Make a Google Earth Fly-Over Video!

I organize a stage rally in Ridgecrest, California called the High Desert Trails. For the last three years we have run on a six mile road on private property. In order to grow the event we needed to find more roads. Stepping up to public roads means more insurance, permits, and logistics (more stuff). None of which we can afford if competitors think it’s still a small rally. Competitors (like myself) are often skeptical of new roads. It usually takes a couple of years before ‘everyone’ in the rally community knows what the roads are like at [rally name here]. How do you get rally drivers excited about an event with new roads today?

Google Earth! Imagine what it was like 10 years ago, before publicly available satellite imagery was a mouse click away. Rally Masters would spend hours driving around looking for roads. Even with updated topographic maps, you still have to get out there and check out what it actually looks like. Early in 2003 I spent some time looking for roads in New Hampshire and the topo maps don’t tell you about the flooded marsh, the rocky boulder filled road, or the intersection that home owners just piled dirt and brush on, so that neighborhood kids would stop using the route.

With Google Earth we were able to see what shape the roads were in, and we got an idea of how wide they were and if they were blocked, gated, etc. This reduced the number of ‘road scouting trips’ to a handful. We were even able to scout the route we had decided on when we got back to check for anything we had missed. The ability to see this kind of road detail is a game changer. “I’ve seen it from space.” is now a part of my vernacular.

It was only natural that I wanted my competitors to see it from space as well. I actually prefer this to coordinates, as I don’t want to reveal the exact route until the day of the event. For those rally folks reading this, I’m sure my methods can be re-produced and you could ‘discover’ the area outside of Ridgecrest that we’ll be using for the event. You are also aware of the pre-event testing rules, and the jeopardy to the event should you decide to do any pre-running. 🙂

How was it done?
* You’ll need a copy of Google Earth.
* You’ll need a screen capture program called CamStudio.
* Both of these programs are free!

Setup your view under Google Earth Options: Tools – Options – 3D View. Click ‘Show Terrain’ under ‘Terrain Quality’ and crank the slider to the max for detail. You’ll also need to edit the options for ‘Touring’ under Google Earth Options. Some of these options for recording refer to the Pro version of Google Earth which will make these videos in much higher res. A full version of Google Earth Pro is around $300. Highly recommended for a business or commercial venture. (but you can do just about the same thing for free with Cam Studio *cough) A good place to start is by setting the options to match what I have below. You’ll want to tweak your angles and heights continually to get the shot your looking for.

Go to the area of the map you want to make a movie of. Start by creating a path. A new window will pop up called ‘Google Earth New Path’. I suggest you change the name from ‘Untitled’. When you LEFT click on the map a point will appear. RIGHT click if you made a mistake. Use the controls in the top right to move around to your next point. Hit OK on the ‘Google Earth New Path’ window when you’re done. You can click on the path to add more later as well as changing the color and thickness of the line. You’ll want to hide this when you actually record your movie. This interface took me some time to get used to (especially in 3 dimensions) so be patient with it.

In CamStudio you’ll want to setup the video options to capture a ‘Fixed Region’ (I used 320 X 240). When you hit record a window will appear, place it over the Google Earth window as shown. Start the tour by clicking the “Start Tour” button: Record your shot and hit ‘Stop’ on CamStudio. You will be prompted to save your video.

For the rest of it I edited a group of videos and different shots with plain old Windows Movie Maker. Added a little royalty free music and uploaded to YouTube. As far a the rally is concerned, my first reactions were something like: “Woah! Helicopter? Oh Wait… this is awesome!” It will no doubt get peoples attention and hopefully we’ll get tons of competitors out to the High Desert Trails Rally on April 9th, 2011.

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