ixtract | Seamount

Based on just a simple grey to white hightmap we created this semaount for National Geographic

Invisible giants
National Geographic asked for a visualization of a seamount and the currents, that affect biomass as they travel up and down the mountain. In three steps, the viewer experiences the behavior as currents stream upwards on one side, circulate above the seamount, and whirl down on the backside.
1 - The texture data file by the client was seemingly a very flat image.
2 - But as it was a 16-bit file we first had to overexpose it,
in order to just see anything on a typical 8-bit monitor-screen.
3 - Then we started to adjust the image levels to get the full black to white spectrum,
and many "holes" in the grid file had to be patched.
4 - A color pass was created.
5 - Correct lightning was necessary to cast convincing shadows which help to
understand the 3D mount in the later 2D-Rendering.
6 - Through compositing, color information and bump form the first basic texture.
This is a comparison which shows the difference in hight-levels which can be considered in a 8-bit-greyscale picture and a 16-bit greyscale image.
In a first draft, the 1:1 scale displacement appeared too flat to illustrate the processes.
 At a displacement factor of 2.5 the result appeared more suitable.
Wave scale and environment around the sea mount had dramatic impact on the appearance of the scene...
...and lead to a more blueish tint and a less detailed water surface. This way the mountain looked much higher – and realistic – than in the previous picture.
After the scene finally looked like it is located under water, various ideas for the arrows were tested.
And here is the final image which was used for print and a video animation for National Geographics.
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