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Originally I had asked this on the Graphics Design SE but after some realization of the question I was asking, it's probably better to ask it here.

I'm making a fantasy world map in illustrator that I'd like to take to the next level by adding terrain contours. Currently, it's a flat political map like this map of Canada for example. I'd like to add an effect like what was used in this map here to show the relative depths of the water:

enter image description here

This is obviously not done by hand. They would have used a program that compiled real terrain data into vector contours which would get exported to Illustrator/Indesign/editor of choice. I don't have the luxury of real data, so how would I go about generating my own using the map I've already drawn as a starting point?

I have a good idea of what it is I need to do -- I'd like to export my existing map to a tool that will generate/edit terrain and then export it back as a vector for Illustrator. I'm just a total newb at GIS and don't have any idea of the software or tools of the trade. I've looked glancingly at things like R and Artificial Terrain Generation, and have used tools like QGIS in the past, but I could really use some direction on what's the best way to go about doing this and what software programs or libraries could help me.

I'm no stranger to coding and know C and Python pretty well. I'd appreciate any help I can get. Thanks!

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the water depth here is raster and not vector. Do you want terrain undersee or on the land (sorry but I do not understand exactly what you want) –  radouxju Mar 18 '14 at 19:29
This is almost bordering gaming/CG animation environments and fractal mathematics. The software does exist, just not sure it's related to GIS. It might be possible to do the whole thing in GIS but you might still need to provide extensive manual input - define continents and mountain ridges, etc. The possibly using some interpolation techniques or TIN triangulation generate some type of a terrain. Digital elevation rasters (from which contours are derived) are complex representations of the real world, usually acquired by using various remote sensing techniques. –  Jakub Mar 18 '14 at 20:29
A useful search term might be heightmap generator or heightmap editor. –  blah238 Mar 18 '14 at 21:09
I was recommended on GD.SE to ask here and also on the Software Recommendation stack exchange. I've never had such a hard time picking the right SE for a question before. –  BB ON Mar 18 '14 at 22:38

1 Answer 1

Normally, remote sensing techniques (satellite, sonar, LiDAR, traditional survey, etc.) are used to collect and create digital terrain, digital elevation data - this is a representation of the real world. In the example above the source is likely a bathymetry digital elevation model, an ordered grid of cells (like pixels in an image) where each cell contains X,Y, and elevation Z value. In GIS you can use this data to generate contours at specific intervals, colour gradation raster backgrounds and hillshade (relief) models all of which can be overlaid and visualized in various ways to convey meaningful information.

I've never personally created imaginary, fictional maps or elevation models but at one time I was looking into some animation and scene generators in attempts to use GIS models as input to create realistic flyovers and animations. (some of these tools allow to import USGS DEM, then model and render using real-world data) I believe you might need to look into the likes of GROME, TerraVista, VUE, etc. GROME I think VUE or similar was used to create the environment in Avatar.

There is some more general info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scenery_generator

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