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.