My goal is to create the shapes of continents as they drifted from Gondwana to the present day.

My proposed approach follows, but I would welcome alternate approaches or comments on this approach.

I would like to start with a plane, subdivided. I would like to be able to modify the outside shape of the plane to match an alpha: The plane would shape to fit the alpha without eliminating any verts. I'd then create a shape key for the plane in its new shape.

I'd then like to create a new shape for that plane, based on a new alpha. I'd create a new shape key for this new shape.

The goal is to be able to create a series of shape keys on a single mesh, and be able to move between the shapes... like a tweening process between shapes.

EDIT: The requirement is for continents which both move and change shape.

enter image description here

I have experimented with shape keys quite a bit, but as noted in the comments and answers suggested thus far, it's pretty nightmarish.

I have also tried to use shrinkwrap modifiers to create shapekeys, but the shrinkwrap encloses the shape without fully conforming to it:

enter image description here

I don't actually need Texas as a shape, but it shows the problem with (my understanding and use of) the shrinkwrap modifier.

I have these planes on a sphere. All origins are at 0 0 0 and moving and rotating across the globe is easy... but finding a way to accurately change shapes is hard. I understand and have used textures with alphas and displacements, but the requirement is for a level of positional accuracy and fidelity to particular dates that is ill suited to textures... I need more constant shape modification to the continents...

  • $\begingroup$ I think making those shape keys on a subdivided plane is gonna be incredibly difficult, because of dealing with all the central points. Unless you plan to have a huge central NGons, in which you'll have trouble texturing it. If these shapes are predominantly bidimensional you may be able to get away with shape keys on curve objects, which is a lot easier to deal with. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '17 at 5:37
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    $\begingroup$ My take on this would be to make a displacement texture with your continent images, and use an ocean plane to hide the faces not displaced. (the underwater bits). The displacement modifier can be applied to create shapekeys, or the texture itself animated. Do you have some sample images? $\endgroup$
    – batFINGER
    Oct 27 '17 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Example continent shapes and more information added. $\endgroup$
    – rcgauer
    Oct 27 '17 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think that the new Grease Pencil Branch might be a solution in the future here, as the grease pencil lines can be sculpted and tweened similar to Flash objects from yesteryear. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 '18 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Cegaton alerted me to using "Hooks", and that pretty much eliminates the frustrations shapekeys introduce when making modifications to previous shapekey-keyframes. In cases such as yours where you want 3D shapes and accuracy, I'd be going for the Rotoscoping approach. It's a manual and tedious process but you do get super accurate shaping, and it's 3D, not pixels. You can also modify to your heart's content at a later date without anything else changing shape or location. Can show you a demo video (and Blend file) re: it's accuracy, if you're still on this projec $\endgroup$
    – Edgel3D
    Jun 15 '19 at 4:30

If the animation will be planar (2D) I suggest you to subdivide the continents in a 2D software (Gimp, Krita, Photoshop), make a transparent PNG for each and import every continent as "Image as planes" (it's an addon), without caring the shape of the mesh; then you can set one location "jointed" and - some frames away - the location "drifted".

If it will be 3D, all PNG planes should be subdivided, shrinkwrapped to a sphere and moved with a rotation with pivot point centered in the center of the sphere.

  • $\begingroup$ All 3D, and you have described how the meshes are set up. The problem is the need to be able to tween shapes between -- example -- 60 mya and present day. I may only have 5 or 6 references showing continent shapes, but need to make a smooth continental drift/shape change lasting 20 seconds or more. So transitioning between a few images is unsuitable (or at least less than what is desired...) But thanks. I may revisit... But ideally I would like true 3D mesh continents moving across my (spherical) earth mesh, with "real" continental edge movements between known geologic era shapes. $\endgroup$
    – rcgauer
    Oct 27 '17 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Check the "animall" addon also. It can be useful to your needs. $\endgroup$ Oct 28 '17 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ apologies @josh sanfelici. Placed my comment in the wrong place. :) $\endgroup$
    – Edgel3D
    Jun 15 '19 at 4:33

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