In time for this year’s Oscars (okay, last month) the New York Times produced this fascinating graphic showing box office receipts for recent films. Amanda Cox lead in the original print graphic and was assisted by Mathew Bloch, Lee Byron, and Shan Carter. The print version only went back a year (2007) and had a vertical orientation but the interactive version, linked here, goes back 20 years horizontally and is more immersive, allowing the user to query individual film “bubbles” or “threads” by name on mouseOver or by using the search box. I’ve a few ideas how it was created but the overall effect is artful while retaining a sine-waved influenced precision. Would have been nice to add the actual box office revenue figures to the mouseOvers.
UPDATE (6 Mar 2008)
The Times site has some discussion of this graphic:
A mystery software from Lee Bryan was used to make the chart.
However, if I were to create a similar graphic, I’d start in Excel and create two filled and stacked bar charts. For each chart I’d take half the films selected (some box office hits, some duds to even things out). These are time series where much of the time axis has 0 data values until the opening of the film. Then a big opening weekend and finally trailing off with a long tail till ending its box office run and then 0 values past that date. The data was weekly and there are 52 weeks in a year so 1040 total entries for each film. Open both charts into Illustrator. Now flip one so it formed the “bottom” half of this graphic. In the print version that would be the “left” and “right” halves. Join the two up along the common seam. Run a script or plugin to pull out the anchor points on each vertex for the bar chart fills, this gives it that nice curvy look. Then use the warp tool in Illustrator to give it the sine-wave effect by running it manually along the seam. Then fine tune the final result till it looks nice. The same thing can be done programatically by applying a sine wave to the data points (more effect closer to the seam, less far away).
Two solutions to smoothing out the sharply angled stacked area chart imported from Excel are:
- A free function in Illustrator CS3:
Just select the anchor points with the hollow arrow selection tool and then there are extra settings in the control panel for changing the points to curve (and back to hard angle).
- A pay plug-in for earlier Illustrator versions: