Traditional panorama preparation is undoubtedly one of the most difficult cartographic endeavors. Besides artistic talent, the panoramist must possess the ability to read 2D topographic source materials and translate this information into a graphical 3D representation that a lay audience can understand. That panoramas usually portray the most complex mountain topography only adds to the difficulty. Great amounts of time are required to complete a piece. It took Berann an average of six months to complete a large panorama while he worked concurrently on smaller projects (Vielkind, 1998). His NPS panoramas sometimes took several years to complete because of the time needed for planning and thorough reviews.


The preparation of a panorama begins modestly enough with paper, pencil, and topographic maps for reference. Then the process becomes much more involved. The following section explains the process for creating the panorama of Denali National Park, Alaska.

Berann held discussions with the NPS about the geographic coverage and best direction from which to view Denali. Herwig Schutzler of R.R. Donnelley Cartographic Services (now, Inc.), which was then a commercial contractor for the NPS, served as our German-speaking intermediary and project consultant. He also had a central role developing the three other NPS panoramas. Through Schutzler, the NPS told Berann that the panorama had to show: Mt. McKinley and the other major peaks of the central Alaska Range; the highway and railroad leading to the east entrance of the park (where the visitor center, hotels, and park headquarters are located); and the 137-kilometer-long road leading to Wonder Lake in the interior of the park. Altogether the planned panorama would show nearly the entire 24,000-square-kilometer extent of the park, an area slightly larger than Wales, U.K. The decision was made to view Denali from the southeast up the Susitna River valley to match the view most visitors see on their approach to the park from Anchorage. The southern flank of the Alaska Range contains the longest glaciers, most distinctive topography, and an area greater than the abrupt northern side. Also, the relatively narrow (but quite high) Alaska Range trends in an arc that opens to the southeast and forms a natural amphitheater for framing a northwest-oriented panorama.

Initial sketch

Berann next went to work on the initial pencil sketch that he would submit to the NPS for approval before he began painting. Referring primarily to contour maps, he sketched the terrain of the park to appear in 3D. He did this without the aid of computers or mechanical devices. On a sheet of paper he lightly drew radiating lines from a central observation point high above the Susitna River. These lines establish the field of view and serve as guides for sketching the terrain in perspective.

In drawing the initial sketch, Berann also referred to oblique aerial photographs, which were essential for the accurate depiction of vegetation, mountain textures, cultural features, and other surface details. While he sometimes drew field sketches from a helicopter, this was not possible for the Denali project because of Berann’s advanced age, the remoteness of the park, and prohibitively expensive travel costs. Instead, Berann relied heavily on oblique aerial photographs taken by Bradford Washburn, honorary director of the Boston Museum of Science, who has dedicated much of his career to mapping and photographing Mt. McKinley (Washburn and Roberts, 1991). Ironically, the exceptional clarity of Washburn’s photographs, which lacked normal amounts of atmospheric haze because of the extreme altitude, made it difficult for Berann to gauge distances when compiling the panorama (Troyer, 2000). Berann also referred to Washburn’s superbly detailed topographic map of Mt. Mckinley, produced in a collaboration with the National Geographic Society and the Swiss Federal Office of Topography, that featured realistic depictions of cliffs, scree slopes, and glacial moraines.

The initial pencil sketch of Denali, when it arrived, was not what the NPS had envisioned, even though it was well crafted and drawn exactly according to our instructions. (Figure 2) The Alaska Range itself occupied only 35 percent of the total area and, worse still, the entire foreground of the panorama was occupied by flat uninteresting land not even inside the park boundary. Vincent Gleason, then chief of the NPS Division of Publications, made a wise decision that salvaged the project: he asked Berann to crop away two thirds of the sketch, thereby focusing the scene on Mt. McKinley and its immediate environs. (Figure 3) Berann then produced another quick sketch to confirm the new viewing parameters—and reconfigured selected topographic features along the western (left) margin. (Figure 4)


Painting metamorphosed Denali from a mechanical drawing into a beautiful landscape. Berann painted the final panorama on a fresh sheet of heavy, coarse-grained white paper. First, he re-sketched the terrain for the entire panorama lightly in pencil with less detail than the initial pencil sketch. Painting was mostly done in gouache and tempera, which are opaque water-soluble paints, and generally progressed from top to bottom (background to foreground) in a patchwork fashion. Berann would complete one section of terrain, say, a ridge between two glaciers, before proceeding to the next. This production approach allowed Berann to make localized tonal adjustments on-the-fly as the entire panorama progressed. Also, a section-by-section approach to production undoubtedly gave him a gratifying series of minor accomplishments during the arduous months of painting. (Figure 5) Tissue paper, with a hole cut out of the center for access, was used to protect the panorama surface while he painted other sections (Wood, 2000).

The application of Denali’s colors occurred in four general stages: In the first stage, light washes were applied over the penciled line work to give basic color and shape to landforms. An airbrush was used to fill in the unadorned blue sky, which appears abruptly lighter near the horizon and becomes gradually lighter in value from right to left. The color of the land and sky are complementary and were chosen carefully to create a sense of depth. Clouds are nearly absent from Denali’s sky because of the prevalence of white already on McKinley’s snow-crowned summit. In the second stage, dark colors were applied to shadowed slopes with broad brush strokes to develop further the structure of landforms. Next, lighter pigments were used to paint highlights and surface details, and greens were used to depict forest and tundra vegetation. In a surprising touch, some highlights were lightly applied with a large, dry brush, with the stroke trending perpendicular to the slope of the land. This emphasized the fractured alpine texture. For the final stage, the difference between dark mood colors (shadows and forests) and light mood colors (clouds, atmospheric haze, and water glints) was stressed. Rivers and the few roads that existed were painted in last with a fine brush. The Denali panorama reveals no trace of its underlying pencil compilation. It was printed in process color at 100 percent of original size and measures 74 x 99 cm.

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