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Ever wondered what you'd see if you approached Middle-earth from space?
January 26, 2014 8:20 PM   Subscribe

The developers of Outerra (a "3D planetary engine for seamless planet rendering from space down to the surface") have posted some samples of their product to Imgur: stunning renderings of Tolkien's Middle-earth as seen from the ground, in the air - and from space!

For me, the highlights are the 'from space' images: Additionally, Reddit user coomb has labelled the main Middle-earth pic and also indicated Frodo's journey from the Shire to Mount Doom.

And finally, if that last link interests you, Imgur user hipsterbanana has produced a gif that paces the six-month journeys of the Fellowship at the rate of one day per frame.

If you're like me, you'll just look at all these images and boggle happily; but if you're thinking, "I would like to try that," you can download the Outerra tech demo at their website.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (32 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aww, no space pics from before the world was bent?
posted by darksasami at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


Neat - it would be even better if they had First Age renderings...
posted by monocot at 8:48 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


"...in other news, scientists say that the blight around Barad-dûr is now so large that it can be seen from space."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:55 PM on January 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


Too bad they didn't strip away some of the atmosphere, it looks so low contrast!

Terragen still beats this software on realism, though it sounds like Outerra is actually realtime whereas Terragen is... very much not.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:01 PM on January 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


I used to play a Middle-Earth play-by-mail game, and to this day I have a hard time looking at a map like this without seeing an overlay of hexes.

And yeah, I think the First and Second Ages would completely break the assumptions for their software. Not sure any renderer has ever been programmed with consideration of the light of the Two Trees.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:07 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not sure any renderer has ever been programmed with consideration of the light of the Two Trees.

I really don't have a any knowledge to disprove you... but, are you really confident in that statement?
posted by cirhosis at 9:14 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Karen Wynn Fonstad, a professional cartographer, drew a book of maps of Middle-Earth back in the 1970s based on a close reading of Tolkien's descriptions. The geography -- in fact, even the geology -- turned out to be quite realistic at large and small scale. JRRT would say "the hobbits had to cross low sloping hills all day as they headed towards Mirkwood" (or whatever) and when she plotted the topography out, even comparing passages in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings where journeys took place in nearby areas, it was all consistent with certain well-known terrain patterns at a broad scale. A lot of fantasy writers plan their worlds out in detail, but Tolkien just amazes me for his concern for realism. (His biographer mentions that he spent a long time getting the phases of the moon right, then rewriting part of the events along the way to take into account the light from full moons and new.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:16 PM on January 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


I have that Fonstad book (The Atlas of Middle-Earth) and it's all kinds of amazing, covering all three ages of Middle-earth in great detail.

Also recommended: Journeys of Frodo.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


See also the previous thread on Kirill Eskov's revisionist LoTR retelling, The Last Ringbearer. Part of Eskov's premise is that there has to be more to the planet than what Tolkien shows us, because if Middle-Earth were a single supercontinent, it would have central highlands (which Tolkien doesn't describe). Therefore he posits other continents and archipelagoes.
posted by raygirvan at 9:55 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I downloaded and tried the Outerra demo, but my 6-year-old computer just laughed at me. You need a very robust machine to run Outerra at any kind of high framerate and graphics quality.
posted by zardoz at 9:57 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to point out that even if Outerra's developers made these particular images, the painstaking work of constructing a 3D model of Middle Earth and the initial work of getting it into Outerra appears to have been done by the Middle Earth Digital Elevation Model Project over the course of a decade. The original site seems to be broken but you can see some of the earlier iterations and tutorials and things via a Google search.

There may be somewhere you can download the model dataset to render it in your software of choice: if I remember correctly, I think it was being done under an open license?
posted by XMLicious at 10:09 PM on January 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


One does not simply fly over Mordor.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:23 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


bicyclefish - this guy would disagree
posted by carlodio at 10:36 PM on January 26, 2014


Echoing darksasami, I'd like to see an animated depiction of the Changing of the World, when the flat world became round...
posted by jardinier at 10:45 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


carlodio: "bicyclefish - this guy would disagre"

That post has one of the best comments of all time: "so why didnt the gandalf cut off fredo’s fingers"
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:48 PM on January 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


so why didnt the gandalf cut off fredo’s fingers

Because the gandalf had a heart attack among the tomatoes long before we find out what fredo did.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:38 AM on January 27, 2014 [9 favorites]


Looks like the south island of New Zealand.
posted by arzakh at 2:25 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


The second best thing about this thread is the Tolkien posts popping up in its wake.

I was slightly surprised that the "main" pic is so focused on Harad with a bit of Rhûn when you can't really see the Shire. Also, Harad never gets any love. Not that hard to label.
posted by ersatz at 3:47 AM on January 27, 2014


The geography -- in fact, even the geology -- turned out to be quite realistic at large and small scale.

So I guess that means the mountainous wall around Mordor was an unnatural creation, right, because I always looked at that and raised my eyebrow.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:20 AM on January 27, 2014


I read 'Middle Age from Space'. Was already wondering whether you can see my sagging eyelids from the Shuttle.
posted by fordiebianco at 8:11 AM on January 27, 2014


Slightly disappointed not to see a big Eye looking back at the satellite.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:43 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I always thought Middle Earth was flat.
posted by papercake at 9:20 AM on January 27, 2014


A little slow in places, but still better than the Jackson Hobbit...
posted by Trochanter at 9:31 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


so why didnt the gandalf cut off fredo’s fingers

Reminds me of a joke I once made, years ago:

"I know it was you, Frodo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart."
posted by grubi at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2014


I always thought Middle Earth was flat.

Typical Southron ignorance!
posted by grubi at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


So I guess that means the mountainous wall around Mordor was an unnatural creation, right, because I always looked at that and raised my eyebrow.

Me too. That part always looked to me like a kid's drawing.

"Here's Mordor. Why can't they sneak in from the north or the south? Because, see, there's mountains that go [scribble scribble] all the way around."

These pictures are pretty good at making the mountains around Mordor look much more plausible, if still the result of some event on the scale of an asteroid strike rather than simple plate tectonics.
posted by straight at 11:34 AM on January 27, 2014


So I guess that means the mountainous wall around Mordor was an unnatural creation, right, because I always looked at that and raised my eyebrow.

Yep, Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-Earth talks about that. She suggests it is "supposed" to look like an unnatural intrusion into an otherwise natural landscape. The farther back you go in time (into the days before the Silmarillion, especially) the more "schematic" the broad-scale land features look, because they're often the impositions of the Valar.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:24 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ever wondered what you'd see if you approached Middle-earth from space?

Can't say I have.
posted by juiceCake at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2014


I really don't have a any knowledge to disprove you... but, are you really confident in that statement?

Pretty sure, unless Fëanor managed to write the 3D filter equivalent of a silmaril in between attempts to storm Angband. Dude was a mighty clever Elf.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:02 PM on January 27, 2014


I still don't understand what you mean. Wouldn't the silmarils and the Two Trees just be sources of light? What is it you think no renderer will have ever been programmed to do? Rendering gets pretty complicated in calculating the effects of different types of lighting.
posted by XMLicious at 10:44 PM on January 27, 2014


Nice! It'd be nice to have before and after pics looking down on Mt Doom, sort of like this one of Mt Erebus.
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]




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