This is a very short travel sequence that highlights a time-lapse that I put together recently. The traveling time-lapse shot toward the end of the sequence is the first of it’s kind that I’m aware of. Read the post for more info. As always, click on the little gear symbol at the bottom of the video player to watch it in HD!
I don’t really consider myself to be much of a graphics/effects guy. I’d rather be taking pictures than staring at a computer monitor or pouring over some arcane software user manual. Making films by yourself however, requires that you learn to do a lot of different things and if you want to take advantage of even a little bit of what modern digital filmmaking has to offer, this means learning some After Effects and motion tracking and color management and knowing more than a little about pixel-wrangling. It’s hard to manipulate video to get what you need if you don’t understand the nitty-gritty of how digital images work. So I’ve become a reluctant computer nerd spending untold thousands of hours learning how to use computers to bring the things I see in my head to the screen.
Recently, weeks of wrestling with software and plug-ins and pixels ended, not as it usually does in frustration and compromise, but with a time-lapse magically coming together in a way that I would not have thought possible. In a year or two this sort of effect will probably be available as a push-button preset on every consumer camera. What took me easily 120 hours will be probably be available as a “Stabilize Any Shot Without Loss of Resolution Brush” in Adobe After Effects CS6. It will be right next to the tool that automagically composes an original score to any image sequence (There will be a drop-down menu, “In the Style Of,” which will taylor the score to the compositional style of various famous composers). But for now, it’s only possible through some pretty complex manual image stabilization. I follow the industry news and monitor the time-lapse forums pretty closely and this is the first time-lapse of it’s kind that I know of. Moving time-lapses are not a new concept and are even easy to achieve assuming you have a smooth and steady motion. A time-lapse from the roof of a car for example is the same concept as using a dolly to add movement to a shot. This could even be achieved from the water assuming you had a flat calm waterway. But when shooting on the ocean from a boat that is bouncing pretty violently, extracting a smooth time-lapse presents some serious challenges.
I worked on trying to stabilize this time-lapse for weeks using point and planar tracking software of various sorts. I came very close with Mocha and After Effects but even after stabilizing the actual objects in the frame, was unable to correct the distortion from the wide-angle lens as it took pictures from different positions. This translated to the time-lapse as an unnerving flickering of the clouds and sky as if they were painted onto a piece of paper that was being waved around. No amount of corner pinning seemed capable of undistorting and smoothing the sequence. I ended up sending all of the files to a guy who does more serious stabilization and post-processing stuff in Germany but he too had little luck making it work. I gave up for a few weeks and worked on other parts of the film. Last week I returned to the time-lapse to try a couple last things and lo and behold – a smooth, POV time-lapse showing the accelerated process of clouds billowing up into the sky while we move by boat through a string of islands and sand bars. This time-lapse was shot by hand out of a boat moving at about 15-20 miles an hour. Hand-holding this time-lapse was actually critical to it working. My arms acted as a sort of camera stabilizer countering the dramatic motions of the boat. A tripod mounted camera resting on the hull of the boat would have moved far too much to ever be able to stitch together the images. The shot is toward the end of this short travel sequence taken from my upcoming film “Exuma.” Subscribe to my RSS feed for news and updates about its release later this year. For more detailed info about how I achieved this travel-lapse, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email. As usual, watch it in HD! 1080!! It makes a huge difference.