There's a ton of great time lapse eye candy out there. Look at very many of them however and they soon seem cut from the same cloth: a stunning landscape or cityscape, amazing light changes, and cinematic camera movement. They possess a consistent tone of meaningless awesomeness. I wanted to see if I could apply some of the same techniques to something personal and close to my heart, and make something that moved me.
The organizers of the annual Portland Megaband contra dance in Portland asked me if I'd document the setup of their big event (I shot a nice video of the event last year). The evening is a highlight of the Northwest dance calendar, featuring a 75 piece orchestra and over 500 dancers in a huge ballroom. Following is how I did it.
I had my four DSLR cameras (Canon 5Ds and 6Ds of various vintages) and a GoPro. I arrived in the morning with the crew setting up the ballroom. I knew I would be capturing images for the next 13 hours. RAW capture would have been too arduous a workflow for the amount of images I expected to take, so I carefully synchronized the color balances of the DSLRs for jpeg capture. I had my laptop, so I photographed the white ceiling of the hall and loaded the files to see what color temp and magenta-green settings I needed (2800K, 20M, it turned out).
I had two fixed cameras that didn't move, the one in the control booth near the ceiling in the back, and the GoPro clamped at the back of the stage. Two others I had on tripods that I migrated from place to place. I'd set them loose near something what was happening, they'd click away every 5 seconds for awhile (using Canon intervalometers or Pocket Wizards), and then I'd move them around to something else. The daytime capture was pretty leisurely. Throughout the day I downloaded cards and make quick sequences of the images (with Quicktime 7 Pro). It was a way to build a feedback loop into the day so that I could course correct as needed.
I kept the same pattern of filming during the dance, perching the cameras somewhere and going away. I danced myself for well over half of the evening. Towards the second half of the evening I started shooting some handheld sequences, basically shooting in continuous mode and following things around. This is how I captured the bits of musician closeups and many of the dance sequences, and they proved to be some of the most flexible and emotive sequences. I wish I'd done more shooting this way.
My audio capture was with a Zoom H4N in four channel mode—two channels coming from the soundboard, and two from the onboard stereo mics. What I've learned is that sound from the board is crisp but sterile. You need ambient sound from the hall to feel like there's life to the dance, which I get from the Zoom's microphones.
It was a daunting amount of data on the laptop by the end of the evening: 150gb, over 21,000 images. It took a couple of days to organize it all. I resized all the images with a Photoshop batch action to fit in a 1920x1080 pixel sized box. I built image sequences from each camera, at various frame rates, using Quicktime 7 Pro. At this point I had an asset collection that looked like a video shoot: a bunch of footage and an audio file.
I'm still using Final Cut 7 for my video editing (I can't wrap my head around Final Cut X, and anytime I try to use Premiere my muscle memory fails me and I can't do squat. This is not sustainable, I know). Like any video shoot, I gave all my attention to the audio track first. I found a flow of tunes I liked and worked carefully to medley them seamlessly. Then I started laying in tracks. The 15fps clips generally looked the best, but the final piece has a little of everything. It only took a day to get to a rough cut. I ran the final cut by the Megaband organizers before I posted, and I released it into the wild Sunday night.
Within the hour I had a dozen shares on Facebook. I've never had a video get so much attention so quickly.