Our recent interactive look at the revival of the Elwha River watershed took collaboration across many corners of the newsroom. Here's a glimpse at how it came together.

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With our recent interactive look at the revival of the Elwha, we hoped to bring life to the story the same way the removal of the Elwha Dam had brought life back to the watershed.

Four days later, the page where that project lives remains one of the most popular on our site, particularly as the link continues to circulate on Facebook.

We’ve received hundreds of comments on everything from the before-and-after photo slider to the animated illustrations — but the most frequent comment of all has been about just how fascinating it is to see what Mother Nature does when humans pick up and get out of the way.

Reporter Lynda V. Mapes and photographer Steve Ringman, along with various other Times staffers, have been covering the Elwha for years. We’ve included some photos here of them out in the field. Like much of our past coverage of the Elwha, this most recent project took collaboration across many corners of the newsroom. Below, three journalists who worked on the project describe how it came together.

Steve Ringman, photographer

When Lynda and I started driving out to Port Angeles and the Elwha, I was struck by the giant Chinook salmon who, year after year, bumped their noses against the Lower Elwha Dam on their interrupted journey to spawn.

But the dams were coming out — after a 20-year process of politics and activism and money — and we would be the witnesses to the largest dam deconstruction in history.

It was also a science project to see what would happen when working dams disappeared, two lakes were drained and a century of silt would move to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We had lots of reporting to do, but, believe me, a day on the Elwha always beat a day in the office. We found that out again while reporting on the changes five years later. Sun, rain, didn’t matter; it was great to be back and witness all the changes.

Lynda V. Mapes, reporting on the science of dam removal in the Elwha River below the dam. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times, 2010)
Lynda V. Mapes, reporting on the science of dam removal in the Elwha River below the dam. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times, 2010)

Lynda V. Mapes, environment reporter

The 2015 Elwha River Science Symposium last November, I knew, would be a spectacular chance to steep in the latest news about the Elwha and its recovery since dam removal, with many of the top scientists engaged from the beginning gathered to share and discuss their work. I thought, what if we could take a deep science dive on the Elwha, and share it with readers in a way that really brought the story home?

I walked back to our graphics department and said, “I have an idea.” Within minutes, artists, our design director and Web developer pulled up chairs and we were talking, sketching and creating the package we published last weekend.

I think all of us were energized by the story itself and the joy of sharing it. In a time when the footprint of people in Seattle is getting bigger and bigger, it felt great to put a spotlight on a place where nature is resurgent.

As a reporter, it was thrilling, too, to see how new online tools can bring stories to life in ways never before possible, to wider audiences than ever.

Mark Nowlin, lead graphic artist

The processes happening along and in the Elwha River are organic and natural. Graphic artist Kelly Shea and I wanted the graphics and illustrations to have a natural and organic look to match what was happening.

Instead of creating them as computer vector images, we hand-drew in pencil the animals and scenes described by reporter Lynda V. Mapes. The finished graphite drawings were scanned into a computer and loosely colored using Photoshop to give them a watercolor- or ink-wash feel for the newspaper.

For the online and mobile display, our design director and Web developer decided we’d first show the graphite image and then flow the color in, giving the viewer a much richer, surprising experience.

Thomas Wilburn, news Web developer

We knew going into this project that we would want to feature the beautiful hand-drawn images of various critters in the Elwha watershed. The final technique is an adaptation of the “lead-dust” effect that we used in our Loaded with Lead investigative report.

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Instead of a single texture that’s used to “reveal” hidden text, we split the sketches into two layers: one base image that only contained the black channel for shading, and another full-color image that gets painted on top.

By using intentionally imperfect circles as our “brushes,” and expanding these circles from randomized positions, the resulting “watercolor” effect helps add a simple splash of life to the static images, without feeling gratuitous or jarring.

As always, we’ve open-sourced the code for this project, but for people who want to jump straight to the code, the wash effect is implemented here. By importing that module, various parts of the page can trigger the animation in response to scroll, click or other events.

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