Geography 970

January 29, 2010

Is Photorealism Always Good in Web Mapping?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fei Du @ 9:59 am

Computer graphics has already been widely used in the field of web mapping. Traditional computer graphics mainly focuses on photorealism. In order to make online 3D maps, people need to collect a large amount of geometry data (3D) models and texture (photos). Even doing so, sometimes the rendered scenes still makes people feel not good. An alternative way is to use photo-based maps instead of CG, for example, Google has street view map, Microsoft released bird eye view map.

A question is: is photorealism always the best choice?

In photorealist 3d maps or photo-based maps, it’s not very easy to integrate other thematic information because the content is already very busy. For example, if someone want to research on heat island effect (heat of the building and roads), it is difficult to overlay those information on top of a building or road. Also, it is not easy to visualize a detailed 3d map on mobile devices because the screen is small. Another issue I can think of is privacy protection. Sometimes the information given by photorealist maps is too detailed that peoples’ privacy is invaded.

I recently read about an article on non-photorealistic rendering (NPR). This is an area of computer graphics that focuses on a wide variety of expressive styles for digital art. Different from traditional computer graphics, NPR is inspired by artistic styles such as painting, drawing, technical illustration, and animated cartoons. Here is an image provide by the article.

LandXplorer Images

Clearly, non-photorealistic rendering provides better visual abstraction. It seems closer to our traditional definition of a map. Most importantly, we have a lot of places to overly other thematic information by adjusting visual variables. It can offer another perspective of world (maybe artistic perspective). I believe it is not always good that everything looks exactly the same as what they are in the real world. For example, for children, a non-photorealistic map seems vivid.

Non-photorealistic computer graphics provides an option for web mapping applications. 

The article:



  1. “Clearly, non-photorealistic rendering provides better visual abstraction.”

    I think you have the key point, right there. The world is messy and complicated; maps and other representations are valuable and useful because they simplify it and abstract it. Though Ed Parsons might disagree.

    Comment by Daniel Huffman — January 29, 2010 @ 10:45 am

    • As a counterpoint (just to play devil’s advocate here) – Ever read any of Allan Collinson’s stuff? In the late 1990’s he was advocating “truth” in cartographic representation.

      In one case, he puts forth a few visualizations as examples. I think you can still find them on this website. Most were near-photorealistic renderings
      of landscapes with dramatic skies, lighting and atmosphere. He argued that we should make maps (and 3D renderings) look “real”.

      (I think this is the article: Collinson, A. (1997). ‘Virtual Worlds’, The Cartographic Journal, 34, 117–24.)

      Comment by Tim Wallace — January 29, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

  2. A platform for abstracting a three-dimensional spatial inventory would be very helpful in applying thematic components to an existing landscape. For example, changing the building color in a 3D view, so the user could identify tornado shelters, would save the need for apply pushpins or other visual markers that occupy valuable screen real estate.

    Comment by Jeremy White — January 31, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

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