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Reprinted from Communications Arts

Map-making With Computers

For those not inclined to original cartography, there are a number of electronic map products for use with Macintoshes and PCs. For most purposes though, the maps sold in clip art packages are insufficient.

One superlative product, however, is Mountain High Maps, published by Digital Wisdom, Tappahannock, Virginia. Distributed on two CD-ROMs, the set features over 100 relief maps - both flat map projections and globe projections. Each grayscale map is distributed in three resolutions-72 dpi, 100 dpi and 300 dpi - and with various masks for ocean and land areas. The product sells for just under $1,000. These maps have been used in the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, Scientific American, CNN, European Television, as well as by advertising agencies, school book publishers, travel guides, etc.

These stunning maps have a fascinating history. Back in the 1960s, an English company called Geographical Projects Ltd., launched an ambitious project of creating detailed and accurate models of the continents and ocean floors of the world. Working from high-quality survey data, a team of cartographers and modeling artists created scale models. Each contour was carefully cut out of thin sheets of modeling material, which were then aligned and stacked on top of each other, building up a topographic relief view. Once checked for accuracy, the contour layers were smoothed, a process that transformed the model into a realistic view of the planet. Ocean floors, as well as continents were modeled in relief, and masks for the oceans were also created. The models were then lighted from a constant direction and shot using glass negatives to maintain the integrity of the models.

Digital Wisdom acquired the rights to the map images and started the two-year process of selecting images, cleaning negatives, scanning and retouching for publication as a CD-ROM. Images were digitized on a calibrated scanner and image retouchers corrected imperfections in Adobe Photoshop. The retouched images were examined by geographers, which revealed some alterations to the landscape, such as changes in river areas, since the original data was collected. Each of the maps was brought up to date by digital retouching.

Now Digital Wisdom has created a companion product, Mountain High Map Frontiers, a set of political maps that correspond to the relief maps.

For more information, call 800-800-8560 or write Digital Wisdom, Inc., Box 11, Tappahannock, VA 22560.

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