I am looking for a method of rendering a heightmap from a 3D scene. The scene may consist of a terrain which is in turn generated from another heightmap, but will also have regular 3D objects.
The generated heightmap should, so to speak, indicate the highest point in the "column" of the 3D scene represented by each pixel in the heightmap.
This does not need to be a fast/realtime operation, and it does not really matter what language or library is used, although I'd prefer using Python (perhaps with Panda3D?). Also, I would prefer being able to run it headlessly, from a command-line tool without the need for an actual on-screen rendering.
Is this a common operation for which there are established/canonical methods, either through a library such as Panda3D or through more direct/low-level use of data structures representing the 3D scene?
I should add that I am quite new to the computer graphics field of programming.