Quicktip: Visualizing Flight Paths

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The past decade has seen a wealth of data visualization elements in UI design, movie sets and motion graphics. When it comes to creating these elements you’re left with two approaches: faking it vs. the real thing. In this quicktip we’re doing the real thing when it comes to flight data. We’re taking publicly available airport and route data and model the (usually) invisible lines that connect our world by air travel.

The main topics we’re covering include importing CSV data into Houdini using Houdinis built in import node (Not as powerful as Niklas’ custom node but it is there, so let’s give it a try), converting geographic (lat/lon) coordinates into cartesian coordinates (that’s the coordinate system Houdini uses) and finally tweaking the appearance of our flight routes.

Using these techniques you can visualize a plethora of other publicly available geographic data – do you have any ideas what you’d like to visualize?

Download Project File (.hipnc)

Useful Links

Niklas Rosenstein’s Houdini Library
Wolfram Alpha on converting coordinates

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  1. If you want to augment this tutorial with some world cities data, You can grab 3.1 million lat/long/population entries here: https://www.maxmind.com/en/free-world-cities-database
    (no payment info needed since it is a free download)

    I didnt look into the license restrictions if there are any, and I didn’t look at the geonames site they reference as potentially having more up-to-date data. Good for some nice visual fodder.

  2. Actually, on second thought, the data has a lot of grid artifacts. North America’s data is good but the rest is spotty. Still pretty tho…

    • Moritz says

      Nevertheless – intersting source. Thanks for pointing it out! On a more macabre note I also found a CSV file containing all (known) nuclear explosions…

  3. Another visual gem guys, thank you.
    I was wondering how one would go about animating the flight paths over time. I’m pretty pretty new to Houdini and I’m not sure how to go about getting a particle for example to follow the data path leaving a trail behind. I know it’s out of scope of the tutorial but if you have a couple of pointers I’d appreciate it.
    Thank in advance : )

    • Moritz says

      Hi Kev,

      the quickest way to animate those paths might be to drop down a carve-SOP after you generated the paths. Then animate the “First U” or “Second U” value (depending on which direction you’d like the paths to animate to).


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