The North Pole – A Virtual Earth Christmas Experience

image Microsoft Virtual Earth and MSNBC are changing the game this year when it comes to tracking Santa. You’ve all seen the NORAD Santa Tracker and while that’s been fun over the years, well, it has gotten a bit stale. So, a few of us here in the Virtual Earth Product Group decided it was time to spice things up and build a more immersive 3D tracking mechanism for Santa and his reindeer. Not only that, but we went ahead and recreated a 3D version of Santa’s Village at The North Pole.


Fly on up to The North Pole and check it out! Depending on your connection speed, you could see some latency but on my pithy Linksys wireless connection using Comcast from Redmond I was able to get the whole application loaded in under 10 seconds (not cached!). Turn on Firebug and see how much data you get and you’ll see why 10 seconds is impressive. If you have an XBOX controller, plug it in the USB port as the flying experience is much better with that control. Did you know Virtual Earth 3D works with the XBOX controller? And, the 3Dconnexion mouse? Well, now you do.

I made a movie for those of you who don’t have the requirements for running Virtual Earth 3D on your computer, so you can see The North Pole in all it’s magic and glory. The video doesn’t really do it justice, but if you must.

Double click to go full screen

We used a number of different technologies to create this winter wonderland.

  • Virtual Earth AJAX Control – The Virtual Earth AJAX Control allows for developers to create immersive 2D and 3D map applications / experiences with a simple JavaScript programming model. 
  • trueSpace – trueSpace is a FREE 3D modeling kit for creating super high resolution models, like the ones you see at The North Pole, and placing them into Virtual Earth’s 3D.
  • Map Cruncher – Map Cruncher allows you to take your own photography or maps and overlay them in raster form over the Virtual Earth AJAX Control tile set. We used Map Cruncher for the North Pole atop which our models are resting.

image The application was written by yours truly – woohoo!; Tom Grimes and his team - Augusto Michelis, Heidi Simonsen, Matthew Collins and Stephen May – created the models; Steve Milroy worked with Santa to optimize his route (live once he’s trackable, of course); and Jerry Skaw (a.k.a. Virtual Jerry) coordinated the whole effort pulling together the teams and pushing us along. The whole project came together with the help of MSNBC’s team to integrate, market, advertize, and host the application, Map Cruncher tiles and trueSpace models.


Hey! And, if you’re a 3D artist, we’re sponsoring a contest on the Caligari site. We’d love to see some of your Holiday models come to life! Submit your models to Caligari’s library and win, win, win!


Show the kids! I’ve been showing this off to a couple special little ones and they absolutely love seeing Santa while he’s not delivering presents (or sitting for photos at the mall). On behalf of the whole team, we thank you for visiting The North Pole and hope you enjoy the experience. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and don’t shoot your eye out.


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