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How we built a map of 280 Canadian Forces missions since 1945

The Canadian Forces are creating a database of every operation they've conducted since 1945, spanning 68 years of humanitarian aide and military conflict. We turned this data into an animated video by plotting each mission on a map and setting it to music.

It's perhaps more of an art project than a news piece, but it offers an interesting perspective to the scope and breadth of Canada's missions around the world over the past several years.

You can explore the entire dataset here or download the raw file we used to create the visualization.

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How complete is the data?

Representatives from National Defence said they've identified over 400 international operations, but the "historical research" has not been completed. The dataset we used included 280 missions between 1945 and 2007.

How was the animation created?

We used two calculations to determine when the marker would appear and disappear from the map. The first calculation counted the number of days since Jan. 1, 1945 — the earliest year in the dataset. Then we calculated the number of days from the beginning of the mission to the end of the mission. We also needed to manually add the latitude and longitude to each record so they could be plotted.

The markers were added to a map using the Google Maps API. Using Javascript, we used a series of setTimeout() functions to control when the markers would appear and disappear. A separate field was used to display the date, which was on the same time delay as the markers.

How was the video made?

With the Javascript proof-of-concept in hand, we debated whether we should re-create the visualization from scratch using Apple's video graphics program Motion 5 or whether we could simply screencap the visualization from the browser. We settled on screencapping the existing visualization because the work was already done for us. We added this to Final Cut Pro X and started adding music.

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We chose a minor chord for the music and captured each note in GarageBand using the keyboard tool. We went through each region in Final Cut, matching the tones to the markers. We also added an ominous organ tone using the base note from our chord and slowed it to half its original speed, creating an eerie and elongated background tone. An audio filter called "Cathedral" was added to all the tones for an airier, reverberated sound.

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