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Welcome to edition number 2 of a series introduced last Sunday. This week I have six more short films for you (total watching time: about 15 minutes). As with last week's films, they illustrate what visual artists are doing with recent advances in camera and computer software technologies.

Did anyone bring popcorn?

A number of film-related ideas were mentioned last week but left, for the most part, unexamined. I'd like to start off this week by taking a closer look at one of those, time-lapse film.

The general idea behind time-lapse is really something that comes in three parts. The first is that, as the name implies, there is a lapse in time between the frames of the film. One might, for example, take one frame (i.e., capture one image), wait 5 seconds and take the next one, wait 5 seconds and take the next one, and so on. If you do that for just under 2 minutes you'll have 24 frames of film to watch.

How you watch those frames is addressed by the second part of what makes time-lapse time-lapse. You can't play those 24 frames back at the same rate you took them (once every 5 seconds). In time-lapse films, the playback rate is faster (usually way faster) than the rate the frames were taken at.

When you go to a theater and watch a movie, the frames are being projected onto the screen at a rate of 24 per second (usually) which happens to be the same rate at which they were taken (again, usually). If we used those 24 frames we took once per 5 seconds, though, and played them back like a regular movie then what took us 2 minutes (120 seconds) to film would only take us 1 second to watch. There would be, in other words, a 120-to-1 compression in time (another way of saying that what you'd see would look 120 times faster than what actually happened). If you do a little math, you can figure out that with this compression if you want to end up with a 2 minute movie to watch it will take you 4 hours to film it.

So the first two parts of what makes a film time-lapse are: 1) there is a lapse in time between when the individual frames are taken, and 2), the frames are played back much faster than "real time." Can you figure out what the third part is? I'll get back to that in a bit, but first let's look at a few short films.

The time-lapse film I showed you last week used a camera that was mounted on a motorized track that moved the camera along a fixed path a tiny bit between each frame. That film was made more than 2 years ago when all this was a pretty new capability for people using digital SLR cameras. The following film, Randy Halverson's Temporal Distortion is more recent. If the playback rate for this film is 24 frames per second (fps) — and it might actually be more like 30fps — then Randy had to take 6,000 individual photos to make it a 4 minute, 10 second film. It's also worth pointing out that each one of those frames took him 20 to 30 seconds to make. Why? Because that's how long the shutter on the camera had to remain open for each frame so the camera could gather up enough light to make the stars visible.

[Note: In the playback controls across the bottom you'll see something that looks like a white X on the right. Click on that to switch in and out of fullscreen mode. Also note the "HD" right next to it. Clicking on that will enable/disable Hi-Def mode. If you're in HD mode, by the way, and having playback problems, turning off HD may help.]

Watching time-lapse films of the Milky Way like this always fills me with awe. It also makes me wonder how different our lives would be if this were how the night sky looked to us all the time — not only if we could see it so clearly, but if our perception of time were such that we saw it spin across the sky like that.

The following film, another time-lapse of celestial bodies, was made, but not filmed, by Chris Abbas. Instead of filming something, he downloaded what NASA photographed with the Cassini Spacecraft. The results strike me as being more artistic than Randy's film, above. By using editing software to put together the NASA photographs in the way that he has, Chris has moved away from simply documenting and closer to an abstracted expression of space. Watching Randy's film, I feel like my role is simply to observe. Chris's film, on the other hand, stirs the imagination; it gives me something to wrap stories around.

Did you happen to notice how Chris's film feels less like a time-lapse film than Randy's? If you can figure out why, then you'll have also figured out that third part ...

The following short, Notes On Biology, is a favorite of mine. Although it is the result of a group effort (and a large group, at that) it is mostly attributable to brothers Will and Danny Madden. What a gift it is to have people this talented in the world willing to share their creations so freely.

Isn't that wonderful? It portrays that delight in mayhem thing that infects teenaged boys' minds just about perfectly. I can't even begin to imagine how much work went into making that ...

So, here's a question for you: is Notes On Biology a time-lapse film? It's certainly made from a long series of shots that were spread out over time, and it was also played back at a much faster rate than it was filmed. But it really isn't time-lapse, at least not for the most part. It's actually a combination of stop-motion and cartoon animation. What's missing is that third part, namely that a time-lapse film speeds up something that actually happened. It changes the apparent speed of what happened but not the thing itself. In Notes On Biology, not only has what happened been sped way up, it's been severely, and selectively edited. For example, what actually happened—what you would have seen if you were there when it was filmed—had to have involved a lot of drawing on paper, but you don't see any (or at least hardly any) of that in the film.

If you go back and rewatch the second film above (Cassini Mission) you'll notice there are more than a few places where what you're seeing isn't just a sped up version of what happened. There is, for example, a lot of jerkiness and odd changes to the apparent orientation of the camera that were clearly not "what happened" but are what was added when editing the film.

Move, Eat, Learn

The following three films (also not time-lapse) are the work of Rick Mereki, Tim White and Andrew Lees and were commissioned by "STA Travel Australia." While I could go on and on (and on ...) about them, I'll stick with what Rick said about them:

"3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films..... = a trip of a lifetime."
I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find you've already seen one or more of these as they were extremely popular (i.e., they "went viral") shortly after being posted online 6 months ago.



See you next week!

Originally posted to Icarus Diving on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 10:15 AM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar (7+ / 0-)


    The visual arts can do a lot of things. When I'm lucky, they can even wake me up.
    "My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant, total amazement." — Patricia (Meg Ryan) in Joe Versus the Volcano.
  •  Cool stuff, thanks. I liked #3 & #6 best (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icarus Diving

    Even though I'm not so interested in video art, I started a series based on videos myself that leaned more toward teaching (science) and not the art.

  •  Beautiful. thank you. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Amber6541, Icarus Diving, palantir

    except, after watching "Eat," I'm so hungry.

    Corporations are people, my friend Yeah, well, so's Soylent Green, so I don't find that very comforting. New video: "Undertaker"

    by Crashing Vor on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:59:59 PM PST

  •  thanks for posting. I'm in iphone right now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icarus Diving, palantir

    but will watch these later.

    As one who is in the production business, I'm thrilled about the "return" (or rather, increased popularity) of short films. I probably watch 6-10 of them a day.

    I'm following you now. Thanks for the series!

    I've become re-radicalized. Thanks a lot you bunch of oligarchical fascist sons-of-bitches. But once again, I have no choice. Bring it the fuck on.

    by mdmslle on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 04:25:13 PM PST

  •  Nifty! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icarus Diving

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam> "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Edna St.V. Millay

    by slouching on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 09:33:40 AM PST

  •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icarus Diving

    I stumbled across your post last week and it inspired me to dig out my video camera that's been sitting on a shelf for two years.  I'm building a steadicam mount for it and I'm going to start playing around.  Hopefully I'll get some good practice in before our big family vacation this summer.

    Do you have any idea of how the filmmakers find the background music they use?

    •  You're welcome! (0+ / 0-)

      There are a number of places that provide free or low price music. Vimeo, for example, has a music store. The musician Kevin MacLeod has a lot of royalty free music, much of which is a cut (or two) above what you usually find out there and all he asks for is that you give him credit for it.

      If you've got time to kill, web searches for "royalty free music" or "public domain music" will get you more than you'd ever be able to listen to ... (not to mention a lot you really won't care to listen to).

      Good luck with the steadicam, as well. They make a huge difference in the quality of the film.

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