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, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Crop fields are computer chips and rivers are lightning bolts in this new short film.
“Powers of Ten,” the 1977 short film by Charles and Ray Eames, begins with an idyllic shot of a picnic in Chicago, captured from one meter away. As a narrator talks, the camera pulls back 10 meters, revealing a grassy lawn. It leaps again, this time 100 meters back, framing the neighborhood. Gradually, by powers of 10, the film opens up the city, the Mid-West, North America, Earth, and beyond—all the way to the edge of the known universe.
The film was a feat of the era’s technology, and a wondrous, human-positive take on the possibilities of satellite photography—now a pervasive feature of our digitally mapped world.
The world now has a kind of heir to “Powers of Ten” in the new short “Ripple,” which filmmaker and RISD student Conner Griffith has called an “advertisement for planet Earth.” Griffith has assembled and animated hundreds of shots of our planet’s open and developed surfaces, using imagery primarily from Google Earth but also Wikipedia, RISD’s collections, and Griffith’s personal photography.
With a clever soundtrack, the film creates echoes between Earth’s natural and built features. The sound of electricity crackles behind a rapid montage of lightning-shaped tributaries. Machines beep and boop as farmlands transition into computer chips.
At any scale, the film suggests, the world has only a few shapes to offer—a conclusion that seems only possible to reach in the era of satellite ubiquity.