Google Earth is a software that has been around for years. Google Earth Studio is a more recent edition that provides an animation tool for its satellite and 3D imagery. We detail how this can be used to help edit aerial sequences, and how its stunning results may herald the future of video editing.

Google Earth Studio (which going forward we’ll refer to as GES in this article) can be seen as the logical continuation of Google Earth. This online tool has made it possible to travel across the world thanks to a phenomenal bank of satellite images. The issue with it however is that it could never be used within a professional environment, in that when zoomed in, you’d end up with a flat and pixelated image.

GES goes much further than this. Most of its data has been modelled in 3D, which means that it has become an online creation tool, where you can draw your own air paths, with the ability to edit all possible parameters including the camera angles, the targets, the time of day/night, the movement of the shot and so on. GES also allows you to generate tracking points, which can then be used in After Effects to add elements such as markers, texts and so on. To better understand this tool, check the video below:

We’ll take a look at GES and demonstrate how simple it really is. What’s more, as a tool it is free – as long as you’re happy to leave a Google watermark on your images of course!

Preparing GES

In order to use GES, you will have register through this link. Be prepared to wait for a few days for Google to approve your registration, which in our case took four days. GES only works with the Google Chrome browser, which again can be downloaded for free on any platform.

Its operation is very similar to that of editing software, with a timeline, key images displaying parameters (path, target etc.), and a Programme Monitor that will show in real time the virtual flight of your camera. We prepared the following example which shows the Notre Dame in Paris before the terrible fire.

Getting Started

Once connected to GES, the online platform allows you to create either a “Blank Project” or choose from a pre-designed animation model, which are exactly like the flight modes available on drones. For simplicity, we will choose the “Fly to and Orbit” mode by clicking on “Quick Start”. In other words, we will fly from point A to point B and make an orbit around our point of interest.
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Next, simply enter the final destination, which in our case is “Notre Dame, Paris, France”. The software immediately displays the satellite view, then the real-time simulation of the flight. You can change the arrival altitude, the orbit radius, the approach angle and so on. All its parameters can of course be modified at a later date. Your changes are applied in real time.

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Finally, you can then choose the duration of the animation. By default, it will be 25 seconds. You will then discover the interface of the software.

The Google Earth Studio Interface

By default, only the final 3D view is available. It is therefore preferable, to refine the camera’s path and switch to “2 Viewports” mode using the screen icon.
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On the left, we can see both the map and the path of the camera. As a result, it will be very easy to customise all movements and manage the movement parameters. In this way, it will be very easy to customise all movements and manage the movement parameters, with the timeline showing all the key frames and the list of parameters. In our example, we want the starting point to be in space and much further from Paris. All you have to do is place the reading head at the beginning, then enter an altitude of 35 Kilometres and, in the search bar, type “Frankfurt” in Germany. Then click on the diamond in the “Camera Position” section to indicate that you have changed the camera’s position key frames.

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If you start playback, you will see that the camera has positioned itself above the German city and will go to Paris from the cosmos. A tip that we recommend is that by default, GES makes a linear path from space which is not very aesthetic. From the Animation/Advanced menu, choose Logarithmic Altitude. Google will then accelerate the descent to the ground and round off the trajectory, which is much more satisfying.

You can now jump from keyframe to keyframe to modify anything you want, and of course create steps along the way.

Additional Parameters

Each point in the viewpoint corresponds to a key image of the camera position. You can therefore manipulate them at will to deviate from the initial trajectory. We can go even further by clicking on ‘Add Attributes’ to add additional parameters which can be animated i.e. the time of day, camera angles, clouds and so on. This means that by animating the field of view, you will be able to perform spectacular zooms, or widen the field of view to get a panoramic view of the scene.GES_06

In addition, by selecting one or more key frames and right-clicking you will also be able to change the interpolation mode of the animation (ease-in, ease-out) or Auto-Ease, which corresponds to an automatic Bézier curve to smooth the movements.
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Track-Points and Export

Another strength to GES is that track points can be added. This means that when exporting the final render, GES will include track points in 3D so that softwares like After Effects can understand the camera movements better, and thus anchor 3D elements in the scene. To better understand, simply add a tracking point on the camera target (i.e. Notre Dame in our example), by right-clicking on the target on the map or directly in the final monitor.

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Once your animation is finished, press the Render button. After validating the duration and resolution, go to the “Advanced” tab and check the “Include 3D tracking Data” box. Then start the rendering by clicking on Start. GES will generate all the images and offer you to download a.zip file.

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Add 3D Elements in After Effects

Once the file has been downloaded and decompressed, GES will have generated a series of numbered images that you can import as a movie in any editing software. You can then use After Effects to add 3D text using Track Points. Launch After Effects, then, from the File menu/run script, select the file . jsx generated by Google. Automatically, your movie is loaded into a new Composition and most importantly, After Effects has created a null object and a text layer for each Track-Point.
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All you have to do is write any link to any element of the null object to make it model in 3D, and follow the movements of your camera. All you have to do is play on the orientation and position to make it match your scene. Finally, add a little motion blur and calibrate the images a little bit in Lumetri to make them look less artificial and you have augmented reality drone images.

Further Resources

If you want to enhance your know-how of GES further, we recommend this video and its associated channel. A fantastic resource if you ask us!