December 30, 2012
Modeling an avalanche

Last week I posted a video from Jeremy White, loosely describing how he turned LIDAR data into a stunning model of Tunnel Creek. But more modeling yet went into showing exactly where the avalanche happened and how it traveled. My colleague Graham Roberts added trees, elevation lines and an actual model of the avalanche – its shape, depth, and size — as it flowed down the mountain. (The Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research created the model specifically for this project.)

Below, a set of drafts that show the animation at various points along completion. These are courtesy of Graham, who rendered these in 3D, and Hannah Fairfield, one of the project’s editors.

Contrast these to the version that made it into the project (I failed at internet in trying to post that video here, but it looks better on the Snow Fall page anyway). You’ll see that they added elevation lines, toned back the background sound a bit and added a faint “tick” to help show the speed of the avalanche as it moved down the mountain. 

December 22, 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.

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