Aspen Movie Map

From Academic Kids

The Aspen Movie Map was a revolutionary multimedia system developed at MIT by a team working with Andrew Lippman in 1978 with funding from ARPA.



The Aspen Movie Map allowed the user to take a virtual tour through the city of Aspen, Colorado.

A gyroscopic stabilizer with four 16mm stop-frame cameras was mounted on top of a car with an encoder that triggered the cameras every 10 feet. Filming took place daily between 10 AM and 2 PM to minimize lighting discrepancies. The car carefully drove down the center of Aspen's streets for registered match-cuts.

Once the footage was recorded, the pictures were linked together and allowed the user to choose one of several predefined paths in which to tour the city.

Using videodisc technology, the Aspen Movie Map allowed for non-sequential access to the program's data and allowed the user to start at a particular point and move forward, back, left, or right. The Aspen Movie Map also contained footage of the inside of notable landmark buildings in Aspen, allowing the user to take a virtual tour through those buildings.

Another notable feature of the system was a navigation map which allowed the user to jump directly to a point on the Aspen city map instead of finding the way through the city streets to that destination. It is because of this feature that the Aspen Movie Map is thought to be the first hypermedia system.

The system allowed the user to experience the tour in one of three modes: summer, winter, and polygonal. The first two were based on the videodisc library of photographs, and the third was based on a very crude 3-D model rendered in real time. Thus, the program can also be seen as an early virtual reality system.


Project credits written out by Movie Map participant Michael Naimark on his web site ( read as follows:

The Aspen Moviemap began as an idea by MIT undergraduate Peter Clay, in collaboration with graduate students Bob Mohl and me. Peter "movemapped" the hallways of MIT in early 1978, as the second videodisc demo made by the Architecture Machine Group.
The Aspen Moviemap was filmed in the fall of 1978, in winter 1979, and briefly again (with an active gyro stabilizer) in the fall of 1979. Many people were involved in the production, most notably: Nicholas Negroponte (Architecture Machine Director, who found support from the Cybernetics Technology Office of DARPA), Andy Lippman (Principal Investigator), Bob Mohl (who wrote his PhD dissertation based on it), Ricky Leacock (MIT Film/Video head), John Borden (Peace River Films), Kristina Hooper (UCSC), and people from the Architecture Machine Group, including Rebecca Allen, Scott Fisher, Walter Bender, Steve Gregory (faculty), and Stan Syzaki. Many more people at ArcMac were involved after production, including Steve Yelick, Paul Heckbert, and Ken Carson. I was at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies and was responsible for cinematography design and production.

Purpose and Applications

ARPA funding during the late 1970s was subject to the military application requirements of the notorious Mansfield Amendment introduced by Mike Mansfield (which had severely limited funding for hypertext researchers like Douglas Engelbart).

The Aspen Movie Map's military application was to solve the problem of quickly familiarizing soldiers with new territory. The Department of Defense had been deeply impressed by the success of Operation Entebbe in 1976, where the Israeli commandos had quickly built a crude replica of the airport and practiced in it before attacking the real thing. DOD hoped that the Movie Map would show the way to a future where computers could instantly create a 3-D simulation of a hostile environment at much lower cost and in less time. See virtual reality.

Political Response

William Proxmire awarded the project one of his Golden Fleece awards. Proxmire was later severely criticized for his shortsightedness by journalist Stewart Brand.


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