Google Earth Studio
I talked my way into the beta program for Google Earth Studio and have spent a few days experimenting with the software. It’s surprisingly easy and fun to use.
For years, you’ve been able to visit the Google Earth site and, by clicking and dragging and scrolling, wander around the planet, looking at different places. I’ve always wished that I could record a journey for other people to experience.
I wasn’t the only person to think of that, of course! Google Earth Studio finally makes it possible.
The site has some good, simple tutorials available to get you started creating projects. I watched only the first one, and then kind of messed around with the design UI, trying things out. It’s a tribute to the UI that even a guy like me, with no real experience in video creation, could get up and running so quickly.
There are some predefined project templates you can use if you want to, say, zoom from a high altitude to a particular place on the planet, or go to a landmark and orbit it:
Here’s a video I made in just a few minutes from the “orbit” template, circling the Campanile clock tower on the UC Berkeley campus:
It’s more interesting to make your own videos, flying like a virtual drone over the Earth along exactly the path that you choose. Again, the UI to do this is surprisingly intuitive and easy to use.
The still image above is Beaver Dam on the White River in the Missouri Ozarks. Beaver Lake releases water into the White River channel that feeds Table Rock Lake, which is one of my favorite places in the world. I made a fly-over video from Beaver to the Table Rock dam in Branson, Missouri. It’s long, and probably not as interesting to most of you as it is to me, so I’ll spare you.
But you can see that you have controls for location, altitude and camera position. You can set those from the keyboard or click and drag to change your point of view. You can move and pan to a particular spot, and then drop markers on the timeline, shown from left to right at the bottom of that screen. The Google Earth Studio software automatically interpolates from one spot to the next, smoothly adjusting your location and point of view.
I tossed together a few other short videos this morning, just for kicks.
I miss travel and travel trivia. It surprised me when I learned a few years ago that the Tokyo central train station was designed to look like the one in Amsterdam, Holland. I did a fast fly-by past each of them to show you:
Finally, check this out!
Google Earth Studio can do more than Earth! In honor of Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars this morning, I zoomed in on Jezero Crater to the landing site of the Perseverance rover. The area where the copter flew is now called Wright Brothers Field, and is somewhere in the closing frames of this video. Surface resolution on Mars isn’t that great, yet, so I didn’t try to zoom in too close:
It’s really amazing how easy the Studio software is to use.
You can save and edit projects on the Studio site. In order to publish the videos above so that I could share them, here’s what I did:
- Rendered to a series of still image frames, which I stored on my local disk. That’s a simple button click from the Studio UI. The render runs on your local CPU, not in the cloud, so your computer matters a little bit here.
- Used Microsoft Video Editor to collect all the still frames into a single video stream. I exported that as an .mp4 file on my local disk. It’s a bare-bones editing tool, but did what I needed, and is bundled with Windows 10.
- Uploaded the videos to my YouTube channel. I used embed tags above so that the video stills would show up nicely in this post, but of course once they’re on YouTube you can share the simple links over any medium you want.
The Windows rig I have is pretty beefy — I bought it for VR gaming, and it has an Nvidia GPU. I’ve also got a Macbook Air laptop that I use for most day-to-day stuff. The Macbook works great for doing the design work in Google Earth Studio, but it’s much slower than the Windows box at rendering.
The Google Earth data captures some parts of the planet in more precision than others. In particular, most big cities have been modeled in pretty fine-grained 3D detail, and they are breathtaking to fly around. Table Rock Lake in the Missouri Ozarks, not so much, yet. You get too close to the ground and a lot of stuff gets rendered in Flatland form, with janky shadows. Take another look at Beaver Dam above — the top of the dam is flat in real life, it doesn’t dip down like that.
And just as is true with Google Earth generally, if you look closely at the imagery in the projects you create, you’ll notice a fair number of anomalies. Scenes are composited from imagery collected at different times, so you’ll find curious breaks caused by different times of day or in different seasons, or places where the algorithms tried to interpolate transient features at the edges of frames. It’s weird, but it’s the fault of the data, not of the Studio software.
The site is still beta. It had a few minor glitches and anomalies I’ve reported, but I expect it’ll get better, and open to more users, quickly. I’m sure it’s a long ways off yet, but now I really want to be able to construct a fly-over that I can play back on my VR headset!
I’m super impressed. This’ll be a valuable new tool for all sorts of applications. I’ll keep playing with it for sure.