Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Owen Powell, August

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I am a GIS Consultant working for Arup in the UK, with a specialism in data engineering and 3D visualisation. I think I have an unusual background for someone in GIS, having studied Fine Art, and later 3D Modelling & Animation. I have a passion for art and design, and studied painting, photography, and architecture which I still love. 

I got into GIS by accident but found it fascinating, especially being able to join data together with spatial relationships. I learned Maya & Blender (thanks to Nick George if you’re out there!) before ever knowing GIS was a thing. 

I am one of the people responsible for the popularity of Blender in cartography in recent years, having developed and shared new workflows and techniques. 

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: I am slightly obsessed with Japan, and Japanese culture – it is so unique. I made this map of Hachijō-jima Island for no real reason other than to create something new and different, plus I love making maps of islands. In my work I try to do something different each time, and consider it a failure if I just repeat a style I’ve done before, or in the style of someone else. 

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: I had some help from @kenjirototsuji with finding the data, and navigating the complexities of Japanese GML schemas from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan.

The basis of the map was made with FME, in creating a surface as well as textures such as the coastal vignette. I love that FME gives you complete control and works with practically any format of data. FME is vital in my work, effectively extending the possibilities in Blender beyond the standard VFX and games industry data formats. 

The map is an orthographic render of a 3D model, made from triangulating contours and extruding 2d features (GML > FBX using FME). This is something I find myself doing more and more, because the resolution of elevation data rarely fits well with the available topographic data. If you create your own DEM raster or surface then there are opportunities to fill voids or smooth areas to match your intended map scale. 

With this map I used Blender’s node-based shader editor where you can mix map layers as textures to affect the way it reacts to light, for example with the roads, water, and the coastal vignette.