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Thread: Floating Islands Map

  1. #1

    Wip Floating Islands Map

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    Ever since I saw James Cameron's Avatar I became fascinated with the idea of 'floating islands'. As shown above, these are basically large hunks of rock that float / hover over some fixed point on the ground for various reasons. What I'm going to try and do is to map out a top-town map showing three different layers of floating islands.

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    The layers, shown above in the map, are going to represent the 'buoyancy' of each group of islands in the cluster. Each color represents a different approximate height of island. I'm still working out how to show this and what kind of map I'm going to use but if anyone has ever done something like this I'd love some pointer.

    My guess is that I will use a typical 'overland' map as the background to suggest that the cluster is hovering over things like a forest and rivers and such. That combined with a diffused 'cloud' layer should hold the islands both off of the ground but still anchored within the image.

    Showing relative depth / height should be an interesting challenge. I'm not sure if I can just use shading to make the lower islands darker than the higher islands.

    Well... this is at least a start.

    Comments Welcome
    Larger copies of my maps located on flickr and can be used for your enjoyment.

  2. #2


    I like this idea a lot, GreenPilgrim. The 'floating island' concept has always been a bit of a favourite of mine.

    First, you might find it interesting to know that the mountains in Avatar were based on the Zhangjiajie Mountains in China. The Studio Ghibli film, 'Laputa, Castle in the Sky', might also give you some inspiration.

    The major problem I see with your layers image, is that none of the islands overlap each other. You would expect that as the floating islands move around, some would pass under or over one another. I can understand why you would not want to do that, as it obscures parts of the island that are beneath a higher one, but I think your sketch wouldn't look right unless you added some level of overlap of the islands.

    Fortunately, I have an idea of how you could do it, which wouldn't necessarily involve more work (but might not be consistent with your 'vision' of this map--ultimately, it is your decision). My idea is to have the central part of your map showing the islands as if viewed from above (with overlapping areas, as described above). However, you could include somewhere else on the map each island mapped separately in its own inset. The diagram below shows what I mean.

    I really like the idea of having the overland map below, and using a cloud layer.

    To depict islands of relative height, perhaps you could simply use thinner lines and more saturated colours. Some of the lower islands being overlapped with clouds might also help.

    Hmm, perhaps I got a bit carried away. I'm keen to see what you do, though.

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  3. #3
    Guild Expert Hai-Etlik's Avatar
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    Maps don't just exist without a reason. You need to consider what this map is for in order to come up with an effective map. A map for navigating on foot between floating islands linked by bridges would be different from a map intended primarily for navigating aircraft. A map for navigation is going to be different from a map for showing political boundaries or land usage. A map of fixed floating islands is going to be different from one for islands that move in a fixed repeating patter, or which move in a non-repeating way, and depending on how rapidly they move. How well they can be surveyed and with what frequency is also going to have an impact. What proportion of the extent they cover, and what proportion of the surface of the planet the map covers are also important. Whether what's on the surface underneath is significant is also important to the map.

    One of the most important rules of cartography is "don't include anything that isn't important" With multiple levels that may overlap, this is even more important.

  4. #4


    So far I like THW's idea about using several maps to illustrate the concept. One of the maps, like the one I posted, will show each island separately so that they can be named and such. Another map, like the one THW showed, will actually show the land masses as they would appear in the cluster. In this fashion I can show which ones overlap the others, etc. as well as which islands are attached to the other. In this version, like in the movie Avatar, some of the islands are connected.

    In my narrative, some of the islands are chained together so that as they float they will stay in roughly the same area within the cluster. These islands float along a mana-line at a fairly slow rate of speed but they do move. I'm thinking that they only move a few feet an hour or something of that sort. Rather than using bridges between the islands (which I think would be risky because the islands do move about a bit and would probably crush a normal bridge), the people have explored gate technology (magical) to make micro-portals between the islands. It would allow them to move produce, materials and personnel across much easier. They probably - did- have bridges (flexible rope bridges) at one time but thankfully their ancestors figured out a magical solution.

    This cluster of islands is, essentially, a floating kingdom.
    Larger copies of my maps located on flickr and can be used for your enjoyment.

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