How One Filmmaker Engineered A New Take On The Timelapse

Boston Layer-Lapse from Julian Tryba on Vimeo.

Images courtesy of the artist

Constructed from a combined 150,000 photos, 450 hours of work, and 6 terabytes of data, photographer Julian Tryba's innovative short Boston Layer-Lapse takes an engineer's approach to one of the most popular mediums in modern video art: the timelapse. Since anyone with a smartphone can even create a hyperlapse, thanks to Instagram's new app, professional videographers have to consistently step their games up to make a dent in the playing field.

Tryba's layer-lapse technique is just the twist an artist needs in today's market. The result of weaving meticulous editing techniques together into one composite timelapse, Boston Layer-Lapse transforms the Bean Town's architecture into a layered quilt of time and space. Each frame represents several different points in time, stitched together to create a dynamic quilt of roiling clouds, flashing lights, and sometimes dancing windows. "There was a point where I decided I no longer needed to create the thing I thought other people wanted to see," Tryba told The Creators Project. "Instead I could create what I thought looked best."

Tryba's layer-lapse has earned him over 350,000 views on Vimeo, and media attention from the likes of Laughing Squid, Gizmodo, and PetaPixel. Perhaps it was Tryba's training as an aviation engineer that accounts for his success, allowing him to break the standard timelapse process down into its constituent parts. Perhaps it was an underlying desire to be original at all costs. Either way, we've got the inside scoop on how Tryba created a fantastic new way to timelapse, and how he was able to innovate in an all-but wholly saturated medium.

Check out our interview with Boston Layer-Lapse creator, Julian Tryba: 

The Creators Project: How did you first get into the art of timelapsing? What is so appealing about it?

Julian Tryba: I got into timelapse after I saw videos like The Mountain and The Midnight Sun on Vimeo. I was really inspired by the medium and I thought it was a cool way of capturing nature.

Can you walk me through the process of planning, shooting, and editing a layer-lapse?

The process begins with scouting locations by walking around the city and doing google image searches to build a list of the locations I want to shoot at (made a google map with lots of pins). When I go to shoot at a location I'll have the music in mind which sometimes influences how I frame a shot. After hanging out for a few hours I'll head home, and download all the files (usually about 50GB). Next I do color correction in Lightroom to make the images pop. Once the image sequence looks good I import it into After Effects. Once in After Effects, I cut out all the different objects, and regions using what's called a layer masking tool. The last step is listening to the music and making the different layers respond to the song.

What was the most challenging thing about shooting Boston Layer-Lapse?

Stabilizing and aligning clips. I spend about four hours shooting at a given location and it is imperative that the camera remains in the exact same place. Anytime I touch the camera I have to be extremely careful not to move it, wind also does not help. Given the chaos of shooting in a city, you sometimes have to accept that someone may inadvertently bump into the camera/tripod and ruin a days work. Looking back I probably spent more time failing then actually putting in the work that is seen in the final product (although I lumped the two in the numbers above).

How did you come up with such an original take on the saturated medium of timelapse video?

After I had spend a lot of time failing and doubting myself I re-focused my thinking on why I got into timelapse in the first place. There was a point where I decided I no longer needed to create the thing I thought other people wanted to see, instead I could create what I thought looked best.

In an interview with Bostinno, you said that you shot in Boston mostly out of convenience. How has the shooting process changed how you feel about the city?

Convenience may not have been the best word, but my full time as an engineer at GE Aviation essentially forced me to move to Boston, which made this city a 'convenient' subject for my video.

We spend most of our lives moving from one moment to the next, and its difficult to step back and appreciate the bigger picture of what's going on around you. Each sequence I shoot I spend hours in single location, the experience of stopping in one spot allows you to notice a lot more of the details that unfold there. I spend this time watching shadows, beams of light, reflecting, and observing all the people walking past. Then when I get to post-production I blend this 4 hour experience of mine into a brief clip. So now, when I think of the city, I see it as a blend of all these moments, the daytime, nighttime, past/present/future.

With the Instagram Hyperlapse app and other new technologies making timelapses more accessible to the public, how do you see the medium changing in the present day?

The landscape is changing fast and those that don't adapt will be left behind. When I started trying to make layer-lapses I actually tried to make a software that would ‘grab’ certain sounds based on their frequencies and the audio amplitude, and then have an equation that would change the opacity of a layer based on when that sound occurred. I failed, but I would not be surprised if someday someone else makes this kind of a software.

But you are raising a great point, I think its up to timelapse photographers to lead and push the boundaries of creative possibility, and then the software will follow. Time-lapse is becoming way more accessible, making it that much more important to be unique and creative, otherwise you are not adding much value to society.

Adobe just showed off some early results of a software that changes the time of day in photos so now its almost possible to make digital time lapses as well.

Has your experience as an aviation engineer affected you as a photographer?

I have definitely tried to use my technical background as a way of differentiating myself. My knowledge of math and physics is the lens through which I see the world and so it influences my entire thought process. I view the world like a 3D model and my camera is a way of digitizing reality. Much of our reality is the solution to a very complicated math problem, so while I see the same final product as everyone else, I think about what’s happening behind the scenes. Take a clock for example, anyone can read the time, but knowing how all the gears interlock will change your perspective of the watch. 

Einstein's relativity theory is also reflected in my work, in the sense that each object or region is assigned a unique clock. I had been learning a lot about quantum and astro physics prior to coming up with the layer-lapse idea. A basic message I took away is that past, present, and future are all happening right now, and to reach these points in time you have to travel really quickly through space. My mind was probably more open to the idea of multiple times unfolding simultaneously, so that may have subconsciously led to or informed the layer-lapse idea, but its hard to say. 

Having studied waves has also impacted how I interpret and understand music, especially when I am working in SpectraLayers (audio editing program) which essentially plots music. I mentioned this previously but early on I tried to write code that would 'grab' certain sounds. While I failed it made me learn some things that got incorporated into the video later on.

Fong Wi, Time in Motion via

How have other artists influenced your technique and style?

This has been the topic of debate on a number of websites. The idea of having two different times of day unfolding in a scene is not new, it can be traced back to the days of film.

To be honest these photographers did not have a huge influence on me because I didn't really know about them. I'm an engineer, I have never studied film, and I don't watch many movies so I am pretty un-educated iabout the film world. Its one of those things where I had my own idea, and then after I made some layer-lapses, other people pointed me towards work that had a similar style. So I want to be fair to those that came before me and acknowledge them, but out of anything Fong Qi Wei’s Time in Motion had the largest effect on me.

As an innovator in the medium, what are some "out there" ideas for how it might evolve next?

I'd like to incorporate a 3D virtual model of a city into a time lapse at some point. I think it would be cool to create a 1:1 match of the real city of Boston (or a different city) with a virtual model of the city. This would allow one to seamlessly transition from the real world into the virtual world and back. I'm envisioning a layer-lapse video similar to the one I just made, but instead of cutting from one clip to the next, I could use a virtual camera to fly through the (virtual) city from one time lapse location to the next.

Visit Tryba's website to keep up with his innovative timelapse productions.


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