Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
It’s one of many flashy design demos available on the new customizable map animation engine Tangram.
For the casual map fan, Mapzen’s new suite of animated global maps are sweet, delicious eye-candy. And for the developer or map-maker, they hint at cartographic possibilities hardly available until now.
Tangram is a map-making engine that allows users to create multi-dimensional, animated maps for free. It combines Mapzen’s new vector tile service, which chops up OpenStreetMap data into easily processed chunks, and WebGL, a fancy graphics renderer, to allow “real-time map design, display, and interactivity,” according to the Mapzen website. Peter Richardson, a Tangram developer, expands in an email:
All of these things together produce effects you'd normally only see in video games, data visualization, or VFX. The Tangram team is made up of representatives from all of these industries, and we're used to a certain level of control over graphics which hasn't been readily available in the map world, so we've been working to fix that.
To give a sense of what developers and cartographers can do with Tangram, Richardson and his team created a number of demos. Ever wondered what your city might look like after Neo takes the red pill? How about if it were stacked together with Legos? Permanently encrusted in glitter? Street grid turned Tron grid? Mapzen’s got those layers and more. (CityLab wrote about Mapzen’s Tron map in late March, after it had accidentally leaked.)
Richardson stresses that these effects aren’t necessarily intended for re-use; rather, they’re meant to inspire creativity with Tangram’s unprecedented level of interactive map-making control and flexibility. Still, even if you’re not about to sign up for Mapzen’s services, the imaginative maps are still plenty of fun to play with. There’s no location-search functionality on these embedded maps, but follow there is on the main Tangram page.