CES Time Lapse Video- How we did it

Last week we worked for CES, the organization itself recording time lapse footage for 5 days. CES hired us to capture the vastness and the excitement of the show which centers at the Venetian Hotel and the Las Vegas Convention Center. This link below is what we edited at the end to summarize the show in a 3 minute video.

CES Time Lapse

Time lapse requirements are very different and more demanding in many ways than recording straight video for a number of reasons. The first and most onerous is that with video you can record a 20 second clip and get the gist of what you are trying to portray. With time lapse you may need to record for 20 minutes to get the same result. What this means is that each “shot” requires considerably more time to execute. With a show as large as CES, a great deal of planning and crew was needed including having an editing suite onsite to download memory sticks from the cameras and review footage.

We started by reviewing everything we knew about time lapse, researching and testing anything we didn’t know or had to get a feel for.

For this project we had a Sony EX1 which is capable of interval recording, two Panasonic DSLRs and two Canon DSLRs. Prior to the show we ran numerous tests in parking lots and other crowd venues to get a sense of the interval between frames that would work best. We settled on 1 frame/second for most crowds and used 1 frame/7 seconds for a shot we did of the show being set up overnight. We also tested the various quality settings of the DSLRs to come up with the optimum combination of smallest file size and necessary quality. We settled on JPEGs of approximately 2MB each.

The Sony EX1 allows you to set up interval recording and until you stop, all the frames are recorded as part of a video clip. Based on 1 frame/second, if played back at video 60 frames/second, it would require 60 seconds to get 1 second of time lapse video; 10 minutes to get 10 seconds of video. If you speed up the video in editing as we did, 10 minutes of shooting to get possibly 5 seconds of video. If you are recording 60 frames and it gives you 1 second that is 60 x 100% or 6000 times normal speed.

For the DSLRs we bought intervalometers which basically are devices which plug into the remote control jack and allow you to set the interval between shutter releases. We used the 1 frame/second with these also. To give enough footage in each shot we decided that we would record each time lapse for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Without saying, every shot has to be on a tripod with the camera remaining still. We took the arms off the tripods so that we or crowds had less of an opportunity to bump the tripod.

Prior to beginning a timelapse we shot practice frames to be certain exposure and focus was correct. With the DSLRs you have the option of adjusting ISO (same as gain on a video camera), aperture and shutter speed. With the EX1 we adjusted gain and aperture. If you don’t do the tests first, you might record a time lapse for 20 minutes and then find out it is garbage.  To make time lapse work properly, all setting must be on manual.

From the CES folks we got schedules of the events they wanted us to capture the day before we began so that meant putting a plan together quickly of who would do what. By 11PM the night before we were able to send out assignments to our crew. The day before we even scouted locations for the overnight shoot and set up our onsite editing station.

The editing process for the DSLRs meant converting JPEG images to video. We have Final Cut, CS 5.5 Premiere and just about every other editing software. With all the sophistication these programs provide they can’t compare to the ease of using Quicktime Pro 7 for this task. With Quicktime Pro you go to the file menu and say “open image sequence”, you select the first image in the directory where your JPEG images are and it will make an image sequence out of all the pictures in that directory after the one you select and make them available to play looking just like video on the timeline. You select the frame rate you want them to play and the import takes just seconds. Then to make video just export the sequence to the codec you want. In our case we use Pro Res 422 and that’s it; you have a video clip in a few seconds!

We made directories for every shooters camera sticks and then for their converted pro res video files onsite. We had a media manager working all day with this function. As he found something really good, he made notes in the appropriate folder.

At the end, per the requirements of our contract we edited together a 3 minute video, most of it at least twice the speed of the 60 frames/second

To anyone planning doing time lapse I’d suggest that you plan carefully, test before hand and expect to spend much more time recording than you are used to. The results however give a fantastic feel for the pace of a show like CES. This is what our client said about our work:

“the video was a big hit with all our staff that has seen it”

And besides getting paid, that is what we want to hear.

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