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Time-lapse photography is a technique whereby the frequency
at which film frames are captured (the frame rate) is much
lower than that used to view the sequence. When played at
normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus
lapsing. For example, an image of a scene may be captured
once every second, then played back at 30 frames per second.
The result is an apparent 30-times speed increase.
Time-lapse photography can be considered the opposite of
high speed photography or slow motion.

Processes that would normally appear subtle to the human
eye, e.g. the motion of the sun and stars in the sky,
become very pronounced. Time-lapse is the extreme version
of the cinematography technique of undercranking, and can
be confused with stop motion animation.

Some classic subjects of timelapse photography include:

1. cloudscapes and celestial motion
2. plants growing and flowers opening
3. fruit rotting
4. evolution of a construction project
5. people in the city

The technique has been used to photograph crowds, traffic,
and even television. The effect of photographing a subject
that changes imperceptibly slowly, creates a smooth
impression of motion. A subject that changes quickly is
transformed into an onslaught of activity.

The first use of time-lapse photography in a feature film
was in Georges Méliès' motion picture Carrefour De L'Opera
(1897). Time-lapse photography of biologic phenomena was
pioneered by Jean Comandon in collaboration with Pathé
Frères from 1909, by F. Percy Smith in 1910 and Roman
Vishniac from 1915 to 1918. Time-lapse photography was
further pioneered in the 1920s via a series of feature
films called Bergfilms (Mountain films) by Arnold Fanck,
including The Holy Mountain (1926).

From 1929 to 1931, R. R. Rife astonished journalists with
early demonstrations of high magnification time-lapse
cine-micrography but no filmmaker can be credited for
popularizing time-lapse more than Dr. John Ott, whose
life-work is documented in the DVD-film "Exploring the

Ott's initial "day-job" career was that of a banker, with
time-lapse movie photography, mostly of plants, initially
just a hobby. Starting in the 1930s, Ott bought and built
more and more time-lapse equipment, eventually building a
large greenhouse full of plants, cameras, and even
self-built automated electric motion control systems for
moving the cameras to follow the growth of plants as they
developed. He time-lapsed his entire greenhouse of plants
and cameras as they worked - a virtual symphony of
time-lapse movement. His work was featured on a late
1950s episode of the request TV show, You Asked For It.

Ott discovered that the movement of plants could be
manipulated by varying the amount of water the plants were
given, and varying the color-temperature of the lights
in the studio. Some colors caused the plants to flower,
and other colors caused the plants to bear fruit. Ott
discovered ways to change the sex of plants merely by
varying the light source color-temperature.

By using these techniques, Ott time-lapse animated plants
"dancing" up and down in synch to pre-recorded music tracks.

His cinematography of flowers blooming in such classic
documentaries as Walt Disney's Secrets of Life (1956),
pioneered the modern use of time-lapse on film and
television. Ott wrote several books on the history of his
time-lapse adventures, My Ivory Cellar (195, "Health and
Light" (1979), and the film documentary "Exploring the
Spectrum" (DVD 200.

A major refiner and developer of time-lapse is the Oxford
Scientific Film Institute in Oxford, United Kingdom. The
Institute specializes in time-lapse and slow-motion
systems, and has developed camera systems that can go
into (and move through) impossibly small places. Most
people have seen at least some of their footage which
has appeared in TV documentaries and movies for decades.

PBS's NOVA series aired a full episode on time-lapse
(and slow motion) photography and systems in 1981 titled
Moving Still. Highlights of Oxford's work are slow-motion
shots of a dog shaking water off himself, with close ups
of drops knocking a bee off a flower, as well as time-lapse
of the decay of a dead mouse.

The first major usage of time-lapse in a feature film was
Koyaanisqatsi (1983). The non-narrative film, directed by
Godfrey Reggio, contained much time-lapse of clouds, crowds,
and cities filmed by cinematographer Ron Fricke. Years
later, Ron Fricke produced a solo project called "Chronos"
shot on IMAX cameras, which is still frequently played on
Discovery HD. Fricke used the technique extensively in the
documentary Baraka (1992) which he photographed on Todd-AO
(70 mm) film. The most recent film made entirely in
time-lapse photography is Nate North's film Silicon Valley
Timelapse, which holds the distinction of being the first
feature length film shot almost entirely in 3 frame high
dynamic range.

Countless other films, commercials, TV shows and
presentations have included time-lapse.

For example, Peter Greenaway's film A Zed & Two Noughts
featured a sub-plot involving time-lapse photography of
decomposing animals and included a composition called
"Time-lapse" written for the film by Michael Nyman. More
recently, Adam Zoghlin's time-lapse cinematography was
featured in the CBS television series Early Edition,
depicting the adventures of a character that receives
tomorrow's newspaper today. David Attenborough's 1995
series, The Private Life of Plants, also utilised the
technique extensively.

The frame rate of time-lapse movie photography can be
varied to virtually any degree, from a rate approaching a
normal frame rate (between 24 and 30 frames per second) to
only one frame a day, a week, or more, depending on subject.

The term "time-lapse" can also apply to how long the
shutter of the camera is open during the exposure of EACH
frame of film (or video), and has also been applied to the
use of long-shutter openings used in still photography in
some older photography circles. In movies, both kinds of
time-lapse can be used together, depending on the
sophistication of the camera system being used. A night
shot of stars moving as the Earth rotates requires both
forms. A long exposure of each frame is necessary to enable
the dim light of the stars to register on the film. Lapses
in time between frames provide the rapid movement when the
film is viewed at normal speed.

As the frame rate of time-lapse approaches normal frame
rates, these "mild" forms of time-lapse are sometimes
referred to simply as fast motion or (in video) fast
forward. This type of borderline time-lapse resembles a
VCR in a fast forward ("scan") mode. A man riding a
bicycle will display legs pumping furiously while he
flashes through city streets at the speed of a racing car.
Longer exposure rates for each frame can also produce blurs
in the man's leg movements, heightening the illusion of speed.

Two examples of both techniques are the running sequence in
Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) in
which Eric Idle outraces a speeding bullet, and Los Angeles
animator Mike Jittlov's 1980 short and feature-length film,
both titled The Wizard of Speed and Time, released to
theaters in 1987 and to video in 1989.

An animated example is the clip from the show "The Simpsons"
in which Homer Simpson takes a picture of himself a day for
39 years, although it is intended to be a comedy, thus not

When used in motion pictures and on television, fast motion
can serve one of several purposes. One popular usage is for
comic effect. A slapstick style comic scene might be played
in fast motion with accompanying music. (This form of special
effect was often used in silent film comedies in the early
days of the cinema; see also liquid electricity.)

Another use of fast motion is to speed up slow segments of a
TV program that would otherwise take up too much of the time
allotted a TV show. This allows, for example, a slow scene in
a house redecorating show of furniture being moved around
(or replaced with other furniture) to be compressed in a
smaller allotment of time while still allowing the viewer to
see what took place.

The opposite of fast motion is slow motion. Cinematographers
refer to fast motion as undercranking since it was originally
achieved by cranking a handcranked camera slower than normal.
Overcranking produces slow motion effects.


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