How can I build a house in 20 minutes?
November 21, 2007 3:33 AM   Subscribe

How to make a time lapse movie of a 2 year construction project? There is a new building being built in my university campus it should be finished by 2009. I want to capture the whole process of erecting the building by shooting few frames every day and editing them into a time lapse movie that will last 20 minutes.

there is a tall building next to the building site, so I will be able to fit a camera at a high vintage point. My main question is about the best technology to use. Ideally I would like the whole process of capturing to be as automatic as possible, as it is not practical to be there every day to take pictures myself. I was thinking of using a wireless web-cam, but have no experience of such devices and don't know how reliable they are. If there is anyone here with knowledge of video, What will be the best way of making this movie? Thank you for your help.
posted by slimeline to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'll let someone else chime in on the technology aspect, but in Windows Movie Maker you can drop in a set of pictures and it will allow you to create a movie. I think this should work for you.

Sidenote - I am excited by this idea. I hope to do this when my University puts up their next building.
posted by imjosh at 5:14 AM on November 21, 2007

I've not done this but I'm familiar with the technology. This is a good intro to get you started. Many cameras have some rudimentary time-lapse functionality and the specifics will depend on the camera you choose.

If you can get your hands on a DSLR (and can trust the location enough) you could hack together a remote-shutter release to a timer but that's probably not going to be as plug-and-play as you want.
posted by Skorgu at 5:18 AM on November 21, 2007

I'd advise not to use a webcam. It really would be worth it to use a camera with decent image quality.

You don't mention your budget, or the cooperation level of the administration but I imagine you could rig up a system with a cheap old PC in a wiring closet, and a used Canon Digital Rebel (with a power cord, not standard) at a window or mounted in some sort of weatherproof box outside. There is remote capture software that Canon puts out that does just this.

Set it to take a picture every day at, say, noon, and then FTP into that box occasionally to back up the pictures.

Two years seems like a long time for this to work, but I can't think of any reasons it would necessarily fail.

Remember to adjust the computer so that it doesn't pay attention to daylight savings!

Please follow up!
posted by dirtdirt at 6:11 AM on November 21, 2007

I’ve been doing this to record time-lapse of the construction of my house. I even posted a few AskMe questions about it, though I didn’t get to many results.

I’m doing it low-budget, with an old laptop and a cheap Logitech webcam. Quality sucks but so far the whole works have survived out in the elements since August and it’s still going. The exterior is just about done so I’m almost finished with the camera rig.

I would suggest you use a better webcam than the one I’m using. here (YT self-link) are some very early, unedited, results. I’ve since moved the camera into a tree to get a better view. As you can see, this is what you get from a cheap-o webcam. The angle of my lot also makes for some difficult lighting situations.

The laptop is housed in a Rubbermaid bin with two vents cut in the side. I use an inexpensive fan to circulate air. Flexible conduit runs from the bin to the camera which is housed in a case made from a modified waterproof flashlight. Everything is sealed with some waterproof caulking. My Dremel really got a workout building the case.

I put Ubuntu Linux on the laptop because it was previously running Windows 98, wouldn’t handle XP, and I wanted the stability. I’m a Linux noob but I like to tinker with stuff and it’s easy enough to figure out. I don’t remember the webcam software I’m using but it was easy enough to install from the Ubuntu package manager. It takes a snapshot every ten minutes, which you can adjust as much as you want. Twice a day a chron job zips up the days pictures. Every few days I plug in a USB thumb drive to take the pictures off the laptop and bring them home. I then use Quicktime Pro to put them together in a movie. Wifi wasn’t an option, unfortunately.

My main problem, how to power the whole thing, was solved the day they installed a temporary electrical service at the site. I use a 50-foot contractor grade extension cord.

It’s really neat and it’s been a fun project. My contractor, architect, and framer are all fascinated by it and hope to use it on their websites some day. Despite the poor quality I’m glad I’ll have this record of the project.
posted by bondcliff at 7:08 AM on November 21, 2007

Sounds like a cool project - I really think things like this are cool.

20min/2yrs = 1.6sec/day = 50 frames/day at 30 frames/sec.

If you really want to fill up 20 minutes, you need to take a *lot* of pictures each day (Even more if you take out weekends/holidays/winter/etc). Actually, you probably don't need 30 frames/sec - maybe someone else can speak to this, but you still need much more than a shot a day for a 20 minute film.

However, 20 minutes seems terribly long for this. Is this intended to be a documentation, or entertainment. I think time lapses are very cool, but I wouldn't want to sit through 20 minutes or a building being construction. Also consider the effect of the sun rising and setting every 1.6 seconds - an effect I would think would become distracting/annoying well before your 20 minutes are up.

I would recommend a shorter film, with maybe 1 shot/day (at the same time each day for consistant lighting) in the beginning, and then more shots near the end when all the interesting stuff is happening.
posted by jpdoane at 7:50 AM on November 21, 2007

20 minutes of a building being constructed
posted by jpdoane at 7:51 AM on November 21, 2007

I second dirtdirt's comment about the DSLR/computer combo for image quality, it will look SO much better. But I'd take more than a picture a day...maybe 5 or 6 a day. Better to have more images than not enough (over 2 years!) you can delete them later if you want a faster lapse. One picture a day for 730 days only ends up being 24 seconds of footage at 30fps.
You don't specify, but I'm on a Mac and use iStop Motion for just this kind of thing. Great application and you can use a video camera or DSLR. This, of course, means you have to leave both a computer and a camera at the sight for 2 years...
posted by chococat at 7:54 AM on November 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I animate these using After Effects for a client of mine who takes the shots using a StarDot camera with their outdoor enclosures.

Their resolution isn't ridiculously high, but it's high enough for good video. There is a learning curve with the cameras, but a strong advantage is that it can upload images online without an intermediary computer onsite.

Based on your request, I wouldn't do this with a DSLR. You mention that you don't want to be onsite every day, and I believe you'd pretty much have to with a DSLR in order to make sure that it's working. With a webcam, you can just check online.
posted by asuprenant at 9:51 AM on November 21, 2007

On review, dirtdirt does have a workable remote solution with a DSLR, but it would be more cumbersome than a webcam, plus - depending on the security of your location - miscreants might be more likely to take a DSLR and laptop than bolted-down webcam and router.

Also, you'll want to make sure that sucker is secure, whatever you use. If you shoot for a year and things get bumped/nudged/stolen/whatever, it'll be a major pain trying to get the realignment just right.
posted by asuprenant at 9:58 AM on November 21, 2007

No time lapse film should be twenty minutes long. No time lapse film should be even five minutes long.
posted by notmydesk at 10:43 AM on November 21, 2007

Agreed that 20 minutes is to long. Also, if this is like most construction projects, progress is going to be sloooowwww so you're going to have a lot of pictures in series where not much is changing.
posted by boreddusty at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2007

My alma mater is engaged in a project to document a lengthy construction project. The linked page has a "how it's done" section and pointers to other resources.
posted by harmfulray at 12:40 PM on November 21, 2007

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