Looking Closer: A Guide to Making Bird’s-eye Views of National Park Service Cultural and Historical Sites

Tom Patterson, US National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center

Published in Cartographic Perspectives (No. 52, Fall 2005), the journal of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS).


The US National Park Service (NPS) has long used large-scale panoramas, also known as bird’s-eye views, to portray park sites where buildings and other human-made features are plentiful. This paper examines these bird’s-eye views, most of which were produced by nationally renowned contract illustrators in a wide range of artistic styles. Both their traditional and digital work receive attention. A brief historical review looks at the antecedents of current NPS products dating back to the Renaissance. The practical second half of the paper focuses on how the NPS now designs these bird’s-eye views with 3D software, with an eye toward cost savings. Topics include viewing parameters in a 3D scene, preparing DEMs, modeling buildings, designing trees, and creating environmental special effects. Two dozen full-color illustrations supplement the text.

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Article (PDF, 1.4MB) Gallery of NPS bird's-eye views

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