Fun with rainbow pinwheels

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April 1, 2014 | 12:16 am

Have you ever wanted to sit and watch the Apple rainbow pinwheel dance across your computer screen for hours? If you have, try making a time lapse with full video in Final Cut X.

On September 10, I was charged with the task of creating a time lapse of the Paramount Theatre's marquee instillation. The massive metallic structure is ornate, colorful, and needed to be installed in six separate pieces.

Check out Diana Nollen's story about the sign, along with a photo gallery of the process.

An industrial feat for sure, the entire process was going to start at 8 a.m. and stretch long into the afternoon.

Since the sign instillation was so drawn out, photos and short video clips were not able to capture the entire process in a way that a time lapse could.

For anyone who doesn't know, a time lapse is a condensing of images or video to show a long period of time in a few moments. Essentially, think of it as fast forwarding a movie.

Frequently, time lapses are performed using still photographs. A photographer will set up a camera in a stationary location and snap a photo once every minute or two. Gazette photographer Liz Martin did this when the National Czech and Slovak Museum was moved.

When the photographs are shown in quick succession, the result is a relatively seamless stream of visuals.

I chose to tackle my time lapse using video for two reasons.

First, I am not a photographer. I have very little experience using The Gazette's still cameras, and it would have been a process that I would not have been as comfortable with.

Second, while the process was long — about four hours of filming — it was not that long. If I was to use a camera and shoot a still every minute, or even thirty seconds, a lot can change in those thirty seconds. When the crane was hoisting large portions of the sign, it was moving rather quickly. I would have missed large chunks of the process if I were using stills that were shot at designated intervals.

However, dealing with four hours of footage is daunting. I ran through a battery and a half, and filmed over 100 gigabytes of footage. Ingesting all of the footage into Final Cut was a logistical nightmare.

I had to watch, for almost an hour, the little pinwheel spin.

But the fun had just begun.

Final Cut X is an optimized product. It is very much an “Apple” program. What I mean by that is it is designed to function in a polished, seamless way that allows the user to feel as if the minutia of computing is handled for them.

Case in point: in Final Cut X, you cannot save. Saving is done for you. You are not expected to have to remember to save; Final Cut will be your friend and organize all your files for you.

Most of the time that is great. But there are those moments that it can bug you, and creating a time lapse is one of those times.

Final Cut X has a wonderful feature called re-time. By simply selecting a video clip and choosing the speed (either 2x 4x 8x or 20x) the program will instantly re-time the clip for you, and you are able to see the length of the clip shrink before your eyes.

But the reality is the clip hasn't been re-timed at all.

The program wants you to think it has done the job instantly, and hopes you will go about your business while it works in the back end to actually do all of the re-timing work.

This would work great for re-timing, say, a minute or two of footage. But not four hours.

If you attempt to re-time four hours of footage at once — like I did — the computer freezes. I sent my brand new MacBook Pro into a perpetual state of rainbow pinwheel.

Backtracking, I was able to chunk the four hours into short, ten-minute segments. Re-timing each of them, shrinking them, and then allowing Final Cut to spend five minutes processing the request. This, as you could imagine, took hours.

Especially since 20x, which is Final Cut X's cap for re-timing, only shortened the video to about 15 minutes. So I had to export the video, re-ingest the 15 minutes of footage into Final Cut, and re-time it once more to reach the desired length of one minute.

But the end product was wonderful.

I had a seamless time lapse of four hours in just a minutes. The benefit to using video was that when one of the workers was diligently screwing bolts into the sign, even though his motions were tremendously sped up, you are still able to watch a fluid visual stream.

Photos would not provide you with that detail.

I think I reached the limit of video time lapse with four hours. For longer, slower processes such as the moving of a building, or the movement of the sun across the sky, stick with photos.

But for those who wish to try their hand at a video time lapse, Final Cut X's re-time feature is fantastic.

Just be prepared to wait.

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