Voxelizing Google Earth: A Pipeline for New Virtual Worlds

Ryan Hardesty Lewis

Transforming Google's Photorealistic 3D Tiles into interactive, voxel-based landscapes.

[SIGGRAPH 2024 Paper]      [Code]      [BibTeX]


This project introduces an innovative pipeline for converting Google's Photorealistic 3D Tiles into voxel-based models, enabling new possibilities for virtual world creation. Leveraging advanced algorithms, we transform high-resolution satellite imagery into interactive, voxel-based environments accessible in Minecraft, VR platforms, and web browsers. This work represents a significant leap in making digital earth modeling more interactive, immersive, and accessible for a wide range of applications from education to entertainment.


Traditionally, representing the Earth's complex geography in voxel-based platforms has been a manual and time-consuming process. Our approach automates this by using Google's detailed Photorealistic 3D Tiles, offering a scalable solution to create accurate, dynamic representations of the world in voxel form. This technology bridges the gap between detailed geographic data and interactive, digital landscapes.

Figure 1: A comparison of low, medium, and high resolution voxelizations of Tokyo Tower. Adjusting the voxelization resolution provides flexibility for different use cases and enables storage and computation savings.


Our pipeline begins with the extraction of Photorealistic 3D Tiles from Google, followed by a detailed process of voxelization. Each tile is converted into a grid of voxels, with algorithms determining the appropriate color and type of Minecraft block for each voxel. This creates a detailed, interactive model of the Earth that can be explored and modified in real-time.

Figure 2: Comparison of low and high resolution voxelizations of UT Austin Tower. Lowering voxel resolution represents the same structure with less data.


Our voxelization pipeline has successfully transformed vast areas of the Earth's surface into interactive, voxel-based environments. These models have been implemented in Minecraft servers, VR experiences, and online platforms, allowing users to explore and interact with the world in unprecedented ways.

Figure 3: An aerial view of the voxelized Cornell Tech campus.

Applications & Societal Impact

The voxelized Earth models have wide-ranging applications, from educational tools that help students learn geography interactively to entertainment platforms where users can explore and build within real-world landscapes. Urban planners and architects can also use these models for project simulation and visualization. By making the Earth's geography more accessible and interactive, our project has the potential to enhance educational outcomes, foster global awareness, and create new forms of entertainment. We are mindful of the ethical implications and committed to ensuring our technology promotes positive societal impacts.

Figure 4: A collection of voxelized landscapes and structures.


  title = {Voxelizing Google Earth: A Pipeline for New Virtual Worlds},
  author = {Ryan Hardesty Lewis},
  year = {2024},
  publisher = {Association for Computing Machinery},
  address = {New York, NY, USA},
  doi = {10.1145/3641236.3664423},
  booktitle = {Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Conference Labs (SIGGRAPH LABS '24)},
  location = {Denver, CO, USA},
  series = {SIGGRAPH '24}

Acknowledgements: We use data from Google Maps. © 2024 Google LLC, used under fair use.