Long Distance: Building the Map

Earth surface
Earth surface image downloaded from NASA’s Blue Marble website.

We have two full pages – a magazine spread – to devote to the story and informational graphic. Each will use about half of the available space.

Here’s a quick sketch of how the graphic might work. Integrating it with the story text seems to be a good approach, given its shape and the length of the story.

First comp
Rough sketch of proposed design.

The arc represents a view of the South Pacific from orbit. The distances involved are extraordinary. The horizontal line at the base of the page will represent the distance from eastern Indonesia to a point southeast of Auckland, New Zealand, about 4,800 miles – nearly one-fifth the circumference of the Earth. Moving the point of view several thousand miles above the surface will reveal the curvature of the Earth and establish the scale more effectively than any flat map could do.

If you’re curious, the distance was measured with Google Map’s distance measuring tool.

In Terragen, we’ll use two images from NASA’s Blue Marble web page to model the surface of the Earth: a color image of the surface (which appears at the top of this post), and a black and white elevation map.

Terragen Tutorial: Rendering a Realistic Planet Earth.

The elevation map uses luminosity to indicate altitude: The brighter the area, the higher the altitude. With the camera in position about 26,000 miles above Australia, here is how the surface appears with the elevation map mapped as a black and white image:

South Pacific elevation image
NASA’s elevation image mapped to the Earth’s surface. The bright areas are high elevations.

Switching the effect from image to surface displacement, we can see how the bright areas turn into elevations. The ridge near center left is the mountainous spine of Papua New Guinea:

South Pacific displacement
Surface elevations mapped and rendered in Terragen. Papua New Guinea at center left; New Zealand at lower right.

Now, after adding the surface image, atmosphere, and clouds:

South Pacific rendering
Final rendering of the South Pacific.

With TeleGeography’s map as a guide, the submarine cable network and other information is overlaid in Adobe Illustrator:

South Pacific cables
Rendering of South Pacific, with cable routes overlaid in Illustrator.

A new comp uses the completed map with a wireframe rendering of the O3b satellite, which we’ll turn to next.

Second comp
The second comp, using the completed surface rendering overlaid with cable routes and callouts.