Aspen Movie Map

Aspen Movie Map

I don’t remember when, or where, I first saw the Aspen Movie Map, but I do remember thinking that it was really cool — representing a new digital media world that I wanted to get involved with.

Created in the late 1970’s, the Aspen Movie Map was a groundbreaking interactive virtual tour of the real-world city of Aspen, Colorado. Users could navigate the streets, go inside selected buildings, and change the seasons between fall and winter.

The project was created by Michael Naimark with Peter Clay and Bob Mohl, under professor Andrew Lippman at MIT’s Architecture Machine Group (a predecessor to the Media Lab). The project took an early laserdisc player and hacked it so that instead of playing movies linearly, it accessed the disc’s contents randomly — under user control. It was based on a project by MIT undergraduate Peter Clay (with help from Bob Mohl and Michael Naimark) who filmed the hallways of MIT with a camera mounted on a cart for an early videodisc project.

In 1988 Palenque, from Bank Street College, extended the videodisc tour concept, by incorporating fish-eye images that allowed the user to look around in 360-degree panoramic views.

Today, the Aspen Movie Map’s legacy continues with Google Map’s street view. Golan Levin has a great post comparing the two projects. He also points out that, because of the Aspen project’s funding from DARPA, it was a runner up for a Golden Fleece Award in 1980 — a reminder of how people may not understand the value of design research.

There’s more information on the project on Michael Naimark’s website including a project description and some retrospective writing, and this Technology Review article on the project’s history.

Panenque, from Bank Street College