Research-led experiments with Time-lapse

I have spent Christmas and New Year deep in research into all things time-lapse in preparation for my next PhD Viva. This has thrown up some new ideas for ways to present the footage and a lot of theory around the way time-lapse works on our perceptions. My personal favourite is the Russian Professor who took Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to investigate the nature of subjective time: “I felt myself residing in all those locations that I passed on my way…” In fact that article is one of the most thought provoking I have read ending: “To ask: ‘what is reality?’ without mentioning: to whom, is as meaningless as to ask how one hand claps…” (Alyushin, A., 2010: 459).

Two practical experiments have resulted from the research:

First, following the example of Dawn Lyon, I am looking at the idea of using ambient sound recorded on site to suggest the ‘atmosphere’ of the event to the viewer. I have previously been using an upbeat trance track from the iMovie library because the films feel like they need a score, but I think this will be a better way to share the experience of being there. I didn’t record anything last year so I have cheated with a generic crowd sound effect to see how it works – results below.

Secondly, inspired by the magic mushroom man, I have been looking at ‘traces’. This idea is best explained by starting with a tracer bullet. In a machine gun every fifth or so bullet has a pyrotechnic in the base which burns as it flies and appears as a line (or trace). This allows the firer to see where the bullets are going – you must have seen them in the movies? Anyway the way it works is that human eyes take ‘pictures’ (he calls them neural frames) about every 0.1 seconds and our brains play them like a movie projector to give the illusion of movement. However, in 0.1 seconds a bullet moves a long way and so we don’t see the object, we see a trajectory (trace) of all the places it was in that 0.1 seconds. Play the movie and it is a line, that is our (subjective) reality.

But, here’s the thing, not all animals are the same. Some insects see a neural frame every 0.01 seconds and snails only every 0.25 seconds. That’s why flies are hard to swat and snails can’t catch balls. So imagine, says the mushroom man, an alien with a really slow neural frame rate, say of a year. If this alien was outside of the solar system and looking at the Earth, it wouldn’t be a globe – it would be a circle around the sun – a trajectory (trace) of all the places it was in that year. That would be the alien’s (subjective) reality, and no better or worse than ours…just different…like he says: “To ask: ‘what is reality?’ without mentioning: to whom, is as meaningless as to ask how one hand claps…”

Applying this to my research I thought it might be interesting to look at people moving in space as ‘traces’ rather than bodies. A bit of technical wizardry from After Effects… and the results are below. I’m not thinking of doing this to all the footage, but it does give a particular perspective on audience behaviour. Any comments much appreciated!