Return to Elwha began as a morass of photographs, audio, and video. The story was about two hydroelectric dams that were being torn down in Washington State. But at the heart of the story was a question: can a river be reborn?
For me, building Return to Elwha was about experimenting with visual storytelling. A notable feature of the project is a scrollable timelapse of one of the dams being removed. I had seen a few similar effects, but they never quite seemed appropriate to me. With the dam coming down, I wanted the user to be able control how they viewed the process of dam removal and how the landscape was beginning to change.
In 2012, I led a source-to-sea expedition down the Elwha River as a National Geographic Explorer. In ‘Return to Elwha’, I wanted to build a feature that evoked a feeling of being on that journey. I felt “scrollytelling” was the best way to display large images that brought the user into the landscape. Additionally, I could embed videos that introduced the user to the people who have a stake in the Elwha.
At the heart of the project, I wanted a map that would “re-create” the expedition. I used Skrollr and SVG animation to create an experience of discovery. As a user scrolls, photographs and looping videos appear where they were taken on the map. I hope that the user gets a sense of what it was like to be on the river.
The process of experimenting with Return to Elwha was very gratifying. When I began I barely knew HTML and CSS. I’ve slowly become more conversant in these languages and look forward to future experimentations.