JFK and Heathrow Great Circle Animations

I’m using QGIS for the first time ever as a cost effective and OS X friendly way to get back into GIS.

I happened upon this video tutorial by Steven Bernard: https://youtu.be/GAPPQaULmGM, which then lead me to Alasdair Rae’s (http://www.undertheraedar.com/2014/12/simple-animations-with-qgis-long.html)  and Hamish Campbell’s (http://polemic.nz/2014/11/21/nz-azimuth-orthographic/) posts on the same topic.

One thing I noticed was that the  flight paths represented using the methods above did not follow great circles, or the actual straight line path between two points on the earth in 3D space.

So I decided to have a stab at animating a representation of the great circle flight paths from JFK in New York and Heathrow in London.

The first step was to create a shapefile with the lines that represent the great circle flight paths. This involved creating a custom aeqd projection centered on the latitude and longitude of the origin airport. Once the location of the origin and destination airports were imported (Using the OpenFlights database: http://openflights.org/data.html) it was a simple matter of joing the dots. This post: http://gis.stackexchange.com/questions/133026/great-circles-in-qgis-and-export-in-3857-webmap/133030#133030 by AndreJ was very helpful working out this stage.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.08.25 PM

Creating the flight path lines from Heathrow

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.09.33 PM

Creating the flight paths from JFK

Then following the steps outlined in Hamish Campbells’s blog I created the azimuth orthographic projection that the animation would be plotted on. I centred this projection on a spot roughly halfway between JFK and Heathrow.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.12.37 PM

Azimuth orthographic projection of the earth centred on 45N 37W

Then the final step was to import the flight path lines onto this new projection and animate them using the methods outline by Steven Bernard and Alasdair Rae.

Final compositing was done if After Effects were I added some ease in to the animation to give the motion some pop and added a drop shadow to the flight paths to give the illusion of depth and that the flight paths are above the surface of the earth. The end result is below.


Representation of flights from JFK, New York and Heathrow, London

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.  There are things I’d like to improve. Automating the creation of the lines from origin to destination is something I’m sure could be done to increase the speed of work. Also the different method of generating the flight paths compared to the blogs mentioned above means the flights can only be viewed as lines, not as animated points. Addressing these issues as well as doing a verison with flights from Sydney, Australia where I am based is something I’d like to do in the future. (Quick tests I did of Sydney flights caused headaches related to flights crossing the international date line)


Credit is also due to http://thematicmapping.org/ for the world map shapefile I used.


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