Mapping the Maize

Graphics come to life in mazes measuring dozens of acres.

Dusty Rigby talks about his work in terms that dwarf most notions of grand-format imaging: “The average is about eight to 10 acres; a few are as large as 25 acres,” he says. “The biggest we did was about 80 acres.” He’s talking about corn mazes.

Rigby is one of the designers and cutters with The Maize, a maze consulting and design company in Spanish Fork, Utah, that currently works with more than 260 locations around the world. At ground level, Rigby’s designs provide fall fun for thousands who head to the countryside to spend a few hours wandering aimlessly through a cornfield. Only when viewed from above do those wayward paths converge into a colossal graphic.

“We’ve done pictures of celebrities, marriage proposals, sponsored ads, even the world’s largest QR code,” says The Maize’s marketing director, Kamille Combs. “There’s really no limit to what we can do.”

A typical project for The Maize was the Chilliwack Corn Maze, which the company created last year for the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. This rendition of the school’s 40th anniversary logo filled 10 acres and measured 370 x 925 feet.

In this case, the school provided a drawing of the logo, but many projects begin as ideas, photos, or adaptations of thousands of templates the company keeps of past mazes. Working in CorelDraw on a MacBook running Parallels – a hosting and cloud service provider – Rigby first converts the graphic to line art, then plots it against a grid of horizontal and vertical lines.

That grid represents a field sown with corn in rows usually spaced 30 inches apart, running east-west and north-south. In early summer, when the corn is about waist-high, the field gets an initial cut, based on that design grid. In some cases, the design is converted into a file of GPS coordinates that are provided by the maze operator for cutting, guided by a vehicle navigation system.

Most mazes, though, are mapped out on the field manually, then cut using zero-turn mowers by members of The Maize staff. “We’ll start in one corner, measure out based on the grid, and place colored flags so we know where to cut. It takes about half a day for each maze,” says Rigby. “We cut about 200 every year, all over the country.”

Depending on weather, location, and variety of corn, the landowner may need to make a second pass before the maze opens in the fall. Then, those big images are a big draw for agritourism.

“There’s a lot of planning, coordination, and work, year round, that go into each of these mazes,” notes Combs. “And when they open, they tend to generate a lot of attention and visitors.”

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