Narrated Tours Tutorial


This tutorial is not a comprehensive guide on creating narrated tours. It is specifically aimed at non-progammers interested in creating more advanced tours, and has been designed to give an overview of the structure & workings of tours, as well as introduce some of the more common features you could add to spice up and polish your tour.

By the end of the tutorial, you should:
  • Understand the structure of a tour
  • Understand the basics of editing your tour in KML
  • Be able to use further resources to build a tour that suits your needs
For a more thorough and comprehensive explanation of touring in Google Earth, please see Google's "Touring in KML" documentation. 


Before you start, you need to have a basic idea of how to create content and create a Narrated tour in Google Earth. You can find several tutorials by Google Earth Outreach to help you along here. At a minimum, you should have taken the basic Google Earth Touring Tutorial:

A re-cap of narrated tours

Tours are recorded stories that occur along a timeline in Google Earth, i.e. stories (or information) tied to places. They consist of:
  • The Places you want people to see & how you want them to see these
You can navigate between points on the Earth, and set the views & perspectives of these places to show them in a particular way, or adjust the time slider in the historical imagery view to view a place though time. 
  • Your own information/data added to these places.
You can add GIS, Photo-Overlays, Image Overlays, Points annotated with pictures and videos, GPS tracks, and polygons and lines to communicate information. You can also add narration to your tour. 

By flying between places, toggling placemarks on and off and adding narration, you can create a cinematic experience in Google Earth, which you can share with funders, peers, students, the public, or decision-making authorities.

Creating a Tour in Google Earth

Step 1: Write your story and assemble your material

Decide what story you would like to tell. If you're going to be narrating a tour, or you have a longer story to tell, it's useful to have a script. When you write your script, keep in mind what kinds of places you would like to show people and the sort of information you would like to show in conjunction with that - it's often an iterative process! 

Step 2:  Structure your story along a timeline 

This isn't a necessary step, but you might find it helps you to organise your story along a timeline. We show you an example timeline below (link to the spreadsheet in Google Docs here).

The timeline below divides the example tour into the following components:

  • The places that we plan to fly to and wait at during our tour
  • The information that we plan to show and hide at different points in our tour 
  • The sound files that we plan to play

Step 3: Assemble & prepare your material

Assemble your pictures, videos, GPS, GIS, slideshows and other information and get it ready for import into Google Earth.
Next, gather all the pictures, stories, videos, GIS & GPS data that you would like to include in your tour and get these uploaded to the web for easy inclusion in your tour.


Here are some useful links:

Step 4:  Get your material in Google Earth

Now import your information into Google Earth. You can add points, lines, polygons, and embed videos, images and blogs within them. 

The features that you can add directly in Google Earth are covered in the following tutorials:
You can also add more advanced Google Earth features like time animations, screen overlays, network links and regionation.These require you to create you material directly in KML. 

Step 5:  Record your tour in Google Earth

Now that you've got your material assembled, your can record your tour by flying from placemark to placemark, toggling points, images, and balloons on and off as you go along.

You can also re-record your tour to add more iterations, and add narration to your tour. 

Don't remember how to do this? View tutorial

However, this could get cumbersome if you have a lot of material that you would like to add at the same time, if you have a longer tour, have a complicated narration, or if you would like to add some of the more advanced tour features.

To understand how to create slicker tours, or add extra materials, you need to understand a little bit about the structure of tours. To do this, let's look at a recorded example (this is the same example that is written out on the timeline above). In this case we recorded the tour in two steps. We first recorded all the places that we wanted to include in the tour, and then re-recorded the tour with all the images, polygons and data that we assembled. 

The Structure of a tour

  • A tour occurs along a timeline. When you record a tour, you will fly from place to place and at stops on your tour, show information about those places. 
  • In your "flightpath" (the different stops along your tour, and how long you fly to and wait at each) actions happen in series. This means that you have to "finish" flying to one place before you can fly to another. You can think of your flightpath as the "backbone" of your tour. 
  • All other information/stories (including sound) are added to your flightpath in parallel, which means that you can add as many of them at the same time as you would like.  The structure of a tour is illustrated below (Click here to see a more in-depth explanation of tour structure). 

Tour Primitives

Flying to and waiting at places and updating your flight path with your own data and information are the actions that form a tour. These actions are called Tour Primitives, and there are five types:

Primitives in Series:
  • FlyTo - instructs Google Earth to fly to a place
  • Wait - instructs Google Earth to wait at a place
  • Tour Control - instructs Google Earth to pause the tour

YouTube Video

Primitives in Parallel

  • Animated Update - instructs Google Earth to "update" the flightpath with a point, an opened balloon, a polygon, a line, a 3D model, an Image-, Photo- or Screen Overlay. 
  • SoundCue - instructs Google Earth to play a sound file (supported formats include .mp3, .mva, .mvw, .mp4) at a point in your tour.

YouTube Video

Some points to note:

  • Primitives in series have to complete before any other primitive can be started. This means that you can't start playing a sound file or bring up a picture half way through a "wait". 
  • FlyTos and Waits are also what keeps your tour open. This means that if your sound and updates won't be recorded completely in a tour unless there's either a FlyTo or Wait that is running at the same time. 

Step 6: Edit your recorded tour 

What can you do by editing your tour?
  • Add multiple sound files 
  • Fade Images in and Out 
  • Change the location of an object 
  • Change the style of an object 
  • Move an screen overlay across the screen

Some helpful tips before you start

There's really no painless way of editing your KML, but it will help you a lot to use your timeline and description tags.

1. Description tags

As you go through your code, you might find it useful to add notes to yourself, or keywords that will help you find your way again. 

You can add this in description tags (shown below) - these won't affect anything else in your tour.

<!-- Important note to yourself here -->

2. Use your timeline and tour primitives

Arguably the most challenging aspect of editing your tour in KML is finding the right place to add your code, or make your changes. It's very easy to get lost amongst all those FlyTos and Waits!

It will help you a lot to use your timeline. On your timeline, you would have noted how long your tour is at certain points, and what animated updates need to happen at the same time a FlyTo or Wait is scheduled. By using Cntl F in your KML, you can find the point in your KML that corresponds to that in your timeline. 

It's best to look for the following tags in your tour:

IDs and name: If you just need to make a small change to an element that has already been recorded in your tour, these will be the easiest, as they are unique to the file in question.

Waits: Your <gx:wait></gx:wait> tags will have a duration <gx:duration></gx:duration> specified against them. Look for the ones that about as long as what you've specified them to be in your timeline. 

Lat/long: In a long and complex tour, it might help you to put the co-ordinates of your major tour stops in your timeline. You can use these co-ordinates to orientate yourself in your KML

Broadly speaking, you'll want to do one of two things to your KML:

1. Add SoundCues

You can add as many sound files as you like by adding the following code into your KML, substituting your own sound file between the <href></href> tag. 


Finding the right place to add your sound file:

To add sound files you are looking for the "FlyTo" or "Wait" that corresponds to the moment in your tour when you would like to first hear your sound file. It's easier to use a "Wait" than a "FlyTo", as what you see as one flight movement in your tour, is actually broken up into a number of different "FlyTos". 

Tip: If you are just looking to add a narration to your Google Earth tour, it's sometimes easiest to record your tour as a narrated tour, even if you don't actually say anything whilst recording it. Google Earth will record a sound file, and you can simply click control-find and type in "sound" to find the right place to substitute your file. 

2. Changing the colour, location, style, position and visibility of elements to create fade ins/outs, movement across the screen or terrain or a change in appearance

Using "Animated Update" to make your tour more dynamic:

The folder that contains your recorded tour contains two parts:

1. All the material that you've created in Google Earth, i.e. Ground Overlays, Points, Polygons, Screen Overlays.

2. The Tour, consisting of the five tour primitives, i.e. FlyTos, Waits, Tour Controls, SoundCues and Animated Updates.

3. When an Animated Update is specified in a tour the tour calls that element from the folder, and "updates" the "properties" of that element. 

4. The "properties" of these elements include the lat/long, style, color, visibility and position on the screen.

Below we outline the four "changes" that you need to make to your KML in order to acheve fading, moving and style changing. At the bottom is a quick reference guide where you can find the right code to add at the correct point in your KML. 

Changing the Location of an object

What do you need to change?

  • You need to specify a new lat/long for your object.
  • You can specify a new perspective for your object. 
  • You need to specify the duration across which you would like to move your placemark/model.
  • Make sure that you specify the "ID" of the element that you want to change.

Your original element would have a lat/long specified against it, and Google Earth will move your placemark or model across the Earth from the point originally specified in the document, to the new one that you specify in the animated update.

If you wanted to change your feature again, you will be "updating" it from the "updated" file. For example, If you've moved your model in a tour from one point to the other, and you wanted to move it again, your would be updating your model from the last stop specified, not the original one in document. 

What code to add?

Copy and paste the code below and paste it at the correct point in your KML. Replace the necessary fields. 

Change Location

            <Location targetId="example">

Changing the style of an object

What do you need to change?

  • You need to specify what about the style you would like to change (e.g. <size></size>)
  • You need to specify the duration across which you would like to make this change.
  • Make sure that you specify the "ID" of the element that you want to change.

Your original element would have a style specified against it, and Google Earth will interpolate your placemark from the style originally specified in the document, to the new one that you specify in the animated update.

What code to add?

Change Style

              <IconStyle targetId="iconstyle">

Fading an Image in or Out

What do you need to change?

To fade an image in or out, you are going to change the transparency of a visible image either from transparent to opaque, or from opaque to transparent, over a duration of time. 

We need to add three animated updates to do that:

  • One to make the image "visible" in the tour, but completely transparent
  • One to fade the image into visibility
  • One to fade the image out 

To do this you'll have to do the following:

1. Make sure that in your original document, visibility is set to 0
2. Make the image visibible in the tour, but setting the color to inivisible
3. Fade in the image over a duration from 00fffff to fffffff (learn more here)
4. Fade the image our over a duration from fffffff to 00ffffff

What code to add?


<Change><GroundOverlay targetId="example"><visibility>1</visibility><color>ffffffff</color></GroundOverlay></Change>

Move an image across the screen/change the size of a screen overlay

What do you need to change?

To move or resize a screen overlay, you will need to change the position of the overlay on the screen (the XY co-ordinates of your overlay), and specify a duration over which you would like the move to take place. 

To resize your image overlay, you need to specify a new size for your screen overlay. 

What code do you need?

Move Screen Overlay

<Change><ScreenOverlay targetId="example"><visibility>1</visibility><overlayXY x="0" y="0" xunits="fraction" yunits="fraction"></overlayXY>
<screenXY x="0.1" y="1" xunits="fraction" yunits="fraction"></screenXY><rotationXY x="0.5" y="0.5" xunits="fraction" yunits="fraction"></rotationXY><size x="300" y="250" xunits="pixels" yunits="pixels"></size></ScreenOverlay></Change>

Quick reference

Step 7: Share your tour

When you're happy with your tour and want to share it with the world, there are a few options:

  • Create a Google Site
  • Create a Blog using blogger
2. Email it to colleagues and collaborators
3. Create a Video of your tour and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo
4. Create a Video of your tour use the quick time presentation in PowerPoint
5. Submit it to the Outreach Showcase

Read more: Promoting your KML

More information & links

Other tips & tricks

To Learn More:

Good Examples of Tours

Other Tutorials:

More Options:

MAPA Workshops,
Mar 14, 2011, 9:49 AM
MAPA Workshops,
Mar 14, 2011, 9:54 AM