Get a GPS

My latest adventure in the world of children’s educational artwork surrounds a certain problem.

“What is a map and how do you use one?”

I spent the last several weeks working on a small educational movie about maps. I for one love maps. In another life I may have chosen the route of a cartographer. I was over the moon excited when this assignment landed on my desk. Of course I was hoping that I would be creating maps outlining a path from here to the moon. Nevertheless, it was a gig that held my attention.
In the middle of illustrating the artwork for this job I was plucked out of NY rather suddenly and sent to Chicago on business. As a result, I had the sublime opportunity to visit the Maps exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum. There are very few things more fun than expensing away a day where you get the chance to study A.A.Milnes’ Hundred Acre Wood, peruse Limberg’s flight chart and learn about years of groundbreaking art with rock solid meaning. One of the reasons I grew up to be an animator is that I love work that connects art with science. Scientific Illustration leaves me enthralled. If you love control in chaos as much as I do you will love this exhibit at the Field Museum. If you get a chance to see the Maps in Chicago PUHLEESE go! If that particular field trip is out of the question hopefully, in its own humble way, this blog entry will help 🙂
We started out with the simple problem of a kid’s birthday party. Remember the cutesy invites you used to get as a child? They usually came with a little map to the house so your mom didn’t get lost on Kaneohe Drive tearing her hair out while you cried in the backseat In your best dress. Our writer pulled together an adorable script with a map of the neighborhood and a children’s invite to ‘Becca’s Party.’ Neither character knows how to get to Madison Park. Unfortunately neither knows how to read a map either. Usually that’s how we get the learning kick started.

To introduce the concept of a map we ask the question,

“What is a map?”

Our answer is that a map is a tool that shows details about an area.

A map can show continents:

Or countries :
or states (these were all incredibly therapeutic to draw)
Or towns and cities

Maps can also show streets, roads and landmarks: Here’s where we bring back the kiddie map. I LOVE the kiddie map. It was my favorite to draw. Deciding what every little landmark would look like in the key was a thrill. It was a little like developing Hanna Stamps! It takes a totally different mindset to decide what is representative and what will look best when it’s boiled down to a tinsy one-inch square. When I was developing the Hanna Stamps! I really started to flex that muscle. Of course, as this map makes very clear, everything’s cuter on a petite scale.

Our next question asked what type of maps exist.

The script totally blew my mind here. I never think of a globe as being a map, but guess what? . . .

It is!

These are the other types of maps I pulled together for the project.

We spend a good long time in this latest film talking about map keys and explaining how they work. This was the most time consuming of all of the work I did for this project. The problem with keys is that once you make them you actually have to follow them. Since we have such a young audience, kindergarten to third grade, I had to make sure they were fairly easy to read while presenting a somewhat accurate representation of what a real map looks like.

As an illustrator I’m used to making up stuff all the time. If i need a girl in a hot air balloon I draw one. I don’t need to look at a picture because it will too greatly influence my creative process. However, with maps you can’t pull stuff out of thin air. There weren’t any maps that I could find that made creating a new map too easy. They couldn’t be too complicated and they had to have keys. In the end I pieced together bits of information from all over to create new maps. They look pretty but they lack any form of true information. Everything is made up and for the most part it’s all hypothetical. This bothers me when I go to bed at night, but in the daytime I agree with my colleagues that these maps were only SAMPLES of maps can look like. This way the World’s children will grow up into fine map-reading adults.

To bring everything home we spent a lot of time discussing directions and how there are sometimes multiple ways to get to the same place. The witty banter that ensued was pretty great and totally sweet to animate.

The fun part was making little paths with arrows and circles to show how a compass rose works and knocking in the North, South, East, West thing into their heads. There was a nice bit where I got to animate the characters vowing to Never Eat Soggy Waffles which involved about a quart of maple syrup. I love my job.

Tune in in next month, where I’m gonna teach you about telling time to the hour! Woot.

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