Organized Map Files Help Artists Meet Deadlines

Maps for television news tend to be last-minute affairs. Something happens during the news day, resulting in the station's graphic artist being ordered to "turn out a map for the 6 o'clock newscast, with animated graphics if possible!"

The problem is that most art departments, graphic artists, PAs, producers and Chyron operators are busy doing other things, like over-the-shoulder graphics, full screens, animating, designing and compositing.

Add the fact that creating maps from scratch is just too time-consuming for most stations, and you can see why experienced graphic artist/mapmaker Bob Mickens gets lots of calls for help. As cofounder of the award-winning graphics and broadcast design firm Artifactuality and its emerging broadcast map solutions division, MapMastery, Mickens designs, services and supports broadcast maps, titles and other graphics (still and animated) for the major networks, as well as big market stations such as New York's WCBS and WPIX.

What Mickens doesn't do is provide a maps-on-demand service. "Most broadcasters like to keep their art production in-house," he explained, "so where I help is by training station artists to use their own resources effectively. As well, I spend a lot of time organizing their file systems to make them accessible to all of the staff--not just specialists. This really helps the workflow."

Typically, Mickens organizes in-house map files geographically, because it makes the most sense intuitively. "But you'd be surprised at how many artists organize their files by show or artist name," he added.

Theoretically, it's possible for graphic artists to make their maps from scratch. In fact, that's how it used to be done years ago, according to Mickens. However, with the advent of broadcast map-generation software such as Curious World Maps, it's no longer necessary for artists to reinvent every region of the world or even become experts in geography. In addition, the ability of Curious World Maps to integrate with computer graphics systems such as Vizrt (which actually purchased Curious in 2005) makes custom 2D and 3D mapmaking fast and easy. This includes adding animations to indicate locations in realtime or changing the scale of the map.

Still, all of these tools are of little use to a harried news director if the staff artists don't know how to use them or have resources directly at their fingertips. That's where Mickens comes in--not only does he show these artists how to work with whatever technology they've got, but he also prepares map templates of popular locations to be kept on file.

"For instance, WCBS New York is mainly concerned with the five boroughs, northern New Jersey, and some of Connecticut," he explained. "Because of this, I created a series of template maps for each of these regions. In this way, WCBS's artists can save time by adding relevant graphics to existing maps. It saves their people time, and allows the art department to provide faster, closer-to-deadline service to news."

So how can an average TV station improve its mapmaking abilities? "First, you need to go over your resources, to accurately gauge what you can and can't do in-house," Mickens offered. "Second, you need to ensure that your art staff understands mapping and that one person in particular becomes an expert. Third, a logically organized filing system will make it easier to reuse maps for different shows and different news stories. This will save you time and money."

James Careless covers the television industry. Contact him at