By combining modern mapping data with vintage maps in the public domain, John (also known as longitude.onemaps on Instagram) creates gorgeous visualizations of different countries, continents, islands, and individual states. John emphasizes a variety of data sources in his maps, sometimes opting to represent the geographic composition of an area with a color palette, or instead choosing to highlight the topographic features of a place instead. The end result is a fascinating combination of meticulous, hand-drawn vintage maps made by the United States Geological Survey mixed with modern mapping data visualized through photo-realistic 3D rendering software. These maps are a great example of what kind of effect can be accomplished by merging the new with the old, and serve as an excellent demonstration and reminder of just how far mapping technology has come.
John runs an Etsy shop by the name of 4DMAPART, where he offers prints of his maps in many different styles and sizes.
I reached out and asked some questions about his maps, and John was kind enough to spend some time to answer my inquiries about his workflow, inspiration, and general process behind his maps. Read on below…
Interview with John
Boris: What inspired you to start making these maps?
John: I have been interested in Digital 3D software for a long time as I was always blown away by the way the ability to create photo realistic images out of ‘nothing’. A few years back I stumbled upon a tutorial to use digital elevation data in 3D rendering software to create realistic representations of topographic areas. Combining this technique by overlaying the digital elevation data with the publicly available vintage maps created a interesting effect and is adding (in my pov) a new element to the use of maps.
Boris: These maps seem like they would take a good bit of knowledge to create in terms of various technologies and software used. Did your professional background lend itself to you making these maps, or is it something you picked up elsewhere?
John: I have no background whatsoever in Geology, Topography or IT. I always had an interest in Photoshop, technology in general and a healthy persistence to figure things out. In order to make these maps I had to learn using GIS and render software from scratch so that took a bit of time….:-)
Boris: Many of these maps blend an old fashioned style that’s reminiscent of old, hand-drawn atlases with a clearly modern, high-tech visualization of the actual geography. What led to the decision of blending this old style with the new?
John: I am not the pioneer in this field by any means. Others have done this as well. For the vintage style maps, the underlying maps already exist and are publicly available on sites form the United States Geological Service (USGS). Using these maps as a base, adding a digital elevation model (DEM) and rendering them in 3D software to create realistic lighting is what creates the desired effect. A large portion of the effect is created by the exaggeration of the elevation. While the elevation model is based on actual elevation data, the elevation shown in these maps are out of proportion to show the viewer the contours of the topography of the area that the map represents.
Boris: It seems pretty time consuming to create one of your maps. How long would you say it takes on average to make one?
John: It really depends on the base map and the available digital elevation data. Older maps are often not georeferenced which means that you would need to teach the software on how to connect the digital elevation data with the actual coordinates on the map which can be a time consuming process. Depending on the map in can take 1-3 days to create a map.
Boris: Can you speak to some of the data represented in the maps? There are different colors, topographic lines, and various other details that seem to convey many layers of information…
John: The meaning of colors and lines on the map are in most cases derived from the nature of the underlying base map. I use a lot of geological maps where the colors represent the age of the different rock formations for example. Certain lines represent in some case difference in elevation. For maps where I don’t use a vintage base map the different colors are called hypsometric tints where the different colors represent the difference in elevation. These maps are more artistic representation (but based on real elevation data) as I choose the color palette based on what I find appealing.
Boris: How do you decide which location to dedicate to a new map? Do you have a particular attachment to the areas you create maps of?
John: This is a good question and it differs. Sometimes it is the color palette of a vintage map that attracts me. Another important factor is the topography. Areas which have a natural interesting elevation profile lend themselves better than areas with little of no elevation. So areas that have mountains or stark differences in elevation create a much more interesting effect than areas that have a flat geography. The final result of the look of a map only reveals itself once you start rendering the map and it happens quite often that I discard a result because it does not have the intended effect.
Boris: Have you branched out past map-making in your 3D visualization endeavors?
John: I am always tinkering with new 3D ideas, mostly as a hobby but have not branched out beyond maps at this point. Too little time!
Boris: Do you have any advice for those who would like to try their own hand at making something like these maps?
John: Yes, there are a number of good tutorials out there that can get people started fairly quickly, however, patience and the willingness to learn new software is a must!
In addition, to these vintage/modern combination maps, John also creates more sparse, minimalist maps. These maps consist of just the 3D render, and do not include the merging of this visualization with any underlying vintage map. These maps serve as excellent wall art, and can sometimes even look like an abstract watercolor painting from a distance.
A big thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions and give us all a little bit of insight into the process behind his maps. Be sure to check out John’s instagram account, and Etsy shop (4DMAPART), where he sells prints of his many maps in various formats and sizes.