Making Map Animations with Google Earth

Dickinson alumna and DCC contributor Alice Ettling, who created the Caesar Gallic War map animations, kindly wrote up a how-to, in case you would like to try your hand at it. You will need Google Earth Pro and iMovie. Thanks, Alice!

I didn’t start out with one, but it will probably make your life easier to begin with a map overlay, provided you have a suitable map.  Google has a tutorial for this that explains it better than I could.

Ettling map how to pic 1

This is what mine for BG 1.1 looked like, once I’d gotten it into place. I kept the opacity low, since this is a geographically-based animation and I wanted people to be able to see the terrain below the map. Not all maps will work well for this, and it’s generally true that the larger the area a map covers, the harder it will be to align with Google Earth, since the projection of the map gets harder to align with the curved surface of the earth as its area increases.

Once you’ve got that, you can use it to find the borders and geographical features you want to define in your video.  Rivers or other physical features, obviously, can be found without a map overlay, but it’s much easier to draw in the borders of provinces or tribes with a guide like this. (NB:  There is a Water Body Outline layer built in to Google Earth, but I found that it wasn’t terribly accurate or comprehensive, so I preferred to define the rivers I needed myself.)

To actually define regions, use either the polygon or the line tool, depending on which you need.  Both are in the top bar, towards the right. If you are referring to any cities or other specific points, you can use the Placemark button to set pins into particular locations.

Ettling 1.1



The first button in this row is the placemark tool; the second and third are the polygon and line tools, respectively. When you click on them, a window will open so that you can name the region and set its color/opacity. While this window is open, you can set the points that will define it; these can be edited later, so it’s hardly the end of the world if you misplace a point.

Ettling map how to 2

When defining regions, it’s important, if you’re going to be zooming in on them at all, to space your points fairly close together, so that the line running between them is smooth and follows the path you actually want.

Ettling Map how to pic 3

(Here you can see the difference between closely-spaced points and ones that are farther apart; this border is supposed to be following the river.)

All of these regions display in a sidebar: if the box is checked, they will be visible, and if you click on a name, Google Earth will zoom onto that region.

Ettling Map how to pic 4

Here, the map overlay (which, in this respect, acts like any other region) and the Belgae are checked, so they are visible, but all of the other regions, which are not checked, are not visible.

Once you have defined all the regions you will need for your video, you will need to set up “tours” that will actually move between the regions you have set up. Here is where my method gets sketchier; there may well be a better way to do this, but this is the solution I have found. To make recording a tour easier, set up your regions in the sidebar in the order you’ll be using them, and thoroughly plan just how you want the video to go.

When you click the “Record Tour” button (at the right end of the row with the buttons mentioned previously), a small bar will appear at the bottom of the window. The button with the red dot will both start and end recording.

Ettling Map how to pic 5



Position the view in the angle/zoom level you want it, and then click the button to start recording. If you want the camera to move during your video, just click on the names of places you want to focus on, and check their boxes when you want them to appear. Because I’m not terribly adept at clicking only the things I want to, I think it’s helpful to divide what will eventually be your animation into several segments to be stitched back together later, so that you don’t ruin your whole work with one misplaced click. Don’t worry too much about timing your video to sync with the audio; that will be taken care of in iMovie.

When you have your tour segments all recorded, you’ll need to export them as movie files. Everything else in this tutorial can be done with the free version of Google Earth (which is where I’ve been taking most of my screengrabs), but this step requires Google Earth Pro. Under the Tools menu is the option Movie Maker. With this option, you can convert the tours into files that can be opened in iMovie (or any other video editing program; iMovie is what I’m familiar with, though). The Movie Maker option won’t be usable, though, if any polygons, lines, or filters are highlighted.

Ettling Map how to pic 6


It’s a good idea to export these files with a reasonably high frame rate; you will likely be slowing them down to sync with your audio later, and this will keep them from looking too jerky.

Once they’ve been exported, open them in iMovie with the Import Movies option.

Ettling pic 6

Your files will appear in the bottom frame of the program; select and drag them up to the top middle frame to edit them.

You can add audio here by using the Music and Sound Effects button in the middle right. All of my audio was recorded ahead of time, so all I had to do was import it from iTunes.

Ettling pic 7

Drag this to the same frame you dragged the video to, and iMovie will combine the two; now all that’s left is to sync them up.

To do that, select individual pieces of your video (starting with the time from the start of the tour to your first cued action—in the case of my video for BG 1.1, this was the word “Belgae,” which should be keyed to the appearance of the corresponding region) and use the Split Clip command to separate them from the rest of the tour.

Ettling 8

Now you can edit the speed of this clip separately from the rest of the video. To do so, click on the gear wheel that appears on top of the clip and go into Clip Adjustments.

Ettling 9

Here, you can adjust the speed of the video; if it needs to take up more time relative to the audio, slow it down, and if it needs to take up less, speed it up. This involves a lot of finagling and listening to the same couple seconds of audio over and over again: be strong.

Once you’ve gotten that section of the movie synced properly, move on to the next and adjust its speed in the same way. Once you’ve gotten everything perfect, use the Export Movie button under the Share menu to save it in the format and quality you desire.

Ettling 10

J. Bert Lott Joins DCC Editorial Board

It is a great pleasure to welcome Bert Lott to the editorial board of DCC. Bert is an ancient historian with special interests in the Augustan Age of Rome, urbanism, early imperial epigraphy, and the interpretation of ancient documentary evidence. He received his B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches historical and cultural studies as well as Latin and Greek language and literature at Vassar College, where he has been since 1997.

Bert Lott headshotBert and I first met in the early 1990s when he was finishing his dissertation in Philadelphia and I was just starting my teaching career at nearby Swarthmore College. Since then Bert has gone on to great things at Vassar, where is now Professor of Greek and Roman Studies. He is the author of two well-received books, The Neighborhoods of Ancient Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and Death and Dynasty in Early Imperial Rome: Key Sources, with Text, Translation, and Commentary (Cambridge, 2012).

As the second title implies, he has a strong interest in textual commentary, particularly on inscriptions. And he has been at the forefront of experimentation with the commentary genre in a classroom context as well. His Latin students at various levels write commentary on the texts they are reading, collaboratively. The current status of one of these projects can be seen here. I hope to get Bert to write for this space about his innovative efforts.

Favorite Commentaries: Jonathan Rockey

What is your favorite classical commentary?  What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Jonathan Rockey, who teaches Latin at North Penn High School in Lansdale, PA.

head shot of Jonathan Rockey smiling, wearing a dress shirt and tie.

Jonathan Rockey

I’ve learned over the years not to assume that my students—even the dedicated ones—will greet a commentary with the same enthusiastic appreciation that I may have for it. In fact, the format of the commentary genre can be off-putting to students: it all looks so fragmentary, so technical; it feels at first like harder work to extract the “help” from the commentary than to just use a dictionary (and a pony) to trot out what you can, hoping for the best. In fact I find my students much better served—as with much in the profession—when they are shown (and not just told) how to benefit from a good commentary. So in my (junior) Latin Lyric poetry course, I begin with healthy doses of Catullus aided by Garrison and occasional support from Quinn. A few of the students will have already met Vergil, and hence R. D. Williams.

In fact, my first thought when asked about a favorite commentary was the R.D. Williams’ two-volume opus on the Aeneid, which was my guide through a one-on-one tutorial on Vergil in my first real Latin literature course in college. I was prepared to expatiate fondly on Williams’ clarity, sensitivity and restrained thoroughness. And what’s not to like about a classicist with the scope, depth, and hairdo of R.D. Williams? Alas James Morwood scooped me on that, so I turn instead to the commentary on Horace, Odes Book I by Margaret Hubbart and the late R.G.M. Nisbet, published by Oxford University Press in 1970.

By the time we get to Horace in the third quarter, my students have been trained in the art of balancing two books at a time; referring back and forth from main text to commentary; finding the bits and pieces of lines in the main text to be illuminated by the commentary; browsing the text and deciding what they need to know and what they could know better and what just catches their interest; balancing that all against whatever too short amount of time they have to give to it all in the first place. But with that initial use of more school-friendly commentaries under their belt they are then ready for a taste of Nisbet and Hubbard. The expectation is not really that the students will absorb all N. and H. have to offer. I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished that for myself, except for a very few, very often reread poems. It’s really more an exercise in giving the students the gift of being in the same room for a while with true scholarly greatness, linguistic mastery, and literary insight of the first magnitude. For this I especially like N. and H.’s treatment of the Cleopatra ode (I.37, nunc est bibendum). In what amounts to an article-length (14 pages to the poem’s 32 lines) disquisition on a poem celebrating the suicide of one of Rome’s foes, we are treated first to a six-line English précis of the poem followed by four pages of historical and literary background. Then we get to the line-by-line analysis and commentary proper, replete with parallel citations, Greek antecedents, and later echoes and imitations. Students who might have been intimidated with N. and H. as their first commentary experience instead find them informative, authoritative, inspiring even. The occasional scholar will even ask for more.

One other particular delight of N. and H. is their rare and essentially British talent for barbed wit, especially in the understatement department. Some examples:

On an emendation by Zielinski from deo to deae at 1.5.16: “deae has been rejected by editors with the not altogether reassuring exception of A.Y. Campbell.”

In the general introduction to l.8 (Lydia dic): “But these inconsistencies do not matter; a charming blend of the Greek and the Roman, the fanciful and the actual, is a characteristic feature of Horace’s Odes. Hellenistic sentimentality and Augustan militarism might seem not to mix, but in this poem Horace does not take either of them too seriously.”

On divine kingship themes in 1.12 (Quem virum): “The description of Augustus as Jupiter’s vicegerent jars with the republican tone of the previous section, where the Princeps is simply the greatest Roman. This is not so restrained a poem as is sometimes imagined; for a ruler to claim that he is God’s vicegerent is not really a sign of modesty.”

Or in their ability to portray an entire literary tradition with a few quick strokes, as on 1.13 (Cum tu, Ludia, Telephi): “For much of its length the poem moves in the epigrammatists’ world of furtive tears and smouldering marrows, bruised shoulders and nectareous kisses. Telephus indeed belongs completely to this milieu, to which he owes his name, his pink and white complexion, and his violent habits.”

Nor are N. and H. mere Horatiolaters: when a poem is outstandingly good, they will say so; but neither do they spare critical assessment just because the subject is Horace. Consider this on 1.26 (Musis amicus): “Yet it remains true that Horace is not celebrating his friend so much as his own power to celebrate his friend … As a result the ode lacks content, in spite of all its elegance. Poetry is not the best subject for poetry, and Horace’s greatest odes are not written simply about themselves.”

And historical insight, as on 1.37 (Nunc est bibendum): “The tale of Cleopatra’s barbaric death was a godsend to Octavian’s propaganda; it provided the perfect confirmation of his own assessment … The story was almost too good to be true. Perhaps it was not true.”

And on Cleopatra’s seemingly magical charm (likewise 1.37): “Cleopatra was 39 when she died, and an ugly and vindictive woman; but she did not captivate two great men simply by strategic resources and political acumen.”