IronViz: Middle Earth Facebook

So the third and final 2017 IronViz feeder competition is here and the subject is Silver Screen. Competitors have to visualize data related to movies and/or television. As soon as the announcement was made, I started looking for ideas. Initially,  I had a couple of high-level ideas—something about the Harry Potter movies, something about horror movie deaths, something about one of mine and my wife’s favorite television shows, Orphan Black (if you like this show too, you should check out Alex Ternes’s Iron Viz entry on the subject), a sentiment analysis of Seinfeld. But most of these ended up as dead ends for me. I either couldn’t find any data that I felt would make a compelling story or, as was the case with the Seinfeld idea, someone had already done it (see this viz by Luzer). I kept thinking about it, but just couldn’t come up with anything.

An Idea!
When my 13 year old son asked what I was going to do, I told him that I’d probably be skipping this competition. Then he mentioned a visualization I had been tinkering with for a little while which explores Frodo Baggins’s travels through Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings. My son and I are both big fans of the Lord of the Rings movies (some will call this heresy, but in my opinion, this series is one of those rare examples of movies that are much better than the books). So, after discussing it a little further, we came up with the idea to take that concept and expand it significantly, adding numerous key characters from the movies, providing information about each of those characters, then showing each character’s travels, along with a sample movie clip for each location that the character visits.

That was a very busy day for my family, so I wasn’t able to start the visualization right away. But, I couldn’t help but think about it throughout the course of the day. I really loved the idea we had come up with, but felt something was missing. Then it hit me—I should imagine that the characters were part of a “Middle Earth Facebook” where each character has friends, talks a little about him/herself, provides one of their favorite quotes, has a timeline of events, and has a personalized travel map. I felt that this would accomplish a few different things. First, it’s just a fun way to display the information. And, second, it would make navigation from one character to the next very straightforward, as you’d simply click on a friend to see more about that person.

I decided that the viz would have five primary components:

1) Character Info – Picture and information about the selected character, including a favorite quote.
2) Contacts– The selected character’s friends & enemies.
3) Timeline– An overall timeline of events which occurred during the Lord of the Rings movies.
4) Travel Map – A personalized map for each character showing their travels through Middle Earth.
5) Video– Clicking on a location on the map would provide additional detail about that event as well as a clip from the movies.

Now, as you might notice, there isn’t a lot of quantitative information here—the concept doesn’t have any bar charts or line charts. I had considered adding some of these, such as a section showing the size of each character’s network, but I ultimately decided against it because I felt it would take away from the social network theme and just seem out of place.

Building the Viz
I started by selecting my characters—I ended up with 18 of them all together, both good and evil (and in between). Most of my information comes from The One Wiki to Rule Them All, but I referenced a few other sources as well (for a complete list, check out the viz). I also used this site for the timeline. The biggest challenge was the travel map. One site, The LOTR Project, had some maps for a half dozen of the characters, but I needed maps for all 18!! Plus their maps were based on the books, while I wanted them to be based on the movies. Using these maps and timelines of each characters (again based on the books), I was able to piece together a basic idea of each character’s travels. I then had to compare each of these to the movies and make necessary adjustments—unfortunately, the only way to do that was to watch them and follow the characters movements throughout. Once I had a final list of stops and related events, I had to manually plot them on a map of Middle Earth. It was a lot of painstaking work, but worth it in the end. Finally, I found movie clips on YouTube that related to each event I would be mapping (40 videos in total).

Well, enough talk. Here’s the final visualization. Click on the image to see the fully interactive version. I hope you like it (especially all the other LOTR nerds like me)!!

Ken Flerlage, August 3, 2017

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