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The new version of macOS, Catalina, includes a "dynamic" desktop background featuring photos of Catalina Island throughout various times in the day.

Here's two of the eight different images:

enter image description here

You can see all eight images here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1BBjFJoOZ6UWPGs_4vlWiJGR9yCqNu2pb

My question is how did they do this logistically? Obviously it's a drone shot, but getting eight drone shots taken over the ocean to align so precisely seems an incredible undertaking. Looking at the high-res versions above, it looks like they might have used a mix of digital manipulation and original shot, but it still seems like an incredible undertaking!

Thanks for helping me understand how this could have been achieved so seamlessly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't be surprised if these weren't even real images at all, but rather CGI rendered graphics based on a 3D model gained by measuring the location in question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 23:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelC If you look at the high-res versions you can see it's not CGI (or if it's CGI, it's done a such an unbelievably high level that it probably would have been cheaper to shoot it real). I believe you can also see what might be Photoshop touches, too, but I'm not 100% sure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Monk
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Monk What is to prevent using PS on CGI graphics? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelC Nothing, but if you have complete control over the image, and you're going to the lengths you're suggesting, rendering things in unbelievable detail, then when why mar that with a Photoshop touch up? \$\endgroup\$
    – Monk
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ 2, 3 and 4 in your link are then same photo with some photoshopping of lighting and water. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 3:09

2 Answers 2

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This is just an opinion. But nowadays I do not think it is too difficult, as drones have altimeters and GPS.

You can add some laser measurements on a boat from you send the drone.

So It can be done with some budget. You do not even need GPS.

Get a couple of rangefinders. Find two reference spots A, and B, on the island and take some measures so you get the exact position of the boat in reference to the island.

enter image description here

Get a drone with an altimeter. There are big drones that can carry some weight, so probably you can put a big camera, or you could make several shots and stitch them together. (If you are a big brand you probably want to show off and use the big camera)

The images are "Just" 36Mpx. You could use a medium format camera with a higher pixel count and make some cropping to exactly match the framing.

I am sure that a couple of feet off is not a big deal.


A quick note. These brands like to show off the logistics of the making of the wallpapers. For example, the windows 10 wallpaper, that could easily be done in a 3D application is a photo using computer-controlled lights, etc, but a photo: https://youtu.be/ewmXizBqjl0

Knowing Apple, instead of using a medium format camera they probably even used an array of iPhones to make a higher resolution image. After all they are in the photography business.

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It's insanely detailed photogrammetry, 3d Modelling, and a heap of post-processing. You can see trees 'lifting' from the landscape in some areas like a normal map in a video game. Took me a while to find the evidence these aren't just edited photos.Apple dynamic desktop photogrammetery

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you point out these areas. I am not seeing them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 9:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right there in the image I posted. Those are supposed to be trees. Instead, they're lumps projecting upwards due to being draped over a model. There are loads of them throughout the photos. Another giveaway is that there are no telegraph posts or roadside signs or objects. Also, the Bixby Creek coast road that bypasses the bridge is completely missing - likely intentionally removed from the texture map as it's distracting. \$\endgroup\$
    – davexmit
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 16:46

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