Timelapse: The Emergence of a New Art Form 

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The birth of mainstream timelapse began in 1982...

...with the release of the landmark film “Koyaanisqatsi,” directed by Godfrey Reggio, cinematography by Ron Fricke (Baraka), with music composed by Philip Glass. The feature length film combined state-of-the-art filmmaking with a stunning message that captivated audiences on the big screen. 

Koyaanisqatsi (1982) - Godfrey Reggio

Koyaanisqatsi (1982) - Godfrey Reggio

Koyaanisqatsi broke the rules of filmmaking; it had no central characters, it had no dialogue, yet its message was explosive. It juxtaposed seemingly commonplace images, with time-altered sequences, revealing an extraordinary visual landscape. Audiences were drawn into a roller coaster ride of image and sound, which challenged their worldview. The fortunate ones who witnessed this experience firsthand remember it well. For some, it was an inspiration - for others, a turning point in cinema.

While timelapse is now commonplace – available on every iPhone - back in the late ‘70s, it required some major technical innovations to create those stunning visuals, on celluloid, no less. Now, with digital cameras, dedicated software, and automated camera transports called sliders, sophisticated timelapse filmmaking techniques are available to a broad range of photographers worldwide. 

Godfrey Reggio

Godfrey Reggio

The visual imagery of timelapse offers a rare form of creative expression that crosses all language barriers, and brings inspiring beauty to viewers around the world. "Timelapse films are captivating to watch", insists Casey Kiernan, creator of the Timelapse Film Festival, "because the visuals trigger both the left and right side of the viewer's brain. Your right brain is drawn into an imaginary world, while your left brain is trying to reconcile those images with a world you thought you understood. It's magic at its finest."

The modern era of timelapse began in 2012, with the release of the film "Timescapes"...

...by cinematographer and director Tom Lowe. Lowe propelled the art form forward with his combination of technical expertise and an amazing eye toward cinematography. Most modern-day timelapsers follow his work as a guidepost.

Modern timelapse filmmaking is driven as much by technology as it is by classic photographic and cinematographic techniques. Gunther Wegner, creator of LRTimelapse software (a popular software product used for crafting timelapse films), states "Like the darkroom in film photography, software plays an essential role in the creative process for timelapse photographers. It helps to fix weaknesses in the technical equipment, like flicker, and enables the timelapse photographer to bring their full editing creativity into the end product, making the art as exciting as it can be."

Timescapes (2012) - Tom Lowe

Timescapes (2012) - Tom Lowe

While the current state-of-the-art for timelapse filmmaking showcases amazing imagery from around the world, the art form has much room to progress. Gary Yost, photographer and filmmaker, believes the genre needs to evolve to convey a conscious message to the audience. "Timelapse needs a narrative. Rather than just making a beautiful timelapse of the aurora borealis, you should interview the people who live with that phenomenon and find out how it affects them as human beings. Make timelapse a part of an overall engaging story.”

Reggio agrees. With regard to the narrative of Koyaanisqatsi, he states: 

"The film's role is to provoke,

...to raise questions that only the audience can answer. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value Koyaanisqatsi might have comes exclusively from the beholder."

Peter Bill, artist and activist, who has been experimenting with timelapse since the ‘90s states, "The future of timelapse is wide open. The medium will expand to utilize crowd-sourcing techniques for gathering footage and films will ultimately provide completely immersive 360 experiences. We will begin to see timelapse films representing longer periods of time; spanning years, decades, even centuries."

The first annual Timelapse Film Festival...

...was held at the historic Aero Theater in Santa Monica, California on August 12-14, 2016. The three-day event offered a unique opportunity to view some of the essential films of the genre, as well as new films from around the world. Additionally, some of the top timelapse filmmakers, including Reggio, were on hand for Q&A.

"The motivation for the creation of the Timelapse Film Festival is to bring together the best timelapse films from around the world. Ultimately, our goal is to propel the art form forward.” states Kiernan. "We received over 120 submissions from 25 countries our first year; clearly timelapse is a world-wide phenomenon that deserves recognition."

"The requirement for submission is explicitly vague,", continues Kiernan, "it only calls for 'altered time'. The requirements do not mandate any specific filming technique, process or style of imagery. As judges, we want to be surprised; we want the audience to be surprised. In order to push the boundaries of timelapse, we offer categories in experimental, social commentary and documentary."


For information about the Timelapse Film Festival, click here.