Making MoGraph Magic for a NASA Worthy Performance

Monday, May 11th, 2015

It’s not every day you’re asked to visualize a song, particularly when that song maps climate change in four regions of the world over the past two centuries.

Daniel Crawford, a student at the University of Minnesota, composed such a piece for string quartet. He documented the history of temperatures in the arctic, equatorial, mid, and high latitude zones of our planet, and translated those measurements into musical measures. You can listen to his composition in Esnia’s video The Sound of Climate Change:


The sound of climate change from the Amazon to the Arctic from Ensia on Vimeo.

Liz, my ardent girlboss, challenged me to create the motion graphics for this piece. It had to be seamless, factually accurate and of course, beautiful.

“Find a way to show the temps fluctuating without pulling focus.”

Sharpie to paper, I started with thermometers. How else do people read temperatures? Circles and sliders were the way to go.

Translating my sketches into After Effects, I realized that having the circles separated from the bars made the competition far too busy. I already had to balance four elements and I’d doubled it to eight. Instead of going back to the drawing board, I merged the elements in my third concept to create a gauge.



Playing around with this graphic, the concept began to make more sense. The faster you drive your car, the higher your speedometer, the more likely you risk crashing.

The warmer the earth gets, the greater the climate impact.

Now it was time for the technical work. Going with a minimalist gauge concept, I needed to plot the value of rotation between temperatures. IE: The arrow moving outside of the circle needed to accurately represent how Earth was warming across each region.

I began with the arctic, it had the greatest fluctuation. I mapped the high (-13.3) at 0 degrees and low (-16.9) at 180. Now I could determine the values in-between.

For every tenth of a degree (0.1) the rotation changed a value of 5.

-15.8° has a rotation value of -125, and -15.9° has a value of -130.



This was done for all temperatures in each region and then keyframed at markers corresponding with each note of the song, for a total of 536 keyframes.

The work was obviously worth it. We’re happy to report that the video was featured on the New York Times last week. This week, they’re featured on Grist. And of course, there have been countless tweets and Facebook posts about the project.

My secret to repetitive number input is this coding playlist called Debugging the Cosmos.

And occasionally resting my eyes.

Chase Bortz is a videographer for Mighteor.