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Ken Goulding

Ken Goulding
Ken is a principal at Sasaki Associates and serves as director of Sasaki Strategies—a team of analysts, statisticians, software developers, and planners seeking to bolster planning and design through creative technical solutions. Ken brings a designer's eye to data visualization and strives to enhance comprehension of data and elevate communication of complex information. Ken holds a bachelor's of architectural studies from the University of Cape Town and a master's of city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
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When Earth is Like an Egg: 3D Terrain Visualization

Some of the most satisfying breakthroughs happen when technology gets used in a way it was never intended. While working with our graphic design group at Sasaki on ways to generate a dot pattern for a decorative screen, we came across some open-source software called StippleGen. Stippling is a way of creating an image by means of dots. StippleGen was created to optimize stippling for, among other things, egg painting. The software does a great job of laying out dots with greater density on the darker areas of the image while keeping a comfortable spacing between the dots. What's more, the voronoi algorithm it uses gives an irregular, organic pattern. The ah-ha moment came when I realized this could be applied to a different problem, visualizing terrain; specifically, optimizing terrain meshes in 3D software based off elevation data (a.k.a. Digital Elevation Model (DEM)).

 

Here's a typical use of StippleGen:

 
Used to create this: 
 
 

So how do we get from eggs to terrain? A given terrain, unlike an egg, is typically a mix of high variation areas, like canyons, with more uniform areas, like plains or plateaus. A typical DEM heightmap can be seen in the following image (top left) alongside some more familiar, human-readable representations of the same terrain that you might see on maps. Shaded relief is a useful trick for representing terrain in 2D where the terrain appears to be lit from one side.

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