Tag Archives: Maps

FRONTLINE: Inside Assad’s Syria premieres Tuesday 10/27

I recently created the graphics for an upcoming FRONTLINE episode, Inside Assad’s Syria. It premieres next Tuesday at 10PM, and will be free to watch online after.

All eyes are on Syria as Russia’s military campaign intensifies, and as tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee the war-torn country for Europe.

What is life like for those who are left behind?


Iraq Map

Recent broadcast work: FRONTLINE: The Rise of ISIS

I designed a bunch of maps back in October for FRONTLINE: The Rise of ISIS. It’s free to watch online at the link. It got great reviews and I think is very much worth seeing, but a word of warning: this film contains some very graphic footage.

Mapping Arabic-speaking parts of the world turned out to be unexpectedly challenging: there are multiple ways to transliterate pretty much every place name, and good luck guessing which one your geolocation service has selected.

But there are perks to focusing on a region with such a long history. It was pretty cool finding ancient hand-drawn maps of Baghdad alongside OSM street data and satellite imagery.

Baghdad - Abu Ghraib v05

I learned a ton about QGIS working on this, too. I’d never done much with raster map data before, so this was basically Baby’s First Hillshade. In hindsight, as much as I like the final look there were definitely things I should have built differently — I ended up with a super-wonky workflow for adding new city points and one map in particular with insanely long render times.

Let’s hope the upcoming GEOlayers plugin for After Effects smooths out a lot of that process.


An Open Transit Map for Hudson County

Is the PATH down again and you need to find another way home? Want to show how limited transit options are in your neighborhood so you can fight for better service?

I’ve been hard at work on something that might help: a reasonably complete open map of all mass transit in Hudson County, free to use and adapt for your own purposes. At the moment the data’s set up as a series of shapefile layers in QGIS, and the project’s just been updated to work with the latest version (hyperthreading = so much faster).


When I say “reasonably complete” I mean it — trains (NJT + PATH), light rail, buses, ferries (NY Waterway, Liberty Landing, Statue Cruises),  even jitneys and smaller private bus companies like A&C.


There is more work to do, however: at the moment the map is still missing the Hoboken HOP bus, NY Waterway’s shuttle buses, and one bus from Pennsylvania that stops twice a day each way at Exchange Place. It’s also possible I’ll discover some other secret buses, as that’s happened several times so far — Hudson County is full of poorly documented transportation routes largely run on word of mouth. (You know it’s bad when I’m actually excited to discover a company’s website contains maps drawn in MS Paint, because at least that means there ARE maps).

The big goal of this project is to tie everything together in a clean digital format that can be adapted for a wide variety of uses. (That includes commercial use: if the smaller bus companies want to generate their own maps for riders based on the routes I drew for them, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.) Eventually the plan is to build some sort of slippy map you can interact with on the web, but right now we’re still on the “get everything in one place” stage.

This project started as part of OpenJC‘s Hack for Change National Day of Civic Hacking (I won!), but I’ve continued working on it for several weeks now. And I have learned A LOT about QGIS in the process. The best single tip I can offer is to use the OpenStreetMap plugin to download a dataset, but to skip the spatialite db conversion steps and just import the .osm as a vector layer. It seems a bit slower on the redraw, but no more missing streets!

I’ve also learned a lot about hierarchical design for complex maps. When I’m designing maps for television, they need to be simple and easy to interpret at a distance, so I’ve never had to fit so many different types of things on screen at once. Getting them all to harmonize in any remotely readable fashion has been a real challenge, but I think I’m getting there. I expect in the end many users will not even want all the layers enabled at once, but I’m trying to make things slightly less spaghetti-like if they do.

Also, if you randomize a bunch of settings, you can generate some neat abstract art with this thing:



Midway Map With FX

After Effects Before & After: The importance of a lot of adjustment layers

So I’m working on some maps for a film about naval aviation, and I was struck by how far one had evolved from the starting material.

Here’s how it looks at the moment:

Here’s the underlying vector map layer:

And even that map began life as a set of even more boring public domain vectors. Everything else is AE-generated. (And yes, the size of Hawaii and Midway are exaggerated slightly for increased visibility on your television screen. Shhhh.)

Nothing is finalized yet; the map that actually ends up in the film could be more different still.