Recently I have been spending a bit of time over at the Cartographers Guild, a forum for those interested in mapmaking, primarilly for role playing games, or just for art's sake. There was a thread posted about the feasibility of taking a semi-realistic map and rendering it in 3D using a height-field.
I decided to give it a go, using a map I had drawn following a provided tutorial. I turned the map into a greyscale heightfile, and rendered it using The Persistence of Vision Raytracer with the original map art as an image map. My initial result was an image that looked pretty good:
Height Field - Initial Test
Then someone said "Hey, I remember using POVRay...It can do animations, right?" So I figured I'd have to give it a go...
So I fired up POV, through together a simple spinning animation and got the following results:
"Not Bad", I thought but figured I could do better, with a "fly-over" type of animation. A quick search on google found me Chris Colefax's spline macro that is a handy tool for modeling splines inn POVRay and even better, animating object motions (including the camera) along spline paths. A bit more work and I came up with the following video. You might notice that about 3/4 the way through the texture gets smoother, as I scaled up and blurred the image map to get rid of some pixelization. It also ends a bit abruptly, as I ran out of rendering time.
FYI, I assembled the images into a movie using Avisynth and converted it to a FLV video clip using FFmpeg. To play the FLV, I am using Flowplayer, a very nice free flash video player.