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What would be the way to model a globe with a wireframe that is formed from face loops and at the same time to have the continents that are not a wireframe shape, however the continents to have outlines of the countries. Just like on the image below - enter image description here

Note - Whatever the approach,the end result to be a continuous geometry. By that I mean - I don't want the spherical shape with the wireframe face loops to be a full sphere underneath the continents, but I want them to be in a continuous geometry with the continents. How can I achieve that result?

When unwrapping a sphere on to a black and white earth map, is there a way to turn the white on the mapped polygons into a geometry? Or if I use the displace modifier, is there a way to remove the non displaced area (the oceans)? Or maybe when using an alpha map, can the oceans be removed?

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Do just want the sphere, or the continents too? – gandalf3 Jul 26 '14 at 22:51
I made an update. – Vladimir Jul 27 '14 at 1:31
Maybe someone here could point you to the page on how to UV map the Earth onto a sphere. From there you will have a sphere with a visual template from which to model the continents. I'd start with a single vertex and the magnet tool set to "Project individual elements on the surface of other objects" then Ctrl-Click new vertices all along the edges of the continents. – MarcClintDion Jul 27 '14 at 4:04
up vote 3 down vote accepted

You will need two separate techniques for the above image...

1) A wireframe sphere - follow this quick-tip tutorial from blenderguru

2) For the continents - Apply a height map of the world (just a black and white - continents white, oceans and borders b/n continents black) to a high-poly sphere, as a displacement modifier, and the continents will emerge, being displaced (make sure outwards).

Here is an example of a texture, but this doesn't have the borders b/n countries. Also get a better resolution.
enter image description here

After this you will have something looking like this:
enter image description here

Then you create a new sphere at the same position and scale it, just a slight bit, so that it covers the 'oceans' of the first sphere. Then select the first sphere, create a boolean modifier >> difference >> sphere2.
This way you will have your continents cropped out quick and easy, like so: enter image description here

Then simply overlay that geometry onto your wireframe sphere model that you have created earlier, and voila.

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please don't make the answer be just a link, try to summarize the main elements. – cegaton Jul 27 '14 at 1:03
The displacement idea does not work well in practice. I may be missing somethings, so can you show us a example. – GiantCowFilms Jul 27 '14 at 1:13
I'll update it in a minute. Sorry for the confusion. – Vladimir Jul 27 '14 at 1:16
" a high-poly sphere and the continents will emerge, being displaced.". By this you mean using a displace modifier, right? – Vladimir Jul 27 '14 at 2:47
Yes, sorry for not being very clear. I meant using the map in the displacement modifier. But you might need to use a fine resolution on the sphere so you get more details on the edges of the continents. Also when cropping them out instead of doing that manually use a boolean operation... I will update my answer to show you. – G.Rassovsky Jul 27 '14 at 9:26

First I did a quick Google image search using the key words "map of Earth" then copied one that was in square format.

Second, I added a UV Sphere then unwrapped it with the following settings. enter image description here

I then drag and dropped the image from the hard drive folder into the UV image Editor and scaled the UV Islands up along the Y-axis to get the image to fit better.

I have Blender Rendering set to Blender Internal and there are some settings on the right that will help you to see the image under the Shading Tab

enter image description here

Now I went back to Object Mode, then clicked over the sphere model to position the cursor onto the surface and added a plane. In edit mode, I merged the vertices into 1 by using the keyboard shortcut Alt+M and selecting At Center.

In the image that follows, you can see one little orange point hovering near the surface of the textured sphere.

Now look at the bottom of the 3D View and activate the magnet Tool enter image description here

You can use Ctrl + mouse click to quickly extrude out new vertices all along the continents on the reference model. (I wrote 'mouse-Click' instead of left-mouse or right-mouse because people use different defaults for the right and left click)

enter image description here

After you have the outlines done you can start manually choosing sections and adding in faces using f Make Face. You'll have to be careful about this part because the model is curved and making one big face will cause problems because it will be a flat surface trying to fit a curved profile. Try and make the faces in smaller chunks.

After the continents are filled in, you can use e Extrude to give thickness to the model. Or you can use the Solidify Modifier.

Now you can delete the reference model with the map on it and replace it with the model that has the Wireframe Modifier on it that is shown in one of the other answers.

If there are any steps that you have problems with then come back to this site and start a new Question for that specific area.

//============================================================================ Update based on comments. //-----------------------

To make a height map, I used the downloaded picture of Earth mentioned above and loaded it into GIMP and used the Color/Area Select tool that most programs have and selected the ocean color which selected all the ocean area using default settings. I then flood filled this area with black. Then I used color contrast to get the following image.

enter image description here

Now I added a second set of UV Coordinates using the following panel,

enter image description here

I did this because the coordinates for the Spheres poles did not fit into the image area properly and I wanted to paint the poles black to hide the errors that were showing up there form bad mapping.

Then I added the height map made in GIMP as a material texture and baked it to the new coordinates.

enter image description here

Then I added this in as the material texture and used texture Paint mode to paint out some of the other problems.

Now I added this texture in as a height map for a Displace Modifier which came after a Sub-D Modifier and at the end I added a Decimate Modifier with the settings in the following image.(You can right-click the image and choose 'View Image' if you can't see the settings from the preview)

enter image description here

Now I applied the modifiers and and used Circle Select to select all the ocean faces. Once they were all deleted I was left with the following.

enter image description here

Next I added another Decimate Modifier to clean up the mess and reduce the poly count down to something easily manageable. I was mostly concerned with cleaning the jagged edges at this point, this produced the following.

enter image description here

Next came the Shrink Wrap Modifier with the following settings.

enter image description here

And with a simple lighting setup, the final render.

enter image description here

You could use Texture Paint to paint in dividing lines then bake a normal map from this to get a bit more detail. That would be far more straight forward than actually creating geometry to divide various countries, states, provinces, etc...

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I think the displace would be a good way to go if you de-colorize an image since ground terrain is rough and the low-res height map would not be an issue. I guess you could do that and then use the circle-select tool to select all the ocean to be deleted. This will cause you other problems but they can be cleaned afterwards. – MarcClintDion Jul 27 '14 at 9:49
thanks for the answer. – Vladimir Jul 29 '14 at 21:08
Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. – Vladimir Aug 5 '14 at 1:16

Lazy me would do it like this:

One UV unwrapped sphere. Using a black and white political map to create transparency and control displacement. enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

(for added thickness maybe add a solidify modifier)

Duplicate the sphere, create a new material and add a wireframe modifier with an offset value of -1.00.

enter image description here

enter image description here

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You can create a wireframe sphere pretty easily:

  1. Add a UV sphere (ShiftA> Add > Mesh > Sphere)

  2. Add a wireframe modifier:

    enter image description here

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I made an update. Thanks for the answer. – Vladimir Jul 27 '14 at 1:32

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