January 15, 2010  |  Behind the Scenes, Tech
Time-Lapse Videos: The Joy of Watching Paint Dry and Tons of Steel Moving

The second half of the 2000s (is it too early to say that?) saw the rapid rise of online video (read a good summary here), and we’ve been actively experimenting here at MoMA. What started over three years ago as a small trial with myself, Zoe Jackson from the Marketing Department, a laptop, and a cheap miniDV camera has turned into a larger production—with a team drawn from MoMA’s Education, Marketing, Graphic Design, and Digital Media departments collaborating (in addition to all of our other day-to-day responsibilities). One of the most common types of videos we’ve produced are time-lapse videos of exhibition installations. Our first (shown above) was of Richard Serra’s sculptures being installed in the Sculpture Garden.

From a technical standpoint, the setup is pretty simple: an old PC laptop, an inexpensive piece of software to control a Canon still camera, a tripod, and a few power cords. It’s very easy to set up, move, or leave running overnight or over multiple days. The individual still images are then run through a QuickTime script or imported into Final Cut and compiled to create a kind of stop-motion film.

Time-lapse setup in the Marron Atrium (left), and on a shelf at the studios of ATTA Inc. (top right) for the fabrication of the topiary for the Tim Burton exhibition

Time-lapse setup in the Marron Atrium (left), and on a shelf at the studios of ATTA Inc. (top right) for the fabrication of the topiary for the Tim Burton exhibition

So why time-lapse? First, I’m a geek for the time-based painting work of the Barnstormers collective (read and see more about them as well as time-lapse master BLU on the Juxtapoz blog), so I had already been playing around with some time-lapse software in a feeble attempt to ape both their work and the work of William Kentridge. Here’s the Barnstormers’ second video:


Second, I noticed that the installations here at MoMA are unbelievably complex, and people are always excited to get to see what happens “behind the curtain.” We also suffer from some of the issues well described in the Art21 blog by director of production Nick Ravich in regards to capturing large works and translating massive installation projects onto the “small screen.” One example is last year’s Home Delivery exhibition, which involved an exhibition in the galleries as well as sample houses from around the world assembled in an empty lot next to the Museum. We worked with filmmaker Joey Forsythe, who was able to partner with Panasonic to use some of their wireless webcams to document the building fabrications in Europe, as well as the installation at MoMA. The webcams can be connected and controlled over a network, so (in theory) once’s they’re installed you can do all the work from your desk and pan/zoom from your desktop!

We’ve continued to do time-lapse videos with both of these systems, and it’s always a fun process to watch things unfold. Here’s a video from the installation of Projects 90: Song Dong that used both systems:

Of course, things can get to be too complex or too tired, so we’re always looking for new ways to share behind-the-scenes views with visitors. One of my favorite time-lapse videos is a test that a visitor to the Museum did:

Do you want to see more videos like this in 2010? What are some of the other things you’d like to see us documenting at