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October 17, 2010

Over the last year I’ve done two locations-based features for the Total Film website. The idea came from the site’s editor Andy Lowe, and involves choosing a location from a film, then tracking it down in google maps and doing a side-by-side image comparison with a still from the film. When it goes right, the result is a really satsifying visual snap.

The first feature was built from a range of movies – famous locations and, for ease’s sake, things I had in my DVD collection for screengrabbing. The second was timed to coincide with the 2010 London Film Festival, and features locations only from films shot in the capital.

They’re really, really good fun to write, but take up a huge amount of time – I’ve spent hours virtually walking up and down streets looking for a particular doorway or underpass. And, because trawling around finding locations is inherently interesting, I often get sidetracked or end up finding more than one location per film.

More than anything it emphasised to me what an incredible piece of technology google streetview is. I’d find visual markers in a particular location – the flats behind Powders in My Beautiful Laundrette, for instance – and zoom, shift sideways, adjust the angle and explore the image. It’s the Esper Machine, but real, and it’s got the whole goddam world in it.

I’d like to do something more complicated than a straightforward comparison gallery if I get the chance. One thing I couldn’t include in the feature was how with certain locations it’s possible to move the ‘camera’ in google maps to mimic shots and seqeunces in films. So, here in King’s Cross, you can pull the image of the St Pancras clocktower to the right to reveal Harry Palmer’s office, as in the start of Billion Dollar Brain, moving from

…this: …to this:

Try it…

There are loads of other extended bits and pieces you could use it for – tours around a particular film, or movement within a scene. If I ever get time I may put some up here.

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