History of Animated Maps

The history of animated maps is very much tied to the history of computers. Early examples of animated maps were produced in the 1930s using hand drawn, cel based techniques borrowed from cartoon animation. Because these manual techniques were exceptionally time consuming, academic cartographers and computer scientists started experimenting with the potential of computer assisted animation surprisingly early (late 1950s) and by 1970 Waldo Tobler had created a path breaking oblique perspective 3 D animation of anticipated population growth in Detroit. Even more remarkable was that Tobler's map was not created to present known facts, but rather was a research tool to better understand the process itself – an exploratory activity that today would be recognized as geovisualization.

In the 1970s, the advent of VCR technology meant that animated maps could now be copied and distributed easily and cheaply (compared to celluloid film). It also allowed map viewers rudimentary control over playback. However, it was not until the PC revolution of the late 1980s that animated maps finally came into their own: The desktop PC – with its graphical user interface, realtime interactivity, standardized file formats, and off theshelf software – finally armed cartographers with a powerful tool for making animated maps, and viewers a means for watching and interacting with them. The last piece of the puzzle, product distribution, was solved by the rise of the Internet in the 1990s. No longer tied to physical media, web based animated maps could now be 'made' on demand and sent around the world in a blink of an eye at minimal cost to either the producer or the consumer. The drive to automate the production of maps (including animated maps) has been a significant topic of research in Geographic Information Science (GIScience) in the last decade, although a number of technological and conceptual hurdles must still be addressed (the latter being significantly harder to address than the former).