‘Mapping London’s Subterranean rivers’ research

Background research for video ‘Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers’ including digital techniques and maps

Latymer Mapping Project Screening|Soundcards

April 23 2012//

On Saturday 21st April I had the pleasure of working with London-based artists Constantine Gras, Natalie Marr, Alistair Ashe and Emily Ballard who kindly arranged the screening of my film Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers at Laytmer Projects, 154 Freston Road, London W10.

The screening was followed by a short talk discussing how I made the film including varied research into the Subterranean rivers over a 6 month period, ranging from books, maps and walks across the urban landscape.

I also had the opportunity to bring along and discuss a large folder of maps, texts and images for the first time explaining my research process and how all the different strands eventually came together to make the film. (See shelf in this photo)

The screening formed week 6 of Latymer’s fascinating 7 week Mapping Project inviting members of the local community to contribute personal and historical accounts of  local history whilst learning about open source mapping techniques. Varied and (sometimes infamous) local histories were recalled, particularly by Constantine, including the Notting Hill race riots of 1958.

Another local resident, Alan presented incredibly detailed drawings – plans of the area showing housing transformation over decades of change. He also had equally detailed knowledge of previous slum accommodation and areas which have since been  cleared for social housing or much more upmarket property/gentrification.

Interestingly; I also learned that the lost subterranean river Counters Creek originated at a nearby source just south of St Quintin Avenue

 [Counter’s Creek (or Chelsea Creek is a largely subterranean stream that arises in Kensal Green, west London and flows south into the River Thames on the Tideway at Sands End, Chelsea. Two small tributaries that rise just west of Ladbroke Grove enter the stream close to Latimer Road just south of St Quintin Avenue.] Wikipedia

A key discussion point was how maps simultaneously reveal and hide information depending on the intention of the map maker/ cartographer; that maps are not purely factual records as such but graphical representations of carefully selected data, created for many different reasons that may be socio-politically or economically motivated.

An unexpected outcome from this weeks session was the generation of sound cards (pictured above) containing direct written responses to my film from artists and local residents; these short records will contribute towards a new soundtrack for the film.

The positive thing about these thoughtful sound cards is that they provided great feedback and critique for the work from those who had viewed the film previously online, and from others who had not. Providing informal crit-style feedback that I had not experienced for some time

I really appreciated the perceptive feedback that this short exercise generated; each person touched upon different intentions within the work, some of which I had almost actually forgotten about, and some completely new and illuminating interpretations.

Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers informal screening, Latymer Projects 2012

Including ideas such as: The ”organic city’, waterways as urban arteries, ‘violent’ river speeds and the potentially destructive potential of water in both natural and built environments. Alastair even came up with a full musical violin score for the work including the opening soundtrack for Hitchcock’s Psycho by  Bernard Herrmann!

Flows _ could be something other than water

WORDS- flows of information

River as a live body

Sense of time



Chaos of change over time


Flows/barriers between communities


Root Breeze

Memory motion

Archive fragment

Fast running, violent

LANGUAGE – defines territory as much as maps, empirical data

Links: Open source mapping techniques and links covered during the session


Bill Rankin’s maps at radicalcartography.net reveal myriad aspects of the contemporary world 

Click here to view blog entry for Session 6: Digital and Open Source Mapping

‘Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers’ Wire-Frame Screen Grabs

November 15 2011//

This post looks at some of the process involved in making my recent videoMapping London’s Subterranean Rivers including a few wireframe screen-grabs from the work  which  illustrate how work- in-progress appears within the open software window when work is in-progress.

The video was created using Maya Autodesk which is a 3D animation program offering extensive tools for modelling, dynamics, visual effects and rendering.

I found this software quite difficult to grasp initially, as the interface and layout is very different to regular video editing software. Maya does contain an animation timeline but most other features seemed almost like learning a new language, very different. I finally discovered a small corner of the program where I could operate creatively and develop ideas, and experiment.

The main difference between Maya and 2D animation or video editing software is that the artist can construct 3D objects in virtual space in Maya. Once models have been created and
placed on the ‘stage’ multiple cameras are set up to film the  3D object from as many different viewpoints or angles as desired.

For this video, only 1 3D map elevation was ‘drawn’ in Maya and various cameras (coloured in green)  positioned around it to record and create different viewpoints/ scenes within the video.

(Above) Wireframe scene in Maya showing a section of the 3D map created for Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers.  This is an aerial view showing the City, river Thames and various subterranean rivers and overground
ancient tributaries.

Using wireframe views of the scenes in Maya enables more rapid rendering, editing, rotating and viewing of the scene in real time. Maya takes up a lot of processing power and RAM and this viewing mode means that work can be speeded up a little. The drawback is that it is rather like working in the dark as colour, texture etc is not visible while you are working.

To view full texturing and colour whilst working in Maya, frames need to be rendered individually. I find doing this now and again is enough to retain in memory exactly what the scene looks like and how it will appear later after the final rendered sequence for video is created.

This kind of view shows a little more detail when working within the software window than is available in wireframe mode – Some solid areas are displayed to highlight more of the model’s detail.
This aerial view is used right at the start of the video when the camera begins to descend onto the map.

Near the centre of the map can be seen a yellow textured object which is a 3D model tree, later assigned a ‘wind dynamic’ so it appears to be swaying quite strongly in a gust of strong wind. Many other dynamics are available in Maya to simulate gravity and movement iof water or ocean waves, for example. Used a flowing water dynamic to simulate the River Thames in the final work.

The red cone-shape to the left and solid grey cube-like objects positioned bottom-left on the map, depict the placement of lighting object (spotlight) and architectural buildings respectively.

Aerial view showing the King’s Scholars’ Pond Sewer (KSPS) – near bottom centre of the image
Highgate hill (blue wire frame object) and the Thames to the left (Wiggling, thicker, solid white line object)
Side view showing cameras, tree & 3D signage depicting London place names
Another aerial wireframe view
 The cluster of bright pink, solid shapes are tower block buildings in the video.

It is not possible to see fully-detailed, textured image sequences until frames are fully rendered and exported from Maya, either directly into Quick Time. Or as a series of TARGA (individual images, 24 or 25 frames per second of footage) files which can then be imported into video editing software such as After Effects to create a moving image sequence.

AS previously mentioned, a quick and dirty view of any individual frame can be viewed (very slowly) live within Maya by using the IPR renderer, but testing out a full animated sequence is beyond the processing power of my rather humble PC.

However, I do enjoy working somewhat in the dark with this process as it allows for certain unexpected results that would not be possible otherwise. A certain Serendipity…

This is a composite map that I created from 2 different maps. Showing the Thames and various tributaries, many of which are now underground or completely lost. It formed the template to create the 3D map in the film.
Please see previous post for more information about this map…

Click here to view Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers

London Map and Subterranean Rivers

November 04 2011//

 I’ve uploaded here a composite map created as research for my video Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers 2010 and described briefly how it was made and used within the work.

(Above) Composite map based upon ‘Tributaries of the Thames from Kingston to Erith‘ from Nicholas Barton’s well known book entitled The Lost Rivers of London.

The underground rivers are marked in blue and the ancient or lost overground waterways appear in orange.
The various rivers on the composite map formed a template to (fairly) accurately place the underground rivers onto the 3d map within the animation program to create the video
Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers

I digitally overlaid the map ‘Tributaries of the Thames from Kingston to Erith‘ onto another more contemporary map of  Greater London that shows the borough boundaries and depicts the distinctive outline shape of Greater London.

In doing so, I noticed that the shape of London resembled an island cut adrift. This is not intended to be a super accurate map, more a poetic interpretation.

This island-like form inspired the 3d model elevation of London in the video, depicting London as cutout sculptural form suspended in empty virtual black space.