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Reprinted from Adobe Magazine

On the Map

A collection of highly accurate digital maps that can be used with Photoshop, Illustrator and PageMaker has been a runaway success for Cambridge-based company Digital Wisdom.

When Hollywood's remake of the book and TV series The Saint appears later this year, Val Kilmer's Simon Templar will have a piece of technical support that is based on a product that is one of the most unexpected success stories in electronic publishing's recent history. In the film, Templar has an intelligent car with a tracking device that shows his opponent's location. The screens for this device were all prepared using images from Digital Wisdom's Mountain High Maps.

This is an example of a continued diversification in usage that Digital Wisdom has witnessed since its CD-ROM of digital maps first appeared on the market in early 1994. Looking back to the Mountain High Maps launch, managing director Alastair Campbell comments that the company was very conservative in its assessment of the potential customer base. They projected early sales of "around 300 units, which then very quickly went up to 1000 and now we've stopped making projections altogether," says Campbell.

That the product has been so successful is not difficult to understand. What little competition there was in the digital map market has shrivelled into insignificance when set against Digital Wisdom's elegant solution, particularly since version two, released in early 1996, extended the product's accuracy and features. Now Mountain High Maps are almost as ubiquitous a resource as the graphics application they were primarily designed to work with - and were partly created in - Adobe Photoshop. "The product will work with any application that supports the TIFF format," explains Digital Wisdom's product development director, Nick Rowland. "However, in practice that has come to mean Photoshop, which really is the de facto image processing software now - probably around 90% of our customers use it."

What those customers get for their money is a two-CD set that contains 74 relief maps and 39 global views, along with many overlay files prepared in Illustrator. The base relief maps are created from highly accurate 3D models, which are photographed under very specific lighting conditions to recreate what is known as Standard Northern Hemispherical lighting. The images are captured at very high resolution and imported into Photoshop, first for integrity checking and then as final files.

While originally designed to work with any application supporting TIFF, the recently introduced version 2.1 now includes many of its base relief maps as JPEG files, enabling Photoshop users to work with the application's path functions more effectively. These relief maps can be suitably re-cropped and colourised in an application like Photoshop and then have as much further detail added as the user requires - either from their own resources or selecting from the wide range of masks and layered files provided on the CDs. These are suitably formatted for Illustrator users.

As Digital Wisdom prepares for the Version 4.0 release early this year, Nick Rowland is well aware that the continuing success of the Mountain High Maps series is substantially due to the accuracy of the maps. "The topographic detailing of the relief maps is now so accurate that when you drop in rivers, for instance, they really follow the lie of the valleys. Because of this accuracy every additional layer that we create always sits in the right place."

Supported by this reputation for reliability, Digital Wisdom's customers now extend throughout the media and into many branches of business, academia and the military. Campbell has heard that every local TV station in Sweden has a copy, for example. In the UK, Mountain High Maps is the resource of choice for the ITV weather service, Carlton, GMTV and the Weather Channel. Elsewhere, Digital Wisdom's product is the basis of all the map graphics featured in the upcoming BBC documentary series, The Cold War, produced by Jeremy Isaacs.

"We used to think in finite numbers," continues Campbell, "But now I think there are lots of markets for us to reach. Even cartographers use our maps, but there's also major oil companies, the multimedia business, books and newspapers, universities and the military. And the pattern is the same in America as it is in Europe. People have lots of uses for maps."

On the back of Mountain High Maps success, Digital Wisdom has been creating a series of supplementary products. A cut-down low-end version called Cool Maps offers itself in either vector EPS or bitmap file versions, while EarthShots and GlobeShots provide the user with many more resolutions, views and texturing options. Digital Wisdom, like the world it reveals, is not standing still.

For more information, call 800-800-8560, 804-443-9000 or write Digital Wisdom, Inc., Box 11, Tappahannock, VA 22560.

Reproduced from issue 1/1997 of Adobe Magazine (UK Edition) with the permission of Adobe Systems Europe Ltd.©1996 Copyright Adobe Magazine, UK edition

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