Worldwide Strava usage

Using Aeriod to visualise fitness activity

October 2020

I continue to have fun playing with Aerialod and this piece is an example of using it to transform heatmaps into a 3D visualisation.

The data comes from Strava, a hugely popular fitness app that allows users to track their exercise activity with GPS. The app is popular mostly with runners and cyclists and encourages users to share their achievements.

This visualisation gives us an aggregated view of 2 years worth of their activity...

This design departed from my previous terrain focussed efforts with Aerialod. I was keen to show off a sense of fitness activity and exertion, hence the blood pumping red and the very elongated spikes to indicate pulses of exertion. I was also keen to dial back the feeling that I'd made "just another map". The pale base, long shadows and slightly shiny effect made more of a tabletop feel rather than a globe.

Making this visualisation

The steps to create this are in essence quite simple, albeit requiring some attention to detail.

Aerialod converts black and white images into 3D renders by treating shades of grey as a measure of height. White elements become tall, dark elements become flat.

Creating the viz is therefore a 2-step process: First, create a grayscale image suitable for Aerialod. Then load it in and adjust rendering settings to create your final image.

In practice, it requires some patience. I downloaded a global map from Strava Heatmap then used Photoshop to convert it to grayscale. The download included some artefacts that would have ruined the Aerialod render (map labels, borders, etc) so it took some time to clean these up.

After a few missteps, I finally had a clean render in Aerialod and the real work began on adjusting settings to get the desired look. I have no documented process for this - the software has a huge array of controls for lighting, colour, lens effects and more and it's a very iterative process to achieve the look you want.

In short, play and see. Alasdair Rae has some brilliant examples that explain it way better than me!

Data source: Strava Heatmap

Tools: Adobe Photoshop, Aerialod