During a project for Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, I had the opportunity to work with some of the raw time lapse images that André and his colleagues captured from the International Space Station (ISS). Having access to the original 500,000 raw images was quite a privilege, since they allow much more flexibility when it comes to color grading than the jpeg images that are available via the NASA website, and that you've probably seen in several ISS time lapse films out there.
I was looking for ways to make the images even more interesting and awesome, and in the above video, you see several versions of one of the shots I processed. First, you'll see the untreated footage, straight out of camera.
In the second clip I color graded the raw images in Aperture. That gave me a lot of flexibility compared to regular color grading software, since it's built to process raw stills. You'll also notice that I cropped off the top and bottom of the frame to make it fit the 16x9 aspect ratio.
In the next clip I slowed the footage down to around 8% of its original speed. The images were taken at a 1-second interval. Played back at 30fps the time lapse video makes it look like the International Space Station was circling the earth at 30 times its actual speed. But by slowing it down to 8% it looks a lot more realistic, although still more than twice as fast as what you would see in real life. The reason I didn't slow it down even more is that it would start generating "morphing" artifacts, apart from the fact that the image starts to look very static if you just show a short segment.
In the clip after that I used the same slow speed but also cropped the image quite a bit to show the possibilities of the high-res source footage. But what if we could make the crop dynamic instead of showing the same part of the frame?
This is what I did in the last two examples. In the first one I started out in the lower part of the frame and then moved up towards the Earth in the upper part, simulating a tilt move. Together with the rotation of the Earth, it gives the viewer the feeling they are in free fall towards Earth. The last example shows a push-pull move, a technique made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in the movie Vertigo (hence also dubbed the Vertigo-effect). It involves zooming out, while at the same time moving the camera forward. The visual effect is that of space being warped and stretched.
But wait, how could I do this when I can neither control the lens in order to zoom in or out, or the movement of the camera? The images have already been shot after all, and I doubt they would let me take a trip to the International Space Station for this project.
As for zooming, the great thing here is that zooming your lens in or out is exactly the same as cropping the image in post. Of course you'll lose resolution when you crop, but there's more than enough resolution here since I was using the raw images. The camera move would be more tricky since it cannot be simulated in post. However, the camera happens to be mounted on a moving platform here: the International Space Station is moving relative to the Earth. Think of it as a very, very expensive camera dolly. So I could use that built-in movement to my advantage here to fully simulate a push-pull move in post.
As you can see from these examples, there are a lot of creative ways to make your time lapse footage more interesting using a couple of very simple cinematic techniques. And I teach some of them in my courses.