Adding Google Earth Fly-throughs to your Real Estate videos

Google Earth logoI'm a big fan of Google Maps, especially since Street View came to Seattle. But I'm an even bigger fan of Google Earth because of the fantastic 3-D and detailed rendering that can be done. THIS is the future of real estate mapping and video marketing. Having great video of a property's interior is huge, but putting it in context of the city, neighborhood, and surrounding amenities takes it to a whole other level. We are getting closer and closer to the holy grail of virtual reality. This is the biggest step so far. And with the growing addition of photo-realistic modeling that is being added at a feverish pace, Google Earth is making the experience pretty close to the real thing.

If you are starting to get serious about doing your own video you probably have a video camera, some software for editing, and maybe have published some stuff on YouTube, Viddler, Vimeo, or maybe WellcomeMat. Some people prefer to find a host where they can send videos privately to clients and control it more, like Wherever you are in this process, you probably have at least thought about integrating Google Earth into your videos. Google Earth Pro allows you to make a movie that follows the camera viewpoint to and from multiple locations – I call these “fly-throughs”. Then once you finish recording and have saved your fly-through movie file, you can integrate it into your listing or neighborhood video with whatever video editing software you are using. Here are a couple of rough examples:

Perhaps you dismissed this as too technical or overly ambitious. Well, it's not that tough if you have the stomach for a bit of a learning curve, and a fast computer with lots of RAM. But if you don't want to spend the time and money (you really should purchase the “professional” version of Google Earth – Google Earth Pro), then make sure the videographer you hire includes it as part of their package. It adds an important perspective and upgrades you to a more comprehensive and quality video product.

I've come up with this list of tips of things to keep in mind if you decide to create Google Earth fly-throughs and integrate them into your real estate listings or neighborhood videos:

  1. Download the Google Earth Pro 7-day free trail version, then spend the money if you see the value. (currently $400). It can be done with work around software and techniques. But you are adding WAY TOO MUCH hassle onto the project. Remember – you will probably be doing this on all you real estate listings from now through the foreseeable future. If this is not your cup of tea and you decide it's not worth it for you, then don't buy it!
  2. You can only install your licensed Google Earth Pro version on two machines. Think this through – perhaps you will want a technically savvy assistant to produce these for you – so don't install it on both your personal office and home computer unless you plan on purchasing more licenses.
  3. Spend the time following the tutorial. The official Google Earth tutorial teaches you to create a great fly-though movie of Mount Everest. This is going to give you the basic skills you will need to create your own movies.
  4. The video will “hop” from placemark to placemark. While you can control the speed of the hopping, you should think through any synchronized narrative you might want to add to the audio track when creating the movie (this is often referred to as “storyboarding”)
  5. Become familiar with the Navigation Control in Google Earth that gives you the direction, zoom, and tilt in the 3D Viewer. The more proficient you become at this, the more fluid your movies will turn out. If you are keyboard command geek, take the time to learn those too.
  6. Record your movies in high-quality, at the same size as your final movie output size (I recommend WMV9, 30fps, 640×480).And turn off all unnecessary layers (I recommend only 3D Buildings and Terrain (if they exist), and maybe Roads if you think it will help orient people.
  7. Break up your listing location and neighborhood amenities clips. Remember this should not be a self-contained movie, its best used as just one or two scenes of the overall video project.

I'm by no means an expert at this and I'm still having fun learning it myself. But I've found that my past experience as an executive producer of a real estate television program in the early 1980's and computer graphics applications instructor has helped me see the potential of this medium. And WOW, is it cool!

Here are some examples where videographers have begun to integrate Google Earth fly-throughs into their videos, along with with photographic stills, music, and narratives.

Nashua Video Tours near Boston
Nashua Tours video screenshot.
Orange County agent's simple self-promotion with Google Earth
Property management slide show using Google Earth

I can imagine this will soon be used by real estate agents for neighborhood videos. I haven't yet because both the vertical and horizontal formats don't work with my layouts and because WordPress is so restrictive. But let me know if you do. I'd love to see it. Anybody have any other tips or tricks on using Google Earth for real estate they want to share?