La France en relief

Detailed Relief Maps into 3D models

La France en relief


To accompany an exhibition of beautifully detailed relief maps of French fortified towns at the Grand Palais in Paris, the Google Cultural Institute created digitised 3D models of seven of these intricate handmade models. In partnership with la Maison de l'Histoire de la France, the Cultural Institute also loaned two Liquid Galaxy installations to the 'France en Relief' exhibition so that the public can explore these detailed digital versions of France's heritage. The Liquid Galaxies are digital displays that provide an immersive Google Earth experience like never before. Created mostly for military purposes by artisans of the 17th and 18th centuries, many of these relief maps are housed at the Musee des Plans Reliefs in Paris but not on public display. When this special exhibition was created at the Grand Palais, featuring some of the never-before seen maps, the Cultural Institute team was keen to be involved. We wanted to find a way to make these beautiful pieces accessible to a wider audience by creating digital versions which can be downloaded and viewed using Google Earth.

Experience the models

Maps of the following cities can be viewed in Google Earth. Download the files and open in Google Earth:

“Embark on a journey into hyper-realistic 3D relief maps of the time and discover the past of these fortified towns.”

Making a 17th Century Google Earth

Turning these rich and detailed Relief Maps into 3D models was a complex process, and not one that Google had ever done before. We experimented with several techniques such as infrared, laser, and photogrammetry before settling on a combination of photography and scanning. Working with our partner, Aloest Productions, the models were digitised in three stages:

  1. Stage 1

    The models were photographed from multiple angles: one aerial view, then at a 45° angle and finally a scan was done to ensure the topography and heights of the buildings was accurate.
  2. Stage 2

    The next step was to sort the data and build a basic framework for the model. The aerial photographs were edited together to create a comprehensive 2D view. The scan produced a three dimensional point cloud to act as a reference for building heights, massing and the terrain. Then using Google Sketchup, the oblique images that were taken at a 45° angle were used to texture the facades of each building. Lastly, the trees and fences were laid out according to the photo sources.
  3. Stage 3

    In the final step of the process, the models were optimised to be viewed in 3D in real time in Google Earth, before being published.
Next Project Previous Project