Student story: Berlin Wall – An animated story on a 3D model

With our project “Mapping the Berlin Wall” we aimed to create an artistic cartographic product by combining different traditional and modern mapping methods. By combining a 3D terrain model and a projection we wanted to show one of the most significant historical periods in Berlin, the Cold war.

All of us have seen maps in museums and exhibition areas, which try to explain and show various dynamic processes and their geographical aspects. Some of them are traditional static maps, some of them – interactive ones, and others – 3D maps. But what if we combine the advantages of these maps into one map? Like this, we can give people better insight into a theme and make them a part of the event itself. All this has inspired and motivated us to create a 3D model and project dynamic processes related to the Berlin Wall on top of the model.

Before we could start making this 3D model we first had to design everything and figure out how to project the story on the 3D model.

With an approximate scale and an extent based on the size of the laser cutting machines, we could establish what area of Berlin we could include in our model. After doing some research we determined the most important locations and buildings in the heart of Berlin that would fit in the extent of our model. Based on this extent and the locations we created the storyline that we could later project on the 3D model.

Preparing the files for the laser cutter

With the use of the OpenStreetMap data of Berlin, we were able to calculate the approximate height of each building with the number of floors. In Adobe Illustrator we created a map consisting of several layers, each layer representing one layer of wood of 3mm thickness. By cutting out these layers and stacking them we would be able to build a 3D model. The landmarks of Berlin were designed separately so they would be more detailed and realistic and people looking at the map would easily be able to orientate themselves.

One of the most exciting and core parts of our project was building the 3D model created from wood. Thanks to the MakerSpace and its multifunctional machines, we started to build our idea – a 3D terrain model of the heart of Berlin.

We used three different laser cutting machines (with cutting, engraving, and marking functions) and medium-density fiberboard for building the model. It is a fascinating process to look at how the river and small water elements were being engraved on a wooden base plate and how the outlines of every single building were marked on the same plate. After engraving, the cutting process started – five layers of buildings, as well as the separately designed landmarks, were cut during many hours (of waiting and gazing at the machines).

Like this, we created a huge puzzle with many wooden parts of buildings and leftovers. Identifying and placing/gluing them in the right spots was a real challenge and at the same time a fun puzzle. We had to recreate a number of buildings and missing layers because of technical problems with the laser cutters, recognize the tiny particles of each building and identify actual building parts from the leftovers (courtyards, building look-alike geometrical shapes, etc.).

In the end, we modelled and engraved the sideboard with the secondary content of the map: the name of the project, scale, north arrow, and names of the authors. The sideboard is an important part of the model, as it is used for projecting the complementary information.

We decided to keep a natural wooden colour for the 3D model, as its shades and darker edges of the buildings caused by the laser cutting give more depth to the model.

Animating the several parts of the storyline

After assembling the model we could start creating the projection. With the help of the maps created in Illustrator for the laser cutters, we were able to determine where certain things should be projected. We loaded the maps into Adobe After Effects and created the storyline on top. By using shapefiles of the location of the Berlin Wall, the positions of street lanterns, and by creating our own vector images, we made an animation (not the entire storyline has been animated yet – only the first parts can be seen in the video). Next to creating the animation, we recorded the text to accompany the projection and so the storyline would be clear to the user. Everything was then put together in Adobe Premiere to finish the projection.

Our project consists of two main parts – the 3D model and the animated story of the Berlin Wall. To combine and find the best fit between projection and the model we had multiple testing sessions, taking into account the best position of the model, properties of the projector, colour contrast, sound effects, etc.

As a result, the animated story is projected from above on the 3D model which is allocated in a horizontal position. It gives the model the best perceivable 3D effect as well as the freedom to the map reader to observe the model and discover the story from any angle.

With our project “Mapping the Berlin Wall” we aimed to create an artistic cartographic product by combining different traditional and modern mapping methods. By combining a 3D terrain model and a projection we wanted to show one of the most significant historical periods in Berlin, the Cold war. We tried to make historical events come alive by visualizing stories happening around the famous Berlin Wall.

Our way of storytelling follows not only the timeline but is rather based on the significant landmarks/buildings of the Berlin Wall period. All the landmarks in the storyline have been chosen by considering their geographical location to have a visual and contextual balance between the East and West parts of the city.

Another interesting concept of the project is linking history and the present time, as the story of the previous century is visualized on the map of modern Berlin. It allows the map reader to imagine how the Berlin they are visiting or living in, used to be two worlds. They can experience where the Wall was located and where the important historical events happened; they can see what remains of the Cold War in nowadays Berlin, and they can simply travel through time…

We would like to thank our supervisors – Juliane Cron and Mathias Jahnke and the group members of the 9th intake who have been supporting and accompanying the development of our project and idea – “Projection mapping the Berlin Wall”.

Anouska Jaspersen & Mariam Gambashidze, 9th Intake