Shore and Ocean Effects for Overland Maps – Part 2: Ocean Contours

Welcome to the second part of the Shore and Ocean Effects for Overland Maps series.

The example map for this tutorial is Arokan and Demorak, and was created using the Herwin Wielink overland style.

Creating ocean contours will take you a little longer than applying the edge striping sheet effects described in the first part of this series, but I hope you will agree with me by the time you have completed your first contoured ocean that the process is still very much worth the time spent creating them.

Contours for Dramatic Effect

What you see above may look pretty complicated, but it is achieved with two extra sheets, a bit of thought, and some very simple drawing using the fractal polygon tool.

Here is the same map again without those extra sheets.

A bit about the map itself before we continue

Arokan and Demorak might look a bit different to the kind of map you would get if you used the Herwin Wielink style straight out of the box, but that is because I used several colour altering sheet effects to get the look that I wanted.  This time, instead of using the Adjust Hue/Saturation sheet effects the way I did in the Allaluna-Meloa Isles map that was the example map for part 1 of this series, I have opted for the alternative and more powerful RBG Matrix Process sheet effect, and applied it to the majority of the sheets.

Why didn’t I just use Adjust Hue/Saturation sheet effects like I did in the first example map?

Where the Adjust Hue/Saturation effect can move the colours of a texture around the colour wheel and make it darker or lighter and more or less grey, it cannot eliminate flecks and highlights of contrasting colour within the texture itself.  This can sometimes cause issues if you are trying to move the colour of the texture any significant distance around the colour wheel.  In the most extreme case if you have a texture that is basically green but with tiny flecks of red in it, if you use an Adjust Hue/Saturation effect to make the texture more of a yellowish green the little red flecks in it may well become violently pink.  However, if you use an RBG Matrix Process you can control whether the red flecks show as violent pink, or are themselves converted to the same kind of green as the rest of the texture.

If you wish to know more about how the RBG Matrix Process sheet effect works you can find all the information here in Remy Monsen’s article, Getting More From Your Fill Styles

Deciding where to put the contours

Open the map you want to improve.  It doesn’t have to be a Herwin Wielink map.  You can do this with any full colour map style.

Just sit there and contemplate it for a while.  Look at how the headlands poke out into the ocean where you might expect a ridge to continue some way out into the sea underwater.  Check the coastline for obvious signs of nearby ocean trenches.  These will normally lie not far offshore from straighter bits of coast, particularly where there are mountains or cliffs near the coast.  Be patient with yourself and allow yourself the time to imagine the underwater shapes that might logically exist, given the land forms you have shown.  Even if you were never thinking about the ocean floor when you first made the map you should eventually see some kind of pattern in your mind about where the surrounding ocean is more likely to be shallow, or deep.

Drawing the contours

Hide all the sheets you don’t need to see at this stage, so that you just have the ocean and the land mass visible.  Turn off any of the more distracting sheet effects by unchecking the box next to the effect.  In the example I left the glow effect on the land so I could see more clearly where the land was whilst I was drawing the contours.

Create a new sheet just below the BACKGROUND sheet in the Sheets and Effects dialog, and call it BACKGROUND dark.  Create another new sheet below this one and call it BACKGROUND light.

With BACKGROUND dark selected as active, pick the darkest ocean texture as the current fill, and set the colour to black.  Then, using the Fractal Poly drawing tool from the toolbar on the right, draw a polygon where you think the water should be darkest.

Remember that we are going to be adding reasonably large edge fade effects to these contour sheets, so you will need to extent the contours a reasonable distance beyond the edge of the background to make sure that they don’t shrink back from the edges of the map when the effects are applied.

At this point I should add that if the style you are using has less than three different ocean textures, or you like one but not the other, it is entirely possible to do all the contours in the same texture and use sheet effects to make the contours either lighter or darker than the background.  I am using Herwin Wielink because it has three very similar ocean textures and you can see what I am doing more clearly.  I could have done exactly the same map using only one texture throughout but with sheet effects on both the new sheets to make the BACKGROUND dark polygons darker and the BACKGROUND light polygons lighter.

Now we need to do the same thing for the BACKGROUND light sheet.  Make sure that this is the active sheet, and that you have the right fill style selected, then use the fractal polygon tool to draw the shapes where you think the ocean should be shallow.  I always enclose the whole of the land in these shapes, since even where there is a nearby ocean trench the ocean floor still needs to come to the surface wherever there is land.

Notice how this contour is much more ragged than the deep water contour.  The same is usually true of the Earth’s ocean floor, where erosion has ripped chunks out of the sea bed in some places and deposited banks of pebbles and sand in other places.  Your shallow water contours should be a lot more ‘bitty’ than the deep water ones.

Take a really good look at the image on the right.  This really is all that it takes.  You don’t have to get all fancy and spend hours and hours crafting every little wiggle and straight so that its perfect.  The truth is that all you are doing is defining an approximate area, since there will be quite large Edge Fade, Inner sheet effects added to these two sheets to make them blend into the background and become one with it.  Most of the little details will be lost.

Contour sheet blending

The two mew BACKGROUND sheets will both need an Edge Fade, Inner sheet effect added to them.  These (right) are the settings I used for both contour sheets on the example map, which is the default template size of 1000 x 800 map units.

If your map is much larger or smaller than that you may need to adjust the Edge Width accordingly.  However you choose to set them up you will need to do both sheets the same.  Click the Apply button each time you adjust the settings to check that you don’t have the width so large that the smaller parts of the contours vanish altogether, and not so small that the ocean fails to blend.

Here is what the same contours look like with the Edge Fade, Inner sheet effects applied to them.

At this point you may already feel that you are happy with the contouring and that you don’t need to continue with any of the colour adjustments that follow.  This is perfectly ok.  There are no rules about having to change the colours if you like them just the way they are.

Colouring the contours if you don’t have three textures to use

If you only have one or two ocean textures in the style of your map and have been forced to use the same texture as the background for at least one of your new contours you will need to use sheet effects to change the lightness of the contour sheets to make them visible.  The easiest way to do this is to add an Adjust Hue/Saturation sheet effect to both the new sheets and edit them so that the lightness is a negative number on the BACKGROUND dark sheet, and a positive number on the BACKGROUND light sheet.

If you are the more adventurous sort and fancy having a go with the RGB Matrix Process sheet effect, give it a go.  Remy Monsen’s Get More From Your Fill Styles article that I referenced near the beginning of this article should give you plenty of guidance.

Alternative ways to contour the ocean

Some time ago I wrote an article on special effects that in part covered a slightly different method of contouring the ocean of a map which had been exported from FT3 with it’s own ready-made contours.  Although that process was quite different to the one I describe above where you draw your own contours, the principles might still be of use if you would prefer to go for a straightforward tonal shading rather than using different textures and applying colour changes to them.

Special Effects I: Oceanic Contours, Colour shifts and contrast adjustments, Snowfields, and Midnight (by Sue Daniel)

FCW File

If you would like to download the FCW file for Arokan and Demorak to examine the example map for yourself, you can find it here:

Shore and Ocean Effects (sea contours)

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you are able to put the techniques and effects I have shown you to good use.

Have fun everyone! 🙂



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