Playing with Terragen: the Jungfrau Massif

by Diane Duane
A Terragen work screen

I’ve been using Planetside Software’s Terragen program/app for cover work and concept art for a long while, with varying levels of success. (Mostly having to do more with my own learning curve than any inherent problem with the software.) Terragen is a high-end tool used by professional film production companies and digital artists all over the place, and is both insanely powerful and fairly challenging to get to grips with. To see what someone really adept can do with it, check out — as an example — the Terragen-based Paramount 100th Anniversary logo animation. Clouds and atmospheric effects have always been one of Terragen’s strongest suits: they get beautifully shown off in that clip.

…Anyway, this particular piece of digital art goes back to cover work I was doing ten years or so ago, on the initial ebook editions of Raetian Tales: A Wind from the South. As I now have much better equipment to work with, a lot of these early files are getting re-rendered at much higher resolutions than were available to me then.

This one’s a particular favorite in that creating it involves using actual terrain data derived from aerial or (in some cases) space-based radar. Pictured here, under some midsummer dawn, is the Jungfrau Massif — the three-mountain group whose downsloping south sides meet in what the Swiss call Konkordiaplatz or Place de la Concorde. These three massive snowfields give birth to the Aletschgletscher:  one of the world’s great glaciers and a UNESCO World Heritage site. (…While it lasts. Climate change is already eating away at its magnificence.)

The Swiss national mapping service has made digital elevation model (DEM) terrain data openly available for those who might want to use it. Since some parts of RT:AWFTS take place near the Aletsch (or indeed in it…) and in the neighborhood of the Jungfrau, I made it my business to glom onto the digital data as quickly as I could and started playing around with it. The bare terrain comes courtesy of the Swiss: the snow is added using a “clip file” — kind of a Terragen plugin.

I’m storing this image here (and the link to the page where it can be seen at full size) so that I can find it quickly, as right now my graphics collection is in a state of flux. Many thousands of images in various states of processing have piled up over the years, to the point where it’s become necessary to develop a multiply-tagged, cross-indexed, opus-number-based management system for them before I can’t find anything any more. That work is starting now, so every now and then some favorite image will pop up here. Just so people know…

The Jungfrau massif in digital format


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