Image: Diarven city on Ellendria.
A work of imagination …
As a part of my world building exercises, I had created an entire solar system around the star Hauldryn (officially HIP 18433), with one inhabitable planet, called Ellendria. Now I would like to take you down to the surface of that planet.
Hauldryn is reaching the end of its stellar life. For thousands of years, it has been gradually expanding outward, on its way to becoming a red giant. As its sun grows larger and hotter, Ellendria has become largely uninhabitable. Once, Ellendria had been abundantly supplied with rivers and lakes – over sixty-six percent of the planet’s surface had been covered in water. Now, as the sun grows slightly larger with each year, planetary temperatures have increased, leading to desertification. No surface water remains in the lowland regions, although there is still enough water vapor in the atmosphere to form clouds – water vapor which absorbs the intense solar radiation and prevents the temperatures from reaching completely intolerable levels. The mountains are the only place on Ellendria that still have lakes and streams, and support native plant and animal populations. Elsewhere, the resultant massive loss of forest and savannah has led to a tremendous reduction in plant photosynthesis, causing the oxygen concentration of the atmosphere to drop to levels that make animal survival difficult. The human inhabitants of the planet, the Ellendri, live in climate-controlled domes.
Imagine Earth if global warming continues unabated …
Once, there had been many cities on Ellendria, when the Ellendri had been more numerous. Now, there is only the one city, and maybe a hundred thousand Ellendri. The number of domes make it seem like the population is much larger, but many of the domes are agricultural, housing crops, orchards, and forests. Other domes are game sanctuaries, protecting the last of the native Ellendria plants and animals. A few of the domes provide space for community services, archives, academies, parks, and other shared facilities. Only a small percentage of the domes are family domes, with living quarters and small subsidence gardens.
When the domes became necessary, a very large dome was erected over the old city center buildings, thus protecting them and allowing the center to continue to function. Tubes connect to the central dome from all sides, providing covered, climate-controlled access to the city center from various locations.
Once the city had a name – it was called Diarven and was the administrative center of Ellendria – but now it’s just the city, the only remaining inhabited site on the planet.
So, my challenge was how to go from the big picture, a planetary map, to the smaller picture, an image of the city of Diarven, while maintaining some level of geographical consistency.
To start, I chose to work with a smaller segment of the overall map.
This section was imported as a height map into a program called World Machine (a free version is available for anyone who would like to play). World Machine is similar to Wilbur, which I used in my planetary level terrain creation, but is has more detailed terrain generation algorithms and can also handle terrain colorization. Then I spent many hours playing around trying to get the look and feel I wanted – this is where the artistry comes in, trying to recreate a mental image. Ultimately, this is what I came up with as my vision of Diarven Valley:
Now I was faced with another problem. While World Machine is a terrific terrain generator, making very realistic features, it can’t render an image with natural-looking lighting, shadows, reflections, etc. For that, I had to use another program, called Terragen. This program is probably one of the best terrain rendering engines around, capable of making incredibly believable images (it also has a free version for the fun loving amongst us). Luckily, the outputs from World Machine (in the pink box) can be imported relatively easily into Terragen.
So, I started with a direct import of World Machine maps into Terragen:
Well, some days later, I ended up with this:
Phew! That’s starting to look more like it. It’s a pretty basic desertscape, mostly sand, well-eroded steep sandstone cliffs, a bit of greenery on the higher peaks (remembering that this is in the far northern hemisphere of the planet), and a little snow. The road is hand-laid flagstone. The Ellendri have antigrav technology, and large paved roads, such as we use, are unnecessary. The wear and tear on a flagstone surface over its many years of service would have been quite minimal, mostly as a result of foot traffic.
Using a spherical camera, we can get a better feel for the geology of the region:
Was this a simple process … well, I guess I learned a lot …
You can’t read the details on this workflow for Terragen, but it turned out to be quite a complicated task to generate the effects that I wanted … the difficult crux between art, creativity, and science.
Ultimately, I will select a particular shot angle that I like, and use the city as a backdrop for the cover art of my first novel.