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March 2011 Issue
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Master cartographer

Roger Smith has brought map-making into the 21st century
Map-maker Roger Smith seized on an idea that brings printed maps to life. By Elizabeth Gudmundsson

When Roger Smith reflects on the beginnings of his innovative map-making company Geographx he describes it as a crazy venture, but one that has succeeded to heights he never imagined.

The Wellington-based map maker seized the opportunity in 1998 to start Geographx and capitalise on the latest GIS technology, despite no training or background in cartography.

“My father took much pride in exploring, he was the type of man that loved to see what was around the next corner and I definitely inherited that from him. As a child I was always marking on a map where I had been.”

While Smith says he has always had a keen interest in the outdoors his past involved commercial flying, farming and tourism analysis.

“Looking back I’m horrified, I didn’t have any relevant background, any resources or clients, but we were on the cusp of a digital revolution so the timing was perfect.”

Over a decade later Smith’s team has extended to seven people, based in what he considers to be the best offices in Wellington: the historical Dominion Observatory in the Wellington Botanical Gardens.

The company has a range of private, public and offshore clients, creating everything from the maps for televised weather broadcasts to visuals for tourism brochures to atlases and event maps for sports.

Using a range of customised software, including GIS technology, Geographx has been able to produce innovative maps that are so accurate they can be mistaken as photographs.

“I was able to visualise what I wanted to see in a map so was able to create it from an end user’s point of view, which I think was an advantage,” he says. “We were able to take existing data and manipulate it in a different way.”

Smith’s work in 3D maps and visualisation has been ground breaking, but it has always been a goal of his to stay one step ahead.

“There is a continuous, steep development in the technology and capabilities – it’s improving every year. From what started as a one man band, we are now focussed on producing interesting projects.”

Smith says their current project is without a doubt their biggest – and he means that literally. Working with a host of overseas agencies, Geographx is creating the world’s largest atlas, Earth Platinum.

“We are working with cartographers on five continents.  Our main job is creating the relief mapping and coordinating the overall cartographic production,” says Smith.

The pages are 1.8×1.2m in dimension – the only printer in the world capable of producing high quality pages of that size is in the Vatican.

Earth Platinum will be marketed worldwide to museums and education institutions and with only 31 copies being produced it is estimated to be sold for US$100,000.

It isn’t the first venture into atlases for Smith’s team, having produced two versions of the Geographic Atlas of New Zealand and contributing maps to a range of books and publications, including Wilderness’ popular range maps

“We are lucky to have such a range of clients; we are never working on two jobs that are the same.”

Smith says he hopes his team can continue to cement their position and reputation for creating top quality maps in the future. With overseas interest increasing the opportunity to be involved in innovative projects will definitely keep the Geographx team busy.