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Designing 3D Terrain Maps

Presenter(s):  Tom Patterson

Abstract: This talk will provide practical advice about designing obliquely-viewed 3D terrain maps for use on static computer displays or in print. The emphasis is on small-scale views of mountainous landscapes without buildings and other cultural minutiae. I will start with cautionary advice on whether to attempt 3D terrain mapping, which requires considerably more time and expense than planimetric mapping of the same area. The availability of good data, terrain that is suitable for 3D depiction, and the map purpose are all factors in this decision.  Next, I will discuss scene setup. Once a digital elevation model is loaded in your 3D software, adjusting the virtual camera for direction of view, pitch, and lens focal length are key considerations. I will wrap up with a discussion of graphic embellishments to 3D terrain maps, all of which are performed in Adobe Photoshop. Topics include background haze and foreground shadows, sun glints on water surfaces, clouds, and horizon curvature.

Key Takeaway: Attendees will come away with an understanding of the interrelated variables that go into designing effective and visually-stunning 3D landscape maps.

Intended Audience: The session is for both the makers of 3D maps and those who enjoy using them. Instruction will be software-agnostic. There are no technical prerequisites.

About the presenter(s):

Tom Patterson recently retired as Senior Cartographer at the U.S. National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center. He has an M.A. in Geography from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Presenting terrain on maps is Tom's passion. He maintains the ShadedRelief.com website and is the co-developer of the Natural Earth cartographic dataset and the Equal Earth projection for world maps. Tom is Executive Director of the North American Cartographic Information Society and Vice Chair of the International Cartographic Association, Commission on Mountain Cartography.