Help me figure out how to do a time lapse video.
January 3, 2012 5:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm facing a massive construction project I want to chronicle, start to finish, in a time lapse video. How do I go about this?

Do I stand in the same interior place everyday, and take a picture from the same angle for the duration of construction?

I've got a Droid 2, a MacBookPro, OSX 10.6.8. & a point and click digital camera.

There's an app for androids called Tina Time-Lapse. But you have to import the pictures to a media player, MPlayerX. I don't have any experience with MPlayerX. Is this something a non-computer geek like myself can figure out? Is there anyone here who's done something similar? Any tips you can give me? Do you import a picture everyday into MPlayerX, to make sure nothing gets lost? Or do it in one large file at the end of, say, 365 days? Is there a simpler way to do a time lapse video?

I know what I want; I just don't how to get there.
posted by zagyzebra to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did all of these timelapse videos.

The first key is that the camera needs to stay in position the whole time. Do you have a camera that you can give up for the duration of the project?

Because the camera has to stay put, two issues pop up: power and data. Unless you hook up a watchdog timer to turn on and off the camera, you'll need to leave the camera on the whole time. This means that you'll need external power. The second issue, data, is just a calculation. Figure out how many frames you'll need. If the construction is for a week, and you want to take a picture every minute, that's just over 10k frames. If you take a high-res jpeg, that'll be about a meg each, or about 10 gig total.

So the more specific question becomes do you have a camera that you can post for the duration, that can accept external power, and has the capacity to hold the data? Do you have access to a place where you can mount the camera where it will be out of the elements? Where it won't get nudged or blocked?

Then the technical bits. Unless you/your camera has an intervalometer, you'll need that ability on the camera itself. If you have a Canon, CHDK is a lifesaver. If not, not sure what to tell you.

Also, some of the videos above were manually set to a specific exposure and focus, and others weren't. Those videos were out of about 30 total, and the difference between manual and automatic wasn't nearly as great as I thought it was going to be. If I only had one go of it, I'd leave it on auto, unless you end up using a DSLR. Then I'd set it manually.

Once you have all the images, there are a bunch of ways to stitch the stills into video. Most video editing programs will let you import stills to video. You just select the import option, tell it that you're giving it stills, point to the folder of stills, and it will import them as a video. Then render out the video to whatever format you want.

That's the brief version. If you have any questions on any of the specifics, feel free to post here or me-mail me.

And be sure to post the final video here!
posted by ochenk at 7:05 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ochenk - There's an app for iphones called iLapse that's supposed to be easy to use. Unfortunately, I don't have an iPhone.

Having a camera allocated for the duration of construction isn't a problem, but having it stay put will be. The idea is to show the complete restoration of a severely fire damaged historical home. The entire inside has to be gutted. A stationary camera wouldn't make it through day #1 of the demolition.

Naively, I thought I would be able to manually hold a camera to take a picture in the same place, same angle everyday. Guess not.

I saw a time-lapse video done of a construction project in a residential neighborhood where the camera was positioned across the street on the exterior. It showed the home's old bones, the demo, and all the way through to the newly completed home. That's why I assumed you could hand-hold a camera to do the time lapse...because I didn't think the camera in this project could be safely mounted, say, to a telephone pole (and stay there) in the elements for the 6 to 8-month duration of the construction project.

Also, there are time lapse apps for both androids and the iphone. I figured phone owners wouldn't be parting with their personal cells for the entire length of the time lapse projects. Guess I thought wrong.
posted by zagyzebra at 8:53 PM on January 3, 2012

It's not impossible to do it hand-held, but it results in a very different look. If you can get one of those apps, try it out. Go shoot your mailbox every 10 minutes for a day and watch the sun and shadows change. It'll be cool, but you'll see that it will be somewhat jerky since the scene won't perfectly line up every frame. But maybe that'll work fine for what you're looking for.

You might also look at something like this, which is sort of the point-and-shot equivalent for timelapse. The image quality is okay, and is certainly easy to use.
posted by ochenk at 9:49 PM on January 3, 2012

The only thing I can think of is can you build some sort of jig, which will hold the camera in the same position every day (a corner on a wall that is not being touched?), then put a tripod thread in your jig, attach your camera to the jig (make sure position left/right is also fixed), put the jig in place, and take your picture. It won't be 100% steady, but better than handheld.
Generally for construction projects the camera is mounted outside on a pole, in a tamperproof container, or just way out of reach on a mast in an elements-proof container - which is how we do it on big (multi-billion $) construction projects.

The software is the easy part. Quicktime pro is what i've used, but I think even the free windows movie maker will let you dump in a pile of photos and render them to video.
posted by defcom1 at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2012

Response by poster: OCHENK & DEFCOM: Great ideas, all. Thank you so much for sharing. Between both your suggestions, I think we just may have a solution! We're going to look for that "point & shot" digital time lapse camera on Craigslist. We're also trying to figure out a way to position the camera so it won't be decimated by construction.

If I wanted to experiment (using Ochenk's mailbox example) with the handheld method, I'd be able to bypass the intervalometer and just use my point and click digital camera, right? And then manipulate the images into a time lapse video in Quicktime pro? Have I got this correct?

Defcom, since posting this question on metafilter yesterday, I have seen some of the remote pole-mounted methods used for time-lapsing construction projects. I guess that's how the time lapse video of this single family residential rebuild I saw online was I know.

Since I want to shoot the reconstruction from the interior, and not the exterior, this method won't work for me. But thanks to advice from both of you, I've got a better idea of where to begin. Ochenk, don't be surprised if you get a me-mail from me in the future.
posted by zagyzebra at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2012

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