Starting in the fall of 1978, the MIT group descended upon Aspen three times, drawn by the city’s simple gridlike road patterns and easy attitude toward cameras–and the fact that it was a beautiful place they all wanted to visit. Mohl, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the movie map, says that the group had to rig many of the systems needed to create it. For example, team members drove the streets of Aspen trailing a bicycle wheel that triggered cameras on the vehicle’s roof to take photographs every 10 feet; the resulting navigational footage served as the spine of the map. Others in the group photographed every façade in Aspen, interviewed locals, recorded sound bites, and collected facts. By stringing this material onto the backbone footage, they effectively allowed viewers to stop the car and check out a building.
The result got enthusiastic reactions. “We showed it to a lot of people, and everyone saw in it something different,” Lippman says. “They were not seeing a defense-funded mapping program. They were seeing the answer to their own visions of interactivity. … This was global thermonuclear interactivity.”
Michael Naimark, SM ‘79, who worked on the Aspen project and then made similar maps for more than a decade, says, “One could argue that the roots of two movements went through the Aspen movie map in the earliest days: the roots of multimedia and the roots of virtual reality.”
EveryScape, a maker of interactive online maps, was inspired by the Aspen movie map, says Mok Oh, PhD ‘02, the founder and chief technology officer. In tribute, EveryScape launched with Aspen as one of four featured cities. And Oh hired filmmaker John Borden, who worked on the original project, to create the camera rig for EveryScape’s cars.
The Aspen project and its heirs “can help change people’s perceptions of geography,” says Borden. “You can go through a book and see a picture of a pyramid, but now, with what Mok is doing, you can explore the pyramid.”