The images on this page were created for a museum-style display space at the University of Calgary, in the Department of Geosciences. The Department wanted to create an entry space to their facilities that showed the wide array of research they do, the many choices students in the department had for fields of study, and so on. The available space was roughly nineteen meters - about sixty feet - long, but with enough unavoidable items like doors and fire extinguishers, the usable available space was about thirteen meters (or forty-five feet) - which divided neatly into five two and a half meter-long panels, so that's what I worked with.
Other departments had conceptually similar entryways - in fact, there was one one floor below for the Department of Geography - and so my job was to make the Geoscience hallway stand out from the competition. After consultation with the Department, I went with a design that put large, eight feet by two feet paintings in the middle of each panel. The idea was to start with the Earth from space in the first panel, and gradually zoom in, one panel at a time, all the way to down to microscopic scale.
Some of the images were easier to generate than others: the painting of the Earth from space, which, across its length, moved from a vantage point that could be seen from the International Space Station, all the way to a view about thirty miles up, just above Banff, Alberta (if memory serves) was - surprisingly - pretty straightforward to generate. A little work with a 3D modelling application to generate rough "what would I see from this point" images, supplemented with a few satellite photos for reference, and a quick trip through Photoshop's Photomerge command, and I had a grid to follow that made the painting itself almost completely painless.
Another image that was surprisingly straightforward was the microscopic illustration: people I knew in the department were willing to let me borrow some of their photographs of rock slices under polarized light, and with those for inspiration, that image took very little time at all. I must confess, though, that I am a little disappointed that, as far as I've heard, nobody's found all eighty fossils I hid throughout the image.
The image that proved most challenging, though, was one I thought would be the easiest of all. To represent hydrogeology and paleontology, I thought that a simple painting of Dinosaur Provincial Park would be the best. The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the three most important fossil deposits in the world, and, honestly, one of the coolest places I've ever been, so I was excited to show off the infinitely detailed eroded surfaces, the huge scale, the sheer depth of time that you get there.
The problem was - when I started, I went out and took some photographs for reference. People who know the site can probably even tell where on the edge of the Park I stood when I was taking those images. The painting itself isn't directly traced from photographs - but I followed them very closely when I was working, because I knew that if I got anything wrong, I would be hearing about it from the paleontologists I know. So I took lots of them. I must have filled an entire 32-gig memory card with high-resolution images of the park from that site, with every single detail covered by at least two shots. Except, of course, for that big mesa, in the middle distance, just off of the center, which, no matter how many times I looked through my images, I'd clearly never taken a picture of. I didn't know what was in that hole at the time - I just knew that I didn't have a big chunk of the viewpoint I wanted covered. I also knew that, at that point, I really didn't have time to drive back out and take another picture - so what I did was download the digital elevation model (DEM) files of that area (thanks to the Canadian government!), open it in my 3D application, recreate the park from that vantage point, put my 3D program's camera where I was standing, pick an appropriate weather HDR (high dynamic range image - a file that contains accurate light intensity information about a scene, which lets you recreate particular lighting setups quickly) and render it. I didn't have the plants, I didn't have the strata, but at least I now knew that I was missing that hill, and I could recreate it from the rendering. Which I did.