Making Tours

Update 2/15:  Great news!  For some unknown reason, Google Earth has released the 'Pro' version for free, rather than the $400 a year they've been asking.  As far as I can tell, it actually is the Pro version, not just some enhanced version of the regular freebie.  There are a couple of subtle differences (like in the Options) between the two.

If you've already been making GE vids, then you probably know most of this, but I'll toss it out there just to make sure things are covered.  There might be a few tricks you haven't picked up yet, like how to get the tour's title to move off the screen after the show begins.  I'm also including the programs & instructions to splice pieces of tours together.  If you're having lock-up problems or display glitches, read the troubleshooting section at the bottom of this page.

The Properties Panel

This is a vital piece so let's cover it:

  • There are four ways to open the Properties panel; right-clicking on the entry in the sidebar, right-clicking on the push-pin icon, the Edit Menu, and the keyboard combo Alt-Enter when the entry's highlighted.
  • If you want to change, add or get rid of the entry's push-pin icon, click on the button on the top-right of the Properties panel.
  • To re-size the on-screen text, go to the 'Style/Color' panel, adjust the 'Scale'.  To get rid of the text, just scale it down to 0.  You can change the size of the icon below it.

Title Location

You may not want to use a title at each location, depending upon the type of presentation you're making.  The problem is that Google Earth places them right in the middle of the screen as you're zeroing in on the spot from high above, only getting out of the way at the very last moment, so it's quite distracting from the pleasurable overhead view.  Likewise, they suddenly pop up as you're flying by on a short jaunt, again distracting the viewer.  For this project, I decided the locations are easy enough to look up via thumbnail in the database if someone wants more info, so I axed them.

When it comes to the exact location of the titles and/or push-pins in the final video, there are three factors at play:

  • There's a difference between where they are on the monitor in default mode and full-screen mode, so stick with one mode throughout.
  • It also depends upon which monitor resolution you use.  In general, I've found the title drops down about a half-inch below and to the left in the video compared to where it is on my 1024-wide monitor in full-screen mode.
  • Removing the icon also drops the title down to the lower-left, so both have to compensated for if you're removing the icon after you place the title.

You can place the titles one of two ways.  You should learn them both as they have different uses.

First method:

  • Go to the spot, open the Properties.  Give the title an icon if it doesn't have one.
  • Carefully grab the icon (the pointer will change) and place the first letter of the title roughly an inch above and to the right of where you want it to end up in the video.
  • Remove the icon, close the Properties, snapshot the entry.

Then make a quick video test clip and adjust your specs accordingly.  Use something permanent on the screen to align the first letter of the title with, like "An inch above the center of the tower and a half-inch to the right."

Second method:

  • Go to the spot, open the Properties.  On the 'View' panel, check the 'Center in View' box.
  • Grab the globe with the mouse and move it so that the title is in the correct position.
  • Uncheck the 'Center' box, close Properties, then double-click the entry to bring it back to its original position and verify the title is where you want.
    Tip: If you suddenly decide to start on the other side of the globe, you won't even be able to see the title.  To snap it back to front, check and uncheck the 'Center in View' box.

Lining Up The Queue

Let's say you're building a global tour, or already have one and you want to add some new spots to it.  You're trying to keep the distances at a minimum and you're not using push-pin icons.  The trick is to find the spot in the tour's queue for each new location.

What you do is make a copy of the master 'My Places' file, then, in one operation, give every spot an icon that you can use for temporary reference.

Right-click on 'My Places', select 'Copy'.  Right-click on 'Temporary Places' at the bottom, select 'Paste'.  Open up the Temp area, drag the new 'My Places' entry up to the main area, open its Properties and rename it 'Markers'.

Right-click on the 'Markers' icon and open Properties.  Click on the 'Style, Color' tab, then the 'Share Style' button.  Set the 'Label' size to 1.5.  Click on the button on the top-right and give everybody an icon.  Close the Properties.

Now you can highlight just the icons for one tour and figure out where any new spots fit in the tour order.

Tour Title

This is actually kind of slick.  You can tell the title of a tour when to move out of the way depending upon the camera's altitude.  This way, you can start by majestically showing the whole earth with the title of the tour nicely displayed in the center, then, as soon as the tour starts and the camera starts descending, the title politely shuffles off the screen.

Here's the routine:

  • Back up from the globe until it fills about 2/3rds of the window.
  • Add a placemark.  Put in the tour's name, then click on the 'Style/Color' panel and raise the size of the fonts.
  • On the 'Altitude' panel, use 'Absolute' and start by entering '4000000m' in the box. The idea is that the title should start to move out of the way right after you start zooming in.  You'll have to fiddle with the numbers to match up with your own chosen starting spot.  You can also look at (or copy) one of the title spots in my main KMZ file.

The bummer is that it doesn't work in reverse.  What we really need is the ability to bring the location title in when it gets down to a certain altitude.

3-D Notes

If you happen to get some kind of error box when making a tour and flying into a 3-D city, click 'Ignore' and it should continue.  You can usually get around the 'dead zone' by altering the location's angle so the flight path is altered.

Unless you specifically want a spot for its 3-Dedness, leave the option in the 'Layers' panel off when making a tour. The occasional 3-D building suddenly popping up on the side as you land in some town to show a funny rooftop message is more distracting than anything else.  Save it for when the 3-Dedness of the spot is the main event.

Reminder Notes

Because different tours use different settings (like whether or not to pause at each spot, or leave the 'Scale' feature on), it's helpful to put some 'reminder notes' on the starting page of each tour, then uncheck them before recording.

If you import my master KMZ file, you'll see a 'Setup' folder in each category with a separate entry for each reminder.

To note is that you'd normally leave the 'Fly-to Speed' in the Options/Navigation area set to '.08' (if not faster) when setting things up, but a reminder to set it back before starting the actual recording is appreciated.

Making The Video

First, two notes about video quality:

  • or the 'Resolution', use '320' if the quality isn't particularly important, '720' if it is.  Anything higher than that is a waste of time because the original images simply aren't that good.  The tours on this site were recorded at 720.
  • The FPS (frames per second) is basically how smooth or jerky the video is going to play versus how long the recording takes.  The higher the FPS, the smoother the ride, but the longer it'll take to record.  For the absolute best quality, set it to '60'.  For decent quality, set it to '30'.  If the smoothness of the playback doesn't particularly matter, set it to '10'.

You first have to make a 'tour', and that's what Movie Maker will record.  There are two ways to do this.  I'll outline them first, then get to the specifics:

  • Manual Method — You start recording the tour and then literally do it in real-time with the mouse, pausing at each stop for however long you deem correct, then moving on to the next stop.  When you're finished, you name the tour and that's what you select in Movie Maker.
    The good news is that this allows you to have the camera cruise at the same speed no matter where it's going, providing a much more natural feel to the video.  The down side is that you have to record the whole tour manually.
  • Folder Method — This will automatically record every spot in the folder, at which point all you have to do is name the tour so Movie Maker can find it.
    While this is much easier, the down side — and it's a big one — is that you're only given a 'time between' spots, not a flying speed, so if it's set to a small number (5 secs), and suddenly the next stop is halfway around the globe, it'll dash over there in an indistinguishable blur.  But if it's set to a longer number (30 secs) so global cruising feels natural, but the next stop is 50 feet away, it'll feel like it's taking forever to get there.  If there's one horrific fault with the program, it's this.  So, in general, use the manual method.

Manual Method:

  • Open Tools menu, Options, 'Navigation' panel.  Set the 'Fly-To-Speed' to '0.0500' and see how it feels.  Most of the tours on this site are recorded at that speed.  It might seem a tad slow when going to a nearby spot, but global excursions will look magnificent.  Close the Options box.
  • Go to the first site.  From the Add menu, select 'Tour'.  In the small box that pops up, click the red-dot button to start the recording.  Manually go to each site, pausing however long between them.
  • Click the red button to stop the recording.  The tour playback box will pop up and start to replay the tour.  Assuming it's lookin' good, click on the button on the far right side of the playback box to save the tour.  Close the playback box.
  • Open 'Tools' menu, 'Movie Maker'.  Select 'A saved tour', make sure your tour is selected, then select the resolution and FPS.  Browse to a location to save the file.  Click 'Create Movie' and you're rollin'.

Folder Method:

  • Open Tools menu, Options, 'Touring' panel.  Set the 'Time Between' to 30 seconds and the 'Wait at' to '5'.  Close the Options.
  • Right-click on 'My Places' in the sidebar, 'Add', and make a new folder.  Put your spots in the folder, go to the first site.
  • Highlight the name of the folder and click on the folder icon that appears on the very lower-right corner of the 'Places' area.  It will start recording the tour.
    Bug report: It might hang out for a while before finally starting the tour.  The extra can be snipped off later with a video editing tool.
  • When the tour is finished, click on the button on the far right of the playback box to save the tour.  Close the playback box.  Go back to the first site in the folder.
    Bug report: Unlike the 'Manual Method', it doesn't start the movie-making process with the first site of the tour; it starts recording wherever GE is at the moment, then goes to the first site.
  • Open 'Tools' menu, 'Movie Maker'.  Select 'A saved tour' and make sure your tour is selected, then select the resolution and FPS.  Browse to a location to save the file.  Click 'Create Movie' and you're rollin'.
    Bug report: If it stalled at the first spot when recording the tour, it'll also stall when making the movie.  I can't see any way around this except manually snipping off the excess in a video editor.

Minimizing The Program

To minimize GE while it's making the movie, click on the blue icon at the very far right side of the Task Bar if using a Windows 7 that has the feature.  Otherwise, right-click on the Task Bar, open Task Manager, go to the first panel, highlight the Google Earth entry with the right mouse button and select 'Minimize'.

Editing Clips

Programs & instructions are here.  No particular video expertise is involved; just follow the directions.

Changing The Master Files Location

Given that it's a thousand times more likely that your main Windows system on the C Drive will melt down rather than a storage partition going belly-up, you might want to store the master files somewhere safer than the C Drive.  This is easily accomplished with a Registry tweak.

Using The Time-Shift Feature

With the newer versions of 'Pro', you can use the 'Historical Imagery' feature in the tours, but there's a hitch.  Once the recording gets to the first time-shifted spot, the function stays on throughout the duration, so any current pics might be garbage.  It can only be used with either nothing but time-shifted spots, or with current spots that still look good even time-shifted by the previous spot.

Each spot, though, can be set to a different time, so that's pretty slick.  Get everything snapshotted, then make the tour like normal.  I tried it using the 'Folder Method' and it worked perfectly, with the additional bonus that it didn't display the little time-shift box like it does when doing it manually.

Bug report: In making the 'Crop Circles' tour, which is almost entirely composed of old pics using the Historical Imagery feature, I had four which needed the very oldest pic but they wouldn't 'snap' to the screen until the slider gadget was touched, which doesn't work when making an automatic 'folder' tour, which I want so the time-shift box doesn't display.  The workaround is to make a dupe of the spot and place it before the original, then click the time forward one notch and snapshot the new entry.  The tour will go to the newer spot like normal, then it manages to find the oldest spot at that point.  The hitch is that you then have to edit out the extra part, but that's just part of the fun.


The official GE troubleshooting page is here.

Admittedly, this isn't the most stable program in the world, and you might run into a few odd glitches here and there.  I tried it on Windows XP, Vista and Win7, in both OpenGL and DirectX modes, and it was kinda bizarre.  It'd do one size in one mode or screen res just fine, but the video would just be black in another.  In one case (using OpenGL on the XP system), there was a black bar running down the middle of the video.  Apart from all that bizarreness, the only noticeable difference was that it operated about 10% faster in Vista and Win7 than XP.

If you have any probs, one thing you might do immediately is open the Options and check 'Use safe mode'.  It doesn't actually do anything, but it certainly feels good having done something.

Also, the display while it's recording might suddenly look a little crazy, but the movie should/might still be okay.

There are two ways the program might lock up.  If it just flat-out locks up and nothing responds, then the tour might be toast and you'll have to use Task Manager to close the program.  If, however, it simply stops recording but the 'Cancel' box is still active, you can save the tour to that point and start the next recording from the last placemark.

The reason I said might be toast is because if what's already been recorded still plays as a video, but won't load in an editor, you might be able to save it by running it through the 'Super' video converter.  Check the editing page for details.

If the program is locking up or has odd glitches in the playback, there are a number of things to try:

  • If the problem is it's freezing up when just going from one spot to another, try emptying the cache.  To do so, first go to File menu, 'Server Log Out', wait for the screen to clear.  Open Tools, 'Options', 'Cache' tab, click the 'Delete' button, close down the program, reopen.
  • In the 'View' menu, make sure 'Atmosphere' is off.  In Tools/Options, set the 'Anisotropic Filtering' to 'Off', make sure the aforementioned 'Use safe mode' is checked, and give 'OpenGL' a spin at some point.  It'll capture slower, but it might do the trick.
  • When I install the Intel video drivers on a brand new system, a box pops open when I reduce the default 1280 x 1024 monitor resolution down to a much-more-readable 1024 x 768, informing me that 1280-wide is the "preferred resolution" for that particular driver.  So you might try running GE at 1280-wide if you're using 1024-wide, just to keep the video driver happy.
  • If I run GE Pro on Vista, a box pops open at some point that says my video card needs for GE to be the top-most window during the capture, so you might make a test and not touch the computer while GE is doing its thing.  Turn off any screen-blanker.
  • Similarly, it might not like being minimized.  It may not actually need to be the top-most program on the screen, but it might view things differently when minimized.
  • It might not be happy with the current video driver, especially if it was released after your version of GE was written and Windows Update installed the driver automatically.  If you're using Vista or Win7, go into Device Manager, delete the display driver and reboot.  If it asks you if you want to actually delete the driver, answer yes.  Windows will install its stock driver for your video card upon reboot and that might solve the problem.  You'd then manually run Windows Update and 'hide' the video update that's doing the damage.
    If you have an XP system, you should have the video driver stashed nearby just in case Windows doesn't have one for your device.  In that case, it'll install a generic driver that might limit you to an 800-wide resolution, at which point you can install the proper driver.  You can get it from the video card's home site.  For the make & model of your display card, open Control Panel, Device Manager, 'Display adapters'.  Type the whole thing into Google and head for the home site.
  • Along with the latest video driver, you should also have the latest DirectX.  If you haven't purposefully updated your DirectX in a while, go ahead and download/run the file.
  • Hunt down a free memory tester and run it.  It should be some kind of image file (IMG, ISO, etc) and burn to a boot-up disc.  Memory test programs take forever to run, so run it overnight or while you're away.  If it discovers any errors at all, replace the bad chip.  Memory chips take a lot of abuse and it's not uncommon to have one little sector fry, and different programs use different areas of memory, so it might be that everything else on your computer is running fine, but GE is suddenly accessing the one part of your memory chip that's corrupt and is locking up as a result.*
    *based on a true story