Fine Art Photographer Lena Herzog commissioned me to develop a series of animated maps to show locations where languages are dying or becoming extinct for her VR experience and museum installation, Last Whispers, an immersive oratorio composed by Academy Award winning sound designers. It started purely as an audio piece and the challenge was to breathe context-appropriate visuals into it. My role evolved beyond map-maker to Designer + Animator (25 minutes of content within a 45 min. museum video) and Art Director for the VR piece.
To best evoke a celebration of language and culture alongside its haunting loss, I designed the maps as living entities that evolve from 2D simplicity to 3D complexity before churning into chaos and dissolving. We used metaphors from space, such as the birth and death of stars, to communicate the life-cycle of language and culture, and to shift between the intimacy of a single whisper to a global species perspective.
In my creative non-fiction work, I strive for a balance between information, feeling, and story. My guiding design philosophy was to build the visuals on a foundation of accurate real-world data, and then to playfully layer in more sensory and poetic details to communicate the feeling and concepts of the piece.
This project inspired a deep dive into map-making practices and methods. I pieced together U.S. government land satellite imagery to create super high-resolution (16K) photographic maps, used open source mapping software to extract images of all the major roads across the world as the base map for a web-like outline textures, integrated NASA mapping imagery, and created custom terrain textures from painted water sea foam, waves, moss, particles, stars, and clouds.
Working at super high resolution allowed us to shift perspectives from extreme close-ups to wide shots and to repurpose many of the assets when recreating part of the project as a VR experience in Unreal. We collaborated with Emblematic Group to create the prototype demo and are in the process of building out a longer experience.