can. Disc cache can only be 2000 MBs so it’ll get set to that if you go over it. Find these settings under the Tools menu, under Options.

Here is the starting view:

Important notes for the above image:

  • We’re only concerned with the folder called Area_code_tour, notice it is the only folder with check marks. The way that tours work, is the program will fly very gracefully from checked entry to the next checked entry. In the above example, it will fly from “504 Area Code” to the entry marked “[description]” and then skip down to “New Orleans”
  • The “504 Area Code” is that gray area that looks like it is rising out of the map. It is made with a Polygon (a tool within GEP). You can set the transparancy, the height and whether it has sides, like a giant block.
  • The “[description]” entry is a slug for a wider view of a larger area that I didn’t want to have any label associated with. For instance, the “New Orleans” entry is how I get the city name to appear in this view. In the wide view below, I didn’t want any other labels to appear, so I just entered a description and nothing in the name field for the wide view.

Notes for the above image:

  • Notice the “Google” & “Image (c) 2006 MDA EarhSat” at the bottom of the frame? Can’t get rid of those as far as I can tell. Too bad the Google one is shoved so far on the corner – It comes out on TV screens as “Goo”.
  • Also notice there are more entries selected in the panel on the left – I’ll explain more about that in a little bit.

Next comes selecting settings for the Movie Maker Module:

Settings for the movie output:

  • Set Movie Quality to High Quality, choose your frame rate. For NTSC video you’ll choose 30fps. You can go up to 60fps. Use 25fps for PAL
  • Set frame size to 720×486 for NTSC. 720×576 for PAL. You go up to 800×600.
  • Check the Advanced box to select the type of file to create. You can choose Windows Media, AVI or a stream of JPGs. It seems that the type recording you need to create depends greatly on your machine and the kind of move you are doing. On a Dual 3Ghz Opteron PC at work I can record to AVI files with almost no problems. On a 3Ghz P4 w/ Hyper-Threading at home, I have to record as a stream of JPGs to get it smooth on some moves…not really sure why, they’re both super-fast machines. Seems like you’ll need a fast machine to make this work best.
  • Before you record the tour, manually fly thru the steps in your tour to load the map data into the local cache.
  • Avoid using Standard (real-time control) – the map data has to be streamed to you in real-time and I get nothing but stutters when I do it this way. High Quality creates more fluid and smooth fly-overs.
  • There is a setting in GEP for how long to pause at each entry in your tour and how fast to execute the tour. You can’t change speeds between entries in the same tour though.
  • When you’re recording a tour the map viewport in GEP goes completely crazy, just wait for it to get thru the necessary parts of your tour and it’ll come out fine. Also you can’t go off and do something else while it is recording…you have to wait for it to finish the moves you need.

An important work-around to note: Notice in the 2 grabs (below) of the tour entries I have two at the top and then the New Orleans way at the bottom. This is because there is no way to make something visible and not go to its snapshot view during a tour. Basically, all we want is the first two entries to get recorded. The tan highlight will move thru the tour to show you where you are in the tour. After it switches off of the last item in the tour that you need, you can hit escape to stop the recording and it will be useable up to that point. I needed this to be setup this way because we intially had a couple different pieces in our show that needed to vist similar areas in a different order so I set it up this way to get the most flexibility. Another way to have things be visible but not be flying all over the place would be to set their Snapshot view to match either the first or last entry in the tour.

Finally, the way to get different elements to come in gracefully is accomplished by using multiple passes on the same tour. You just make more or less stuff visisble and then you can edit that together in your editor to make elements fade in or out depending on the need of your show. I’ve posted some samples of what you can do with the program below:

  • New Orleans Area Code Tour – First Pass
  • New Orleans Area Code Tour – Second Pass
  • New Orleans Area Code Tour – Final (things don’t match exactly, but you get the idea)
  • New Orleans to Other places – Final (the glowing circles are a Saphire Plugin added in Avid)
  • Gulfport to Other places – Final
  • Website Outages – Final
  • Landfall – Final

These are 320×240 Quicktimes to keep the file size down.

There are a bunch of other things you can do to add some nice details to your maps as well. In our recent show I used custom Icons (the x’s over Gulfport & Hattiesburg from above). I also found a set of U.S. state outlines and used them to create the red states in the Website outages map above. There’s also a cool feature that allows you to overlay images on top of the map so you can pull off things like the Landfall map above. Make use of the Google Earth Community to find all kinds of extras and add-ons to enhance your maps.

Happy mapping…

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