Spirit of Indiana (Jones) – syncing HTML5 Video with Maps

I’ve always been a big fan of the travel/flight sequences in the Indiana Jones movies and judging by the amount of copy attempts on YouTube I am not alone in this. As I don’t own any video editing software I thought it should be possible to create the same effect with web technologies and Google Maps and lo and behold it is:

See the demo online

You can download the animation demo for yourself and try it out locally – all you need is a browser that supports HTML5 video. I know – the music is not quite the same as in the movies, but at least this one is not copyright infringing and it came from the heart (5 minutes in a meeting room in the Mozilla office).

So how was this done and what are problems that needed solving? Here’s how and what.

Step 1: Find the movie and get it to the right format

That was the easy part. Archive.org has a lot of awesome public domain movies available for you and they are already in the formats needed to use in an HTML5 video element. In this case, I took the short movie of Charles Lindbergh taking off for his record breaking flight from New York to fly to Paris in 1927.

Step 2: Displaying the video

Using the video is pretty simple:

The MP4 format will be used by Webkit based browsers and the Ogg version by Firefox and others. As we want to control the video we omit the controls attribute on the video element – instead we create a button to play the video with JavaScript:

  function() {
    var stage = document.getElementById('stage');
    var v = document.getElementsByTagName('video')[0];
    but = document.createElement('button');
    but.innerHTML = 'Click to see Lindbergh's flight';
    but.addEventListener('click',function(e) {

As the video is markup we can do whatever we please with it – the power of open technologies. For example as we will do here we can set its opacity in CSS and put in on top of a map.

Step 3: Create the map path animation

Talking of which, let’s get that moving path done. Google Earth has an API to do that, but it needs a special plugin. Google Maps allows you to paint paths on maps (which actually are SVG, another open standard). Put that in a recursive function and you get the desired effect:

Animated Google Maps path synced with HTML5 video

In essence, what I did was take the latitude and longitude of the start and end points and calculate as many points in between the two as I need for the duration of the animation. I store the points in an array called pos and then paint a path from the start to the current point and move the map centre to this point on every iteration.

spirit.draw = function(){
  var path = new google.maps.Polyline({
        path: [startpos,pos[now]],
        strokeColor: "#c00",
        strokeOpacity: .7,
        strokeWeight: 10
  now = now + 1;
  if(now < animationend-1){

Check the highly commented source of the map example for the details. Now, we could use this kind of animation and play the video over it - the problem though is that they may get out of sync. When the movie stalls (as it frequently does on this hotel wireless connection) we don't want the animation to keep moving, right?

Step 4: Syncing video and the map movement

Instead of having two sources of timing information we have to limit ourselves to one source of truth. This is the time stamp of the currently playing movie.

By the way - you might have noticed that I wrapped the map code in a tilesloaded event handler. This is another safeguard for keeping things in sync. I found that on slow connections the tile loading can delay the whole interface immensely (because of all the subdomain lookups), so I make the whole interface dependent on the loading of the map and only proceed when the tiles have finished loading. As the tilesloaded event also fires when the map pans we need to use a boolean to stop it from starting the effect several times:

  if(played === false){
    // [...other code...]
    played = true;

You can read the current timestamp of a video with video.currentTime and whilst the movie is playing it constantly fires an event called timeupdate. As the event fires a lot we need to throttle it somehow. The trick here is to only take the full seconds and increase a counter when a new second is reached. You can see the timestamp and the second interval firing in the video syncing demo:

HTML5 video with timestamp

var now = 0;
  log.innerHTML = v.currentTime; /* logging the real timestamp */
  var full = parseInt(v.currentTime);
  if(full >= now) {
    seqlog.innerHTML = now;  /* logging the seconds firing */
    now = now + 1;

That way the movie can lag in between and the sequence still stays in sync. Check the source of this demo on Github.

Putting it all together

And that was about it - all I had to do is to set the movie's opacity at a certain time stamp, start the sound at another and show and hide the copyright complaint at another. As we rely on the timestamp for the other effects we needed a boolean switch to avoid repeated firing:

  full = parseInt(v.currentTime);
  if(full === now-1){
    mapelm.style.opacity = .8;
    v.style.opacity = .4;
  if(full === animationstart+1 && audioplay === false){
    audioplay = true;
  if(full === animationstart+2 && hidden === true){
    drmbedamned.style.display = 'block';
    hidden = false;
  if(full === animationstart+3 && hidden === false){
    drmbedamned.style.display = 'none';
    hidden = true;
  if(full >= now) {
    path = new google.maps.Polyline({
        path: [startpos,pos[full]],
        strokeColor: "#c00",
        strokeOpacity: .7,
        strokeWeight: 10
    now = now + 1;

Another event we needed to subscribe to was the movie ending so we can stop the music and start to roll the credits:

  spirit.credslist.parentNode.style.display = 'block';

As the theme is too short for the whole animation we need to loop it. This can be done by testing for the ended event and rolling back the time to 0:

a.addEventListener('ended', function(o) {
  a.currentTime = 0;


And there you have it - Indiana Jones style maps using open services and open technologies. A workaround for the copyrighted audio (recorded, edited and converted with the free Audacity sound editor) and using Google's Web Fonts as graphics.

You can now take this and change it for even more awesome:

  • Replace Google Maps with Openstreetmap to avoid going over the limit
  • Add a slight curve to the path from NYC to Paris to make it more accurate (but then again the time is not accurate either - it took charles a tad longer)
  • Use a static map and paint the path with Canvas to speed up and smoothen the animation

Why not have a go - it is free and fun to play.

About Chris Heilmann

Evangelist for HTML5 and open web. Let's fix this!

More articles by Chris Heilmann…


  1. Derek

    I did something very similar to the map component a while back: http://swingley.appspot.com/maps/ij

    It’s not as cutting edge but it was inspired by the Indiana Jones movies.

    December 16th, 2010 at 08:38

    1. Tom Skelton

      That’s awesome man!

      December 18th, 2010 at 12:14

  2. Shmerl

    Very nice demo, thanks!

    Actually MP4 has nothing to do with WebKit – Google Chrome (WebKit based) can perfectly play Theora videos. It’s Safari who is the culprit (the mobile one is the real problem, since there is no way to enable Theora/WebM with Quicktime codec plugins like for desktop Safari).

    December 16th, 2010 at 09:05

  3. Robert Kaiser

    Now an additional nice pitch would be to use open map data as well and go with OpenStreetMap/OpenLayers stuff – but I don’t know if painting what you need on it works flawlessly. Would be nice, though ;-)

    December 16th, 2010 at 10:07

    1. cheilmann

      Yeah, as I said in the summary :) I will have a go when I get back home – busy meeting week here.

      December 16th, 2010 at 10:09

  4. tack

    That’s a nice project, but did google maps get the route that Lindbergh took wrong? Was it a straight line on a flat map instead of a curve? The Earth is round.

    December 16th, 2010 at 12:40

  5. Robert Longson

    This is great, could you not have used SMIL and made it even simpler though? All that setTimeout stuff would disappear and you can still sync the video and animation using event based timing on the SMIL animation.

    December 18th, 2010 at 03:51

  6. paul

    actually the Indiana Jones maps are what inspired the Google Analytics chart design

    December 18th, 2010 at 14:56

  7. Ninna

    Haha how funny is that!

    January 7th, 2011 at 08:20

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