Create terrain for A-Frame scenes with data!
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Two terrain model components for A-Frame. Uses Bjørn Sandvik's terrain loader and based on code from a tutorial by the L.A. Times.

The basic idea is to create a large plane with a certain width, height, and number of vertices. Each vertex is then repositioned based on elevation from a digital elevation model (DEM). The DEM must be in ENVI format--see this blog post for conversion details.

For a different take on terrain, checkout Morandd's aframe-heatmap3d component.

The Two Components

Initially, this repo housed a single component. However, during the implementation of vertex coloring I realized that it made more sense to split the component into two.

  1. terrain-model Applies textures to the terrain geometry.

  2. color-terrain-model Given a valid colorScheme uses d3.scaleSequential() to compute the color of each vertex based on height.

For both components, DEM, planeHeight, and planeWidth properties are mandatory.

API (shared)

Property Description Default Value
DEM Path to digital elevation model data in ENVI format.
planeHeight The height of the plane.
planeWidth The width of the plane.
segmentsHeight Width of elevation grid minus one. 199
segmentsWidth Height of elevation grid minus one. 199
zPosition Vertical exaggeration. Lower values will seem flatter, higher values more mountainous. 1.5
wireframe Adds a wireframe false

The relationship between these properties and the DEM data may not be straightforward.

The height and width of the plane should have the same ratio as the height and width of the area covered by your DEM. For instance, if you've clipped your DEM down to an image/grid size of 6000 px by 6000 px then planeHeight and planeWidth could be set to 60.

The segmentsHeight and segmentsWidth values should be set to "the width and height of your elevation grid minus one". The height and width of your elevation grid was probably determined during the conversion to ENVI.


    gdal_translate -scale 0 2470 0 65535 -ot UInt16 -outsize 200 200 -of ENVI jotunheimen.tif jotunheimen.bin

Corresponds to a segmentsHeight and segmentsWidth value of 199.

These values seem to control the "resolution" of the elevation data. The L.A. Times has this to say:

"You'll notice we specified the -outsize parameter, which specifies the number of data points in the output file, and the number of vertices in the plane in the Three.js scene. This can be as high or low as you want, but you'll find that larger values can be very taxing on the graphics processor when rendering the scene. We found that using 300 x 285 provided a good amount of detail without stressing out the GPU too much. For phones, we used a smaller file, 200 x 190, and for some phones even went to a 100 x 95 file, to ensure that the interactive ran smoothly."

Lastly, zPosition controls vertical exaggeration. It is a kind of scaling factor that alters terrain height. I'm not sure how to determine an accurate value for this; my tactic is to adjust until the result is aesthetically pleasing. The L.A. Times used a value of 100 for their Gale Crater experience, Sandvik used 5 for Jotunheimen, and I used 50 for the crater floor example.

API (terrain-model)

Property Description Default Value
texture Path to texture.
transparent Set to true if your texture contains opacity channel (only PNGs) false
alphaMap Path to a texture to control the alpha channel

For example,

<a-entity terrain-model='texture: url(noctis-textureRED.jpg);
                                  DEM: url(noctis-3500-clip-envi.bin);
                                  planeWidth: 346;
                                  planeHeight: 346;
                                  segmentsWidth: 199;
                                  segmentsHeight: 199;
                                  zPosition: 100'>

To use transparent terrain textures, there are two options. The simplest is to set 'transparent' to true and supply a texture in PNG format containing opacity information. (Transparent is false by default to limit demand on the GPU.) The only limitation to this approach is that a texture JPG plus an opacity JPG (black and white) may in some cases together be considerably smaller than a single PNG containing a transparent texture. Thus, you can alternatively provide an alphaMap texture (a greyscale image, in any format -- e.g. JPG if lossy compression is OK). Then this component will combine the texture and alphaMap.

API (color-terrain-model)

Property Description Default Value
colorScheme A string indicating the interpolator to use for vertex coloring "viridis"

For example,

<a-entity color-terrain-model='colorScheme: magma;
                               DEM: url(noctis-3500-clip-envi.bin);
                               planeWidth: 346;
                               planeHeight: 346;
                               segmentsWidth: 199;
                               segmentsHeight: 199;
                               zPosition: 100'>

While it is possible to use A-Frame's asset management system to load textures and terrain data, this is currently not recommended. See this issue for more information.

Color Schemes

The following D3 interpolators are available (images copied from d3-scale-chromatic):

# viridis


# inferno


# magma


# plasma


# warm


# cool


# rainbow


# cubehelix



Till Hinrichs' orbit-controls-component is used in some of the examples.

Data (DEM and textures)

The Gale-Crater and Jotunheimen examples were created by journalists from the L.A. Times and Bjørn Sandvik respectively. The Jotunheimen data was obtained from The Norwegian Mapping Authority.

All Mars examples use public domain data from HiRISE (credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).



Install and use by directly including the browser files:

  <title>My A-Frame Scene</title>
  <script src=""></script>
  <script src=""></script>

    <a-entity terrain-model='DEM: url(data/noctis-3500-clip-envi.bin); texture: url(data/noctis-3500-clip-textureRED-resized.jpg); planeWidth: 346; planeHeight: 346; segmentsWidth: 199; segmentsHeight: 199; zPosition: 100;'></a-entity>


Install via npm:

npm install aframe-terrain-model-component

Then register and use.