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Reprinted from Geo Info Systems

Mountain High Maps

Articles written by Grant Thrall and Mark McLean of the University of Florida.

Mountain High Maps® (Digital Wisdom, P O Box 11, Tappahannock VA 22560, telephone 800-800-8560 or 804-443-9000, fax 413-639-3999, WWW http://www.digiwis.com) DVD's of map clip art for Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh platforms. A fast central processing unit and a high-resolution video graphics accelerator are required, as is Adobe Photoshop software. Retail price $495.

Digital Wisdom's (Tappahannock, Virginia) Mountain High Maps® is a collection of terrestrial and submarine shaded-relief maps. The software also includes a variety of masks that, when imported into image processing programs, enables the detailed manipulation of separate parts of the images. In addition, Mountain High Maps® provides a multitude of detailed vector line maps that can be overlaid with the relief maps or used alone. Mountain High Maps® is designed to work like clip art for graphic and desktop publishing software, but to call this new geographic technology clip art does injustice to the work.

The process used to generate the shaded relief images in Mountain High Maps® is seldom seen in our digital technology age. Digital Wisdom's map image databases were created from three-dimensional physical moles using detailed survey information. These physical models were then lit from optimum angles, photographed and transferred to raster image files. This approach allowed for a great deal of control over the lighting and overall appearance of the models when the photos were taken. The maps have been designed using specific projections and vertical exaggeration factors optimized for individual regions. The projection and vertical exaggeration used for an individual country or small region of the globe will be different from that used for a map showing the entire world. The final images are very attractive and give the appearance of being extremely accurate.

Mountain High Maps® includes a wide variety of maps, including images of specific portions of Great Britain and other European countries; smaller-scale maps of continents, ocean basins, and the world in numerous globe views; and flat map projections. Mountain High Maps® also includes preshaded relief and political maps, in a polished format suitable for immediate use without image manipulation.

The large number of map image types bundles together makes it easy to add attractive, seemingly customized maps to published documents. Mountain High Maps® ' animated rotating and fly-by globe scenes - played using QuickTime (Apple, Cupertino, California) for either Microsoft Windows (Redmond, Washington) or some of the greatest gee-whiz maps we've seen in ages; the sequences are simply out-of-this-world gorgeous. The globe animation is compatible with most multimedia applications, especially those constructed using Director software. The software also provides many resolutions and frame rates to cater to available hardware.

Mountain High Maps® includes a large assortment of masks for most of the more than 70 map images included with the software. Masks include country boundaries, city locations, coastlines, rivers and graticules, as well as show and vignette masks. These masks allow the maps to be edited at a subimage level so that various parts of the image can be easily colored. The key word is easily. The desktop publisher nee cartographer can color each country differently, or color submarine areas differently from terrestrial areas.

Importing raster images. The raster relief images in Mountain High Maps® are files in bitmap format (.tiff, .jpg, .bmp) that can be imported into a wide variety of programs, including desktop publishers and graphic software programs. Digital Wisdom has customized the vector graphics included with their map images to take advantage of some of the more useful features of FreeHand. If you are going to use Mountain High Maps® vector format offerings, then you must also consider adding Illustrator to your stable of Software productivity tools.

Although the product is designed to be accessible from several different software programs, Adobe's Photoshop really brings out the most in the relief images. Photoshop is necessary for optimal editing of the shaded relief raster maps; of the image editing programs referenced in the software manual, Photoshop has the most advanced capabilities. Subtle color contrast, brightness and sharpness adjustments were possible with Photoshop, which can really make a difference in the appearance and professional look of a map. Photoshop also allows the interactive use of masks and even the simultaneous use of several masks through multiples channels. Countries can be independently highlighted or shadowed, borders, coastlines, and rivers can be added separately. Masks can even be preserved with the image, allowing the entire project to be saved and reopened.

Customizing vector files. Vector line work in Mountain High Maps® includes city and country names, graticule, scale bars, rivers, and political boundaries. Vector data and raster relief images open in separate layers. Redrawing time is affected by the resolution selected for the task at hand; final image printing must be made at the resolution in which the map was edited. Vector files are accessible from any graphics software program capable of importing Adobe Illustrator formats.

For Mountain High Maps®' vector line work, Illustrator is a near-necessity. Illustrator allows the greatest degree of manipulation and has the most time-saving features, particularly in its use of layers. Mountain High Maps® layers separate groups of objects in the vector files. Lakes can be separate from rivers, which can be separate from country borders and city names. The files that open in FreeHand are separated into categorized layers; characteristics such as font, line weight and fill color can be changed for all objects in a category at once rather than individually.

FreeHand is also essential for taking advantage of the vector files included with Mountain High Maps® because the attributes of the raster relief image can be manipulated without having to exit the program and open a paint program. Illustrator can use vector line boundaries to differentiate portions of an image to be colored separately, similar to a mask in Photoshop. An image can be given many different colors in many different regions without ever having to leave the graphics program. This feature makes it convenient for creating choropleth maps, such as colored geopolitical maps.

File sizes can become larger as the resolution increases - and larger still when the masks are saved. Mountain High Maps® scores high marks for providing flexibility in resolution and, therefore, image file size. The CD-ROM's offer low resolution images at 72 dots per inch, which is adequate for display on most computer screens, and high resolution images at 300 dots per inch, which is adequate for most printing applications.

References and system requirements. The documentation provided with Mountain High Maps® is excellent. The CD's come with a printed manual as well as several "readme" programs that install with their own icons. The readme programs are interactive, easy to use, and quite informative. The manual is clear and comprehensive, and includes numerous tables and diagrams showing the organization of and information within the files on the CD-ROM's, as well as detailed explanations of how to use the image files with specific programs. Also included is educational information about general cartography, map projections, print resolutions and system hardware and software recommendations.

The system requirements listed in the manual should be evaluated on the basis of Digital Wisdom's desire to be inclusive of all potential users. In reality, a low-end 486 with 8 megabytes of RAM may be able to display images, but the images could not be edited, and most users would lose interest before the image was fully displayed. Mountain High Maps®' images are very RAM-intensive, and when combined with the image editing software, very CPU-intensive. The desktop computer should not be forced to use the hard drive for virtual memory because then even the simplest action can take massive amounts of time.

The system we used for our review was an Intel-Pentium 150 platform with 16 megabytes of RAM and Microsoft Windows 95. Our configuration was adequate only for low-resolution images. We then upgraded the machine to 32 megabytes of RAM, which increased performance to marginally acceptable levels. If Mountain High Maps® is to be used routinely in high resolution mode, we would strongly recommend a system with lots of megabytes of RAM.

Mountain High Maps® fills a niche that will be increasingly important in coming years. It provides the material necessary to make high-quality, color-customized relief maps without having to be a veteran cartographer or geographic information systems (GIS) analyst. Mountain High Maps® must be used with both Adobe Photoshop; the resulting combination of features offers the ability to create maps with a professional look that is otherwise very difficult and expensive to produce.

Digital Wisdom also offers Frontiers, a less demanding and less expensive version of Mountain High Maps® that includes only the vector line maps.

Mountain High Maps® could add just the right touch to a color brochure or multimedia presentation. It provides the materials to produce some of the most impressive map images we've seen and is a worthy addition to any digital graphics library.

For more information, call 800-800-8560 or write Digital Wisdom, Inc., Box 11, Tappahannock, VA 22560. In Europ-0104

Reproduced from issue February 1997 of Geo Info Systems ©1997 Copyright Advanstar Communications.

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