Unless you’ve been hiding from the Internet recently, you’ll have noticed that Keith Loutit is back, and he’s done it again. Lion City II is a piece of timelapse mastery, a homage to the fast developing city of Singapore and the people living in it. If you haven’t heard of seen any of Keith’s work, I suggest checking out his website and Vimeo page. He’s a corner pin of the tilt-shift timelapse filmmaking movement, with movies such as The Lion City offering up an incredibly unique perspective on storytelling through timelapse photography. I was fortunate enough to get Keith on the phone to talk about his latest project. Here’s a paraphrased version of our chat on his latest project: Lion City II. Congratulations on an amazing piece in Lion City II. How long did this project take? Thanks very much! The project took over 3 years in total. Much of the early days were spent scouting and development work. There’s so much that goes into something like this aside from actually shooting. Lots of planning and establishing a style through story and technique. Since your work has grown in popularity, so has the genre of timelapse/tilt shift/hyperlapse filming. Has this made things more difficult to make original and compelling content? It has actually been the best thing for me. Once the market became saturated, it really forced me to not rest on my laurels and made me think more creatively. I still have the same goals I want to achieve, I’ve just had to change the technique. In order to create that sense of otherworldliness, to make people see things in a different way, things have to be new and unique. How do you go about planning a project like this? Was there initially a type of technique you wanted to use? What aspect of the film came first? For me, story always comes first. Singapore is a fantastic place and has been my home for over 12 years, and is a city that is developing so fast. The premise of Lion City II (the film is set exclusively in Singapore) lent itself nicely to change and growth, but it would have been meaningless if I hadn’t referenced the people of the city also. There’s actually a really cool analogy that relates to what I was going for, and it is that of the elephant and mouse. They’re unaware of each other’s existence because they perceive time differently. That said, this particular project did have some help from a technical point. I was doing some commercial construction work and one wide shot just stood out to me. I decided to try and match it up with a few other shots and the technical aspect of this aligned with my initial feelings of wanting to make another Singapore based project. That was the initial idea, people moving around a city and the city is growing around them. The technical side of things comes second: once the story is there, it’s just a case of working out the best way to capture it technically. There are some mighty impressive hyperlapse shots in Lion City II. Can you tell us how you achieved these? They’re a bit of a trade secret! It’s much more organic and simple than some would think, and 90% of shots are just me with a camera and tripod. I use the same system for aligning repeat construction shots that I do for hyperlapses. The vertical shot involved physically climbing a 40-story building floor by floor and shooting through a window, but I can’t tell you much more. People like my films because their unique, so I like to respect that. And what about the developing construction shots, can you tell us a little bit about these? Yeah, these were a result of revisiting the same locations repeatedly over a few years. It was a great experience for learning the speeds of certain types of projects; commercial buildings develop at much different speeds than, say, residential buildings. To capture these, I did look at permanent camera solutions, WiFi-enabled devices and so on. But I found a workflow I was happy with that enabled me to take the camera away with me. It took more time and effort than other methods, but that’s something I had plenty of for this project. The system I’ve developed enables me to achieve the exact same framing of a shot from the same spot, whether it’s 15 seconds after the initial image or 3 years. It’s fast too: under the right circumstances I can to be in and out of a location in 10 minutes. You get some great vantage points for your frames. How do you go about achieving these? When you’re scouting a location, you’re actually scouting two main things: what the shot will be of and where your vantage point will be. Fortunately, there is a lot of public housing in Singapore, so many of the view points were readily accessible. For some construction sites there was a bit of negotiating with nearby towering building blocks so that I could get access and film from there. On top of that, you then have to work out best time to shoot. Initial testing had some horrific results. Singapore resides close to the Equator, meaning that for half of the year the sun will position itself in the Southern Hemisphere, and the other half in the Northern Hemisphere. Initial tests showed discrepancies in the weather that would just ruin shots, so I had to revisit locations at the right time. Also, the wet season didn’t help: I like to shoot with nice blue skies as a personal preference, but in the wet season you’re likely to get stormy weather around 2pm . So there was a strict amount of planning and scheduling for each shot? Oh, yes! I’d map the movements of the sun at every location, note the weather changes and set a schedule with windows of time during which I could revisit a location to get the right look that combined construction development, sun direction and weather. It was quite a task keeping up with all schedules; there were times when I’d have up to 30 going at the same time! I actually lost a few shots through the Indonesia forest fires. We had long spells of hazy weather sweep into Singapore, and it meant I was unable to reach certain locations. That was a shame. What was your camera setup of choice? I still use relatively lightweight setups. I shoot on the Nikon D4 with old manual Nikon and Zeiss lenses, Gitzo series 5 tripod, Lee Filters and a cheap wireless trigger to eliminate camera shake. Can you tell me about why you chose the Nikon D4 and old manual lenses? I used to shoot on 4 Nikon D3 bodies, but with the amount of shutter actuations I generate, I was regularly breaking the shutter. Even after forming a good working relationship with Nikon in order to get them fixed quickly, it was still down time I couldn’t afford to have. So, the Nikon D4 was an obvious choice with the durable Kevlar/carbon fibre shutter. I shoot on old AI and AIS Nikon, as well old Zeiss manual primes as I like to have the aperture diaphragm pins removed so that I can completely eliminate aperture twitches during my timelapses. These old primes have worked well for me, they’re relatively cheap and easy to get hold of, as well as modify and fix or replace if they go wrong in the field. The Nikon 55mm f/1.2 and Zeiss 18mm F/3.5 are particular favourites. Talk me through the post production, there must be a lot of data and edit time? The project was over 10TB of data. I wanted a reliable backup system and one that was easy to catalogue. I used a G-Technology G-Studio for local backup, and due to the fast upload speeds (1GB up and down) here in Singapore, I was able to zip everything up and back it up on the cloud service Google Drive. This meant my project was backed up on separate servers and I could access it remotely. And due ti Google’s search engines, it was actually much easier to search for my files than it was on my local drives. I would date and keyword everything before uploading so that it was easy to find at a later date. Were you editing your clips as they were happening? What was your workflow for them? Yes. If I had left all the editing until after all the filming, it would’ve added another year to the entire process. It was very much a progressive project. The same can be said about the soundtrack: Michael (composer) and I were in touch throughout the project on how the final piece would sound. Back to the workflow, I processed as I went, harmonizing the footage (aligning footage and correcting the grade), and mastering the DPX files in DaVinci Resolve. That’s great, and lastly can you offer any advice for filmmakers looking to develop in timelapse filmmaking? I’ll go back to what I said at the start, and that is to put story first. I’ve always been one to never give out technical advice as there’s so much content on the Internet nowadays that already provides this. Get your story right first, the rest will follow. If something unique appeals to you, it’s likely to appeal to somebody else. Great advice, what’s next for you? I have a few things in the pipeline, but there’s still so much content from this project. Only 25% of my construction filming was used for the final piece and it looks fantastic slowed down, so I’m considering an exhibition to further present this.Read more
Consumers and professionals alike are obsessed with fingertip technology, camera and grip equipment is getting smaller and lighter, and smartphones can do just about anything except cook us dinner (in the literal sense, plenty of culinary apps out there!) Last year we were taken by storm by what seemed to be the next fad after time-lapse photography – Hyperlapse. Now, social media snappers Instagram have released a sister app that stabilizes video from your very own smartphone to create hyperlapses. What is a hyperlapse? Just watch this video below: Filmmaker Luke Shepard bought a ticket around Europe with just a tripod and DSLR to capture this stunning short. To capture a Hyperlapse you simply shoot a standard timelapse, move the camera after each actuation and stabilize it in post. Due to the fact that you have so much resolution to play with, and that you aren’t battling any artifacting such as camera shake or rolling shutter, post stabilizations is much more effective. The app by Instagram video stills in the same way to stabilize, and if conducted properly can yield some really great results. Hyperlapse by Instagram has taken the app store by storm, The Guardian reported it ranked 11th in the UK store in the same week of release, whilst hitting third and first in the US photo and video categories.Read more
Microsoft is hardly known as a player in the video and film industry, but their Research division turned out some pretty spectacular image processing innovation before (incorporated into Bing Maps). Now they have found a way to make point-of-view / first-person video more watchable. An inherent problem of the typical GoPro strapped to your head is that humans do not move steadily – it’s our brains that make us think that we move smoothly, in fact there is a lot of shake (hence the need for handheld gimbals as pioneered by Freefly Systems with the MoVi). That means that our POV-GoPro shots almost NEVER look anything like the GoPro marketing department makes us think it would look like. In comes Microsoft with the demo of a yet-unpublished software that can not only de-shake these first person videos, but actually make them extremely smooth. In their demo video below, they demonstrate the different looks of the input material, the sped-up timelapse version of that (unbelievably shaky) and the Microsoft hyperlapse version after processing. The downside is that it only seems to work for sped-up (i.e. timelapse) versions of those point-of-view videos, not the realtime recordings, which would certainly be more useful in day-to-day use (I am actually currently personally deeply involved in a large first-person project that would greatly benefit just from that!). However, the results of Microsoft’s hyperlapses are nothing short of amazing: Using some kind of 3D camera path mapping, the route becomes much smoother and actually seems to reconstruct footage at the edges. They also show what normal stabilization looks like on that same footage, and it doesn’t come even remotely close. They are working on putting all of this goodness into a Windows app (yeah, I know … come on, it’s 2014, please give us a Mac app too!). Until then, head over to their Microsoft Research page where you can download the technical paper, supplemental material and a high-res video demo. From their site: We present a method for converting first-person videos, for example, captured with a helmet camera during activities such as rock climbing or bicycling, into hyper-lapse videos, i.e., time-lapse videos with a smoothly moving camera. At high speed-up rates, simple frame sub-sampling coupled with existing video stabilization methods does not work, because the erratic camera shake present in first-person videos is amplified by the speed-up. Scene Reconstruction Our algorithm first reconstructs the 3D input camera path as well as dense, per-frame proxy geometries. We then optimize a novel camera path for the output video (shown in red) that is smooth and passes near the input cameras while ensuring that the virtual camera looks in directions that can be rendered well from the input. Next, we compute geometric proxies for each input frame. These allow us to render the frames from the novel viewpoints on the optimized path. Proxy Geometry Stitched & Blended Finally, we generate the novel smoothed, time-lapse video by rendering, stitching, and blending appropriately selected source frames for each output frame. We present a number of results for challenging videos that cannot be processed using traditional techniques.Read more
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