Introducing the Amazing Morphing Planet!

A couple of posts ago I explained the process of making this image:

If you recall, the procedural texture on the planet is insanely complex.  Since nearly every aspect of the texture is a variable, the resulting texture is extremely robust.  I have imagined many different uses for it.  Altering the texture a bit and removing the water produces this image:

This image uses less than half of the modules in texture.  I could create an entire solar system with a bunch of planets that are all based off the same texture.

The main shape of the land is defined by a noise module. It’s difficult to imagine what I mean by 3D noise, so I’m going to try illustrating it.  Noise is just a random pattern.  Here is an example of noise:

It’s a fairly simple pattern.  It’s just random fuzzy patches of white and black.  Random patterns naturally have clusters, so land masses appear by themselves.  If I increase the contrast, making the white whiter and the black blacker, it’s much easier to see what I mean by land masses.

Now we can easily see how this becomes a map.  Imagine the black is water and the white is land.  However, this is only 2D noise.  What does 3D noise look like?  It looks very similar.  It’s hard to demonstrate 3D noise on a 2D monitor, so I will have to create an animation.

We now understand what 3D noise looks like.  Imagine a sphere that was carved out of the cube shown above.  This is what makes the planet texture possible.  We have a spinning cube with the noise material applied to it.  What happens when we keep the cube stationary and move the material?  The noise is defined by an algorithm.  Points are drawn in 3D space.  It is possible to define the coordinate system that the material is based on.  I can can drive the position of the material with a ‘time’ module.  This is the result:

Hopefully you can see that the noise pattern is traveling away from the camera as well as to the left.  Now I want you to do something that’s even more difficult to grasp.  Imagine a cross-section of the cube above.  A flat object, with the material moving through it.  Try to imagine the cross-section moving through the material.  The result is something truly interesting.

It does make sense it you think about it.  So let’s take this one step further and apply this same technique to the planet texture.  It’s a much more complicated texture, but we just want to animate the main noise module.  The result is far cooler than I could have imagined.

Wow.  I’ve watched that about 20 times.  Something about it is mesmerizing.  I think I love it because I can see all the possibilities for other materials.  The moving landmasses look quite similar those sped-up cloud cover shots you always see on the discovery channel.  I made decent looking clouds in the original planet post, but with this technique I may be able to create 3D clouds that move in a realistic fashion.  I think I could also re-purpose this into fire.  That might seem a little far fetched, but looking at the animation above, you can see that the pattern moves in a fire-like way.  That is the end of this post.  I have a feeling there will be a lot of texture animation in my future.

AOI File: Planet.zip

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