I recently completed a two-minute sequence for Teradata‘s latest version of its Data Warehouse (version 13), featuring the very significant addition of “geospatial” data sets. This feature (think GPS coordinates) allows for a whole lot of added precision, and this animation allowed me, among other things, to explore satellite imagery like I hadn’t yet done before.
There is a ton of incredible imagery out there, but a lot of it is buried in government websites with outdated navigation. Between various public domain sources (NASA, USGS, the Creative Commons on Wikimedia, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and some clever licensing (Pictometry, Shutterstock, etc.), I was able to eventually scour the planet, including a plummet from outer space down to a stock photograph (including making the blonde model there 3D). I also visualized a fictional hurricane sequence by tapping some incredible storm photography and satellite map data from a number of free sources on the web. (Click the links above or see the credits at the end of the animation for more links to the sources.) It takes some digging, but a lot of this imagery is actually free or close to free, and even the incredible 45-degree satellite photography from Pictometry is fairly-affordably licensable (with some effort).
So use Google or Bing Maps to find your locations, zoom in, and then check the fine-print in the lower right for the true source (or sources). USGS offers most of their satellite photography for free, if you can navigate their far-less-friendly website and search engines to find it over again. (They even include some imagery not available on those sites, including twice the resolution, depending on the location you’re after. But it can be rather hard to find, buried in confusing and often outdated websites.) Some other aerial services (especially in Europe) offer simple, straight-forward browsers that charge reasonable licensing rates by the pixel; these can be had at near-iStock prices. And where the satellite resolution eventually leaves off, some clever tricks with actual stock photography (from either iStock or Shutterstock or the like) can take you all the way down to street level.
Out of this world, man.