22 Dec 2012

Making a mountain out of a mountain of data

The NYT published its Snow Fall project this week. (You’ve seen it, right?)  It’s a large, immersive and complex multimedia storytelling piece by more than a dozen people. I had zero (zilch, none, undefined) to do with it, but I do have a blog, and Jeremy White, one of the folks responsible for the 3D animated flyover in the first chapter (it’s a video, not a gif), made a relatively face-melting video showing how it came to pass:

For those interested in making these on your own, it may be dispiriting to learn that Jeremy is all-but-dissertation in a PhD program for cartography and we are not. But he told me he didn’t use a ton of proper GIS for this – mostly 3D and data skills. (I don’t buy it totally, but whatever.)

In short, he made a 3D mesh in 3ds max from King County LIDAR data, added and georeferenced satellite imagery from the USGS, added some snow and atmospheric conditions (like fog) with V-Ray, thew in a touch of color correction, sent it to the department’s render farm (16 Mac Pros), and 48 hours later, boom, a 43 second video. Simple! (Obviously, it’s not; it took weeks.)

For those of you with extreme technical questions, Jeremy’s on Twitter and he loves talking about this stuff all day long. I sit right next to him, so I know.