I hadn’t looked at the Photoshop-based 3D map maker ‘panels’ for a while now. Last time I looked they were ‘sort of OK’, and all came from the same maker in a bewildering set of variations and version numbers. But development on these has continued, and the new 3D Map Generator: Atlas looks as though this solo developer has more or less nailed it in terms of easy textured 3D mesh generation from Google Maps. My thanks to Stefan Holzhauer for drawing my attention to this class of ‘Photoshop panel’ software again.
For a mere $21 U.S. the new 3D Map Generator: Atlas works as a panel inside Photoshop 2015.5 or higher. ‘Atlas’ first appeared in summer 2018 (which probably explains why I missed news of it), and is now in a bugfixed version 1.2.
“What can a puny PS panel do”, you might think, but judging by this detailed workflow video… it can load and interface with Google Maps, automatically grab the greyscale heightmap there, and with only minimal manual jiggering of two Photoshop layers, can produce a decent 3D mesh using Photoshop’s own 3D tools. Here’s the video of it in action and tandem with Google Maps. It can even export the resulting mesh as an .OBJ file…
But then the important question is… “can I use Google Maps data commercially?” The answer appears to be “No”. Because even though Google is using public-domain NASA data (Landsat 8) it’s also done lots of private-sector work to clean, rectify and align the tiles. Here’s a quote from Klaas Neinhuis from Jan 2017 on polycount.com, on the matter…
“I’ve spoken to them [Google] and it doesn’t make sense financially to use Google Maps content. I’d need to get a ridiculously expensive license, but the user would also need an expensive license.”
So, while 3D Map Generator: Atlas is going to be of interest for hobbyists, educational users and artist overpainters of 3d scenes, if you create commercial-use map renderings this way — artistic isometric tourist maps for the local tourist board brochures, say — then you’ll still need to go instead to the public-domain for your heightmaps and overlays. Or pay a GIS/mapping nerd $100 to go get the good high-res heightmap and satellite overlay from the public domain for you. Of course, there may be workarounds to get 3D Map Generator: Atlas to use public domain data, but my searches didn’t immediately discover a tutorial on that.
Personally I have a noted workflow and archived public domain datasets for the whole of the UK, with which I know I can produce a viable OBJ mesh for any bit of the UK’s underlying terrain as a result. I used this a few years ago for re-envisioning local Iron Age landscapes using Vue. But it’s still a few hour’s work to get to a good mesh, and involves wrestling with 3DEM and GRASS. So it’s good to know that a $21 Photoshop plugin, such as 3D Map Generator: Atlas, could do the job far more swiftly inside Photoshop. Albeit not for commercial purposes.
Update: I see there’s also what appears to be an easy automated solution over in Adobe After Effects, albeit at a rather high cost. The plugins GEOlayers 2 (mapping) with Trapcode MIR (create 3D meshes in AE) can work together to create maps and terrains, with GEOlayers able to automatically hook into a number of public free mapping tile servers.