Animated mapping

Animated mapping is the application of animation, either computer or video, to add a temporal component to a map displaying change in some dimension. Most commonly the change is shown over time, generally at a greatly changed scale (either much faster than real time or much slower). An example would be the animation produced after the 2004 tsunami showing how the waves spread across the Indian Ocean.


The concept of animated maps began in the 1930s, but did not become more developed by cartographers until the 1950s (Slocum et al. 2005). In 1959, Norman Thrower published Animated Cartography, discussing the use of animated maps in adding a new dimension that was difficult to express in static maps: time. These early maps were created by drawing "snap-shots" of static maps, putting a series of maps together to form a scene and creating animation through photography tricks (Thrower 1959). Such early maps rarely had an associated scale, legends or oriented themselves to lines of longitude or latitude (Campbell and Egbert 1990).

With the development of computers in the 1960s and 1970s, animation programs were developed allowing the growth of animation in mapping. Waldo Tobler created one of the first animations, using a 3-D computer generated map to portray population growth over a specified time in Detroit (Tobler 1970). Hal Moellering created another animated map in 1976 representing a spatiotemporal pattern in traffic accidents (Slocum et al. 2005).

Further development in animated map was stalled until the 1990s due to a lack of animation in academics, financial restrictions on research, and lack of distribution means (Campbell and Egbert 1990). In the 1990s, however, the invention of faster, more efficient computers, compact discs and the Internet solved such problems.

Visual variables

With the growth of animated mapping came the development of guidelines for creating animated maps. Visual variables such as spacing, lightness and shape used for static maps apply. However, in 1991, David DiBiase and colleagues developed visual variables unique to animated maps: duration, rate of change and order. Duration is the unit of time a frame or scene is displayed, affecting the smoothness of the animation. The shorter a frame is displayed, the smoother the animation will appear (Slocum et al. 2005). Smoothness of animation is also a function of the rate of change (Slocum et al. 2005). Order refers to the time sequence in which animation is played out, usually presented in chronological sequence (Slocum et al. 2005). Alan MacEachren extended these visual variables in 1995 to include display date (time at which change is initiated), frequency (number of times identifiable forms are displayed) and synchronization (correspondence of 2 or more time series) (Slocum et al. 2005).


Animated maps can emphasize the existence of an occurrence at a location, emphasize an attribute of an occurrence or representing change in the position or attributes of an occurrence (DiBiase 1992). For instance, a flashing symbol may be used to draw the map-reader’s attention to a particular occurrence at one location or multiple location across the map. Maps on the weather channel use animation to emphasize current and predicted paths of hurricanes.

The use of the Internet has allowed animated maps to become interactive. The user can witness representations of changes over time, while manipulating the direction of view, the pace or the parameters of the map displayed (MacEachren 1998).

Animation on Maps can be mainly divided into two types: temporal or not.

Temporal map animation

Temporal map animation shows the ongoing gradual changes over time. Temporal maps can also be termed as animated timeline maps and can be a useful reference to examine the changes ongoing on each step and analyze the progression occurring gradually as time passes.

There are many purposes which temporal animation might serve to depict: displaying and analyzing geographic patterns, meteorological events, climate, natural disasters, and other multivariate data.

Importance of Legend in Temporal Maps: As in the case of static maps, it would be useful if temporal maps could also be provided with proper legend. Legends for temporal maps should not only tell the time but also let user travel over the time. Various manipulations such as traveling to a certain point in time, selecting focus level etc. should be allowed to enhance user friendliness.

Using legend in temporal map will answer important questions related to the entity’s existence (if?), the entity’s location (when?), time intervals (how long?), temporal texture (how often), speed at which change takes place (how fast?), and the order of change (what order?) (MacEachren, 1995).

Depending upon their construction, animated legends may distract the viewer from the animated map. Care must be taken to integrate the legend in an unobtrusive fashion.

Non-temporal map animation

Non-temporal map animation shows changes against some other variables other than time. The variable might be place, position, generalization level etc. Non –temporal animation also serves when there is a need to show both the data set and the transformation that has been applied on it for its display.

Non- temporal animation can be of many types according to the purpose they serve:

1) Fly through animation: This type of animation gives the viewer the feeling of flying through the landscape.

2) Cartographic zoom animation: This type of animation shows maps at different focus level and viewer can change the scale of the map as desired.

3) Classification animation: Different methods of data classification are depicted in this animation.

4) Generalization animation: This type of animation uses single classification method with multiple classes of data.

Time is an important aspect in both animations. Real time is depicted in temporal animation and presentation time (time to show the animation) is associated with non-temporal animation.

Modern Animated Mapping of History

In recent Years there has been a growing interest in Mapping of Historical events. The entire History of the Human race on this Planet has been Mapped by changing Frames year by year on a Map. The Maps are made in a Computer Art Program and are then Animated to change the slides every Year. The end result may be uploaded to Social Networking Websites such as Youtube.

See also


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