A Spinning Planet

One of my favorite player visualizations is a spinning globe. Nothing makes a world come so alive when the players are able to properly visualize the entire planet.

This is also why I prefer to always start my new worlds in Fractal Terrains, as it lets me get a proper grip on the planet before I move on. Starting directly with a flat map in CC3+ gives so many possibilities for missteps when mapping a sphere, and I also just love to click through the auto-generated FT3 worlds until I find the perfect one. When I picked the world for my current campaign world of Virana, I probably clicked through hundreds of generated worlds and tweaked the settings a dozen times before I found the right one.

Now, this article isn’t about creating your FT3 world however, but rather on how to best make one of those nice spinning globes you can use to show it off.

Starting out

You can also watch a video (unvoiced) of this entire process. You can pause the video to examine my dialogs and choices.

Let us start with our FT3 world at the ready. For this, I am using my own existing world map for Virana. The first image here shows it in the default altitude display, using the Equirectangular projection. Our first task of the day is to decide how the world should be colored. FT3 gives us a few different options here. One option would be to simply use a different color scheme. There are many available, or you could make your own, or use one of the many excellent ones available from the Terraformer package, available for download from your registered user page.

Another excellent option is the Gaia view, as it adds some nice polar caps (note that the placing of these polar caps are quite artificial, and have the same size/position regardless of the temperature of your planet, so they may not be appropriate, but icecaps do look quite nice on the spinning globe if you have an earth-like planet.) Then you have the Image Climate and Texture climate options, both using images to texture the world. For my globe here, I went with the Texture Climate, and used the textures from the Cartographer’s Annual 2011. Now, the ocean do look rather dark using these textures, so you may prefer something different yourself.


The second step is to add a cloud layer. This isn’t required, and you may find that you don’t want clouds obstructing the view of your map, but I find that adding a light cloud layer gives a more realistic end result.

Now, there is an example cloud image in the examples folder inside your FT3 installation folder, but you can also find your own on the internet. The excellent Terraformer package also comes with a bunch of these., so I’ll use one of them. To set up a cloud layer, we’ll be using the Image Overlay feature of FT.  I’ll go through this process briefly here, but for more information, check the FT documentation, and also the Terraformer documentation.

Activate the Image Overlays menu, and select the Show Overlay Window option. This should bring up a window containing the list of all the image overlays for the current map. For a new map, it should be empty, so click Add to add a new overlay. From this dialog, start by clicking Import Color Image and pick an image. This first image is used to define the color of our clouds, so it can be just a large single-colored image, or it can optionally have some texture, but this is not our actual clouds. If you want white clouds, this can be just a completely white image. I am going for some slight pinkish hue to my own clouds, so I’ll select the CloudColor21.jpg file from the Terraformer package. Now, if you click OK in the Edit Image Overlay at this point, you should see your FT window completely filled with this color, hiding your map. Hit edit to go back into the dialog.

Next, we’ll import an Opacity image. This image basically tells FT3 which pixels from the color image should be transparent (and how transparent), and when combined together, they will produce nice colored clouds. For my cloud image, I picked TCM051.jpg. Note that if you acquire your images from other sources, the pixel sizes of the two images should be the same, and 4096×2048 is a decent size.

Now, click OK and close the image overlay dialog too, and you should see your world with some nice clouds above it. You can adjust the transparency of these clouds by using the Opacity slider in the edit image overlay.


Now, it is time to export the images for the spinning globe. What FT3 will do here is to export a series of images, each from a slightly different rotation of the planet. You can then assemble these images into an animation. The more frames you export, the smoother the animation will become, but the file size will also be larger. Likewise, the higher resolution you export in, the better it will look, but this will also affect file size, and when you have an animation with a lot of frames, the size per frame is pretty important.

To start the export, go to File –> Export World –> Spin View Image Sequence. When exporting, you’ll want to use the .png format, since it allow for the background to be transparent. This makes things much easier if we want to add a custom background, or if we want to upload it to a website. I did go for 128 frames, at a size of 512 pixels. This should give me a reasonably smooth animation. Exporting all those frames could take a few minutes, depending on your computer.

To assemble the animation, we need an external program capable of handling animations. I used GIMP (v 2.10) for this.

In GIMP, we start by loading all the images as layers in a single image. We do this by using Open Image as Layers from the file menu. Browse to where the spin view images were exported, then select all of them in the dialog before clicking OK. This can also take a few minutes. The next step is to run Filters –> Animation –> Optimize (for GIF) to optimize the animation frames, to reduce file size. Not that the result here is created as a new image in GIMP, so you now have both the old unoptimized and the new optimized open. Make sure you continue your work on the optimized one. Then, select Image –> Mode –> Indexed and let GIMP generate an optimum palette.

Now, we can save our finished animation. Go to File –> Export, browse to the desired location and give your animation a name, but make sure it ends in .gif, for example animation.gif, otherwise it won’t be saved as an animation. GIMP should then show the Export Image as GIF dialog. Here, make sure to check the ‘As animation’ and ‘Loop forever’ options. You can also set the delay between frames. The smaller this number, the smoother the animation will run, but it will also spin faster. For example, with the default 100 ms, my animation of 128 frames will take 12.8 seconds for one revolution of the planet.

That’s it. You now have an animated gif you can show on your website, or do as I do, use it as a kind of logo screen that I show my players on the projector at the beginning of every gaming session (see the video at the end of this post).


Note that FT3 exports the image in a sequence that leads to the planet spinning the opposite way compared to the Earth. If you want to reverse the direction, you can either rename the images before importing them into GIMP, or reorder the layers inside GIMP. Make sure you do any reordering BEFORE you do any of the image optimization however.

About Size

Note that my final animation was about 13MB in size. This is a bit on the large side for displaying on a public web site. You can reduce file size by reducing the number of frames, reducing the size of the images you export from FT, and by telling GIMP to use a smaller color palette (we left it at the default 255). All of these options will of course also reduce the quality of the animation, but at least it will load in a reasonable time. It is also worth noticing that browsers may show a somewhat choppy animation until it has fully loaded the entire image, so always give it a bit of time before judging the result.

The version I put up on this blog is just 256×256 pixels, 128 frames, which results in a size of 4MB.

You can also export the animation as an .mng animation (animated PNG) from GIMP, this can reduce the file size a bit, and it isn’t limited to 256 colors as the gif format is, but it isn’t supported in every browser. Other options include using different tools to convert it to a video file, or a flash animation. An example of a video is shown below.


2 Responses to “A Spinning Planet”

  1. Hello,

    very nice, just the planet is spinning in unusual direction. This movement causes the east to be in the west and vice versa 😉 But as this is a fantasy world, nothing is impossible!

    What I don’t understand is how to use and where to get the Terrain package. A small guide or link to one would be great.

    Nice job. Thanks.

  2. The direction is the one out of the box when exporting from FT. But I did include a paragraph about just that in the article.
    As for the Terraformer package, it is downloadable from your registration page for all registered FT3 owners.