Notes on Map Animation

by Peter Mays

What is map animation? Maps are static displays which support several types of data simultaneously in order to compare and relate them. For example, roads, city names, political boundaries and rivers might all appear on a road map. We learn to decipher maps. Map animation, on the other hand, pulls out only certain features and using animation to express the function looked for. On the background of a physical map only one river might be emphasized, and its course animated by drawing a line along it. If a map is like the score of a musical composition, then map animation plays the score, mimicking what the eye would do in "reading" the map.
    Map animation can be used to illustrate history on a large scale. It can visualize action and movement with much larger meaning than visuals confined to eye level. This is particularly true of war. While a sense of action on the ground around individual soldiers can be illustrated by motion pictures, strategy and the overall movement of war cannot be understood without maps.

Conceptual animation. Map animation is a sub-set of conceptual animation. Conceptual animation visualizes thoughts. It can be used to augment and facilitate verbal or written language. What character animation is to the fiction film, conceptual animation is to the documentary film.
    Due to the tremendous labor involved in traditional animation techniques, conceptual animation has a spare history. But the computer is changing this. Through increasingly more powerful computer graphics and animation programs, both in two and three dimensions, it is now economically feasible to incorporate conceptual animation in educational products.

Real-time animation. With the computer, animation can be a real-time process. (Traditional animation was done frame by frame and only viewed intermittently.) By having instant feedback at his command, the animator can work and rework the visuals until they capture the concept. This can be done in conjunction with a narration which itself can be rewritten to arrive at a new, fuller kind of communication. A single, whole, gestalt of expression can be designed, tested, and redesigned.

Multimedia. The computer has also allowed the development of multimedia, where links can connect material in a variety of ways, allowing the user to explore an area on a path of their own making. Conceptual animation has found an application in visually connecting otherwise disparate material.
    Each path can be considered a serial narrtive, and by simply recording to video a path through a multimedia universe, a "movie" is constructed.

Virtual multimedia. Following the above paradigm, any movie implies a "virtual" multimedia. This multimedia is a super set of the movie. The movie is merely a means of delivery of a non-interactive introduction, tutorial, or path through a subject. This virtual multimedia need not be realized until a market for the subject is established by the movie. The movie, or video, which is a single, set experience, can be seen by a group, as in a classroom, whereas the associated interactive multimedia is best experienced by an individual, as in doing homework, with a recreation of the video imbedded in the multimedia to be used as a base for the individual to explore from.

Map animation combines history and geography. The use of geography in map animation is similar to an historical atlas. We take from geography the facts or "objects" but not the theory or structure. The dynamic that coordinates the geographic objects is from another discipline entirely, that of history. (An excellent example of the value of such a transposition is the application of algebraic structures to geometry by Descartes, resulting in analytic geometry and later the calculus.)

Non-linear geography. Not only is geographic theory sheared off when we co-opt the geographic objects, but the display of geographic material is very uneven by the standards of geography. Only certain objects are brought forward-- those useful in telling the story. Some rivers are mentioned and not others. All states are not treated as equal. This gives the student a foothold of meaning in the mass of geographic facts, a skeletal beginning to grow on.

The connection. Geography is learned in the fourth grade and history in the fifth, so that the student has a sound basis in the geography of an area to comprehend the history that took place in that area. But the complex and contingent nature of geography requires further reference; in map animation the final connection between geography and history is enacted on the screen.

Unconscious learning. If the student can follow the video at all, he or she is learning geography. The "abstract" geographic objects are connected to human events and thus made memorable. The student, raised on television and animation, will be challenged to "get" the animation in order to follow the story, and thereby inexorably learn geography. Moreover the student will thus obtain a frame of reference to better understand history.
    In interactive use, the search for and, by clicking something, finding an answer makes that answer much more memorable than simply reading it. It is this coordination of motive, physical action, and resultant visual or text that recreates on a tiny scale the "hunting instinct" and thus invokes the learning capacity.

Film and thought. In map animation, the film syntax learned by students from an early age is the Kantian process whereby the student forms mental images of the objects of history. The "phenomena" are the individual shots; in following the cuts, the "noumena" takes form. The shape of a country, e.g. France, seen in different sizes and contexts, begins to be memorable as the viewer follows the sequence of cuts and zooms, motivated by following the story. Conceptual animation in the education process can thus augment the primary means of communication through text, and provide a new use for audio-visual display, whether serial on video or interactive on the computer.

Complete American History Video Series

means in distribution

1. The New World. The history of this hemisphere is traced from 10,000 BC to 1600 in two sections. 1) The Pre-Columbian period, before 1492 and the arrival of the Europeans. This includes a survey of the Indian cultures of North America, and a sense of the civilizations of the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas. 2) The Portuguese and Spanish exploration and exploitation of the Americas from 1492 to 1600. This includes the slave trade and a background of the history of Africa, including the different cultures.

2. The Early Colonies. This period covers 1586 to 1660. The video covers the development of the English and Dutch colonies along the Atlantic seaboard and mentions French settlements along the St Lawrence River. Parallel developments in England and Europe are sketched, with an emphasis on religious persecution and the Puritans. [Completed in 2003 as Animated Atlas: The Early Colonies.]

3. The Later Colonies. This period covers 1660 to 1763. The video covers the maturation of the English colonies and the parallel deveolpment of the French settlements in the interior, culminating in the French and Indian War of 1756-1763.

4. The Revolutionary War. This 20 minute tape covers 1763 to 1783. After a short summary of colonial conditions and aspirations from 1763 to 1773, the Revolutionary War begins with Lexington and Concord and the siege of Boston in 1775, through the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Geography and maps are used to illustrate the overall strategies of both sides, as well as map enactments of the battles. Some live footage of contemporary recreations is included. [Completed in 1999 as Animated Atlas: The Revolutionary War.]

5. Birth of a Nation. This covers 1783 to 1828. Some sense of the Constitution and structure of the new government is visualized with conceptual animation. The major world events of the time, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era, are sketched as background. This will help explain the Louisiana purchase. The expansion into the Ohio valley and the formation of the states east of the Mississippi are shown. The War of 1812 is related as a burlesque of the Revolutionary War. The revolutions in South America and Mexico are sketched.

6. Expansion West and the Mexican War. This 30 minute tape reviews the role of Spain in the Americas and the Latin Wars of Independence. The Texas Revolution of 1835-56 is covered, and the build up to the Mexican war, which is covered in detail. The conclusion shows the final southwest states. [ Completed in 2000 as Animated Atlas: Expansion West and The Mexican War.]

7. The Civil War. This tape covers 1850 to 1865. After a short summary of the causes of the war and the preliminary struggles of the 1850s, the war itself is covered in map animation which emphasizes overall strategy and the war in Virginia. The story ends with the assassination of Lincoln.

8. Reconstruction and Growth. This covers 1865 to 1910. Here map animation has a new task: to sketch the rapidly growing infrastructure of the country after the Civil War. We will attempt to illustrate the growth of cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago, and others. As background, the rise of European Imperialism is sketched, as well as the expansion eastward of Russia, the breakup of China, and the entrance of Japan as an industrial power. The Spanish war is glimpsed. The American story concludes with Teddy Roosevelt and the national park system.

9. World War I. 28 minutes. The causes of the war, rooted in imperialism, are summarized, after a brief sketch of European geography. The strategy and course of the war are illustrated with map animation and some archival footage. The results of this war, particularly the political geography changes, are delineated. [Completed in 2001 as Animated Atlas: Overview of World War I.]

10. World War II. This tape covers 1920 to 1945. The rise of communism in Russia and fascism in Europe is glimpsed. Map animation will here be challenged to reduce World War II to manageable length by emphasizing overall strategy, which is a complex but amazing story. The emergence of the United States as the leading world power will be seen.

11. The Cold War and After. The breakdown of imperialism following World War II is shown in wars of liberation and the emergence of new nations in Africa and Asia. The US agenda in this third world struggle is seen as the containment of the USSR. The Korean war and the Vietnam war are briefly sketched. The US wins the Cold War in the middle 1980s. The first ten years of American world "rule" by means of economic development and occasional police actions is sketched.

Copyright 2002 by Peter Mays

All Rights Reserved