These 5 ‘Time-Collapsing’ Videos are Way Different — and More Intense — Than Timelapse

Memory  /  Time Travel
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Cy Kuckenbaker was a highly-regarded – if little known – filmmaker when internet stardom struck. He was an MFA graduate from Cal Arts, a director of fiction and documentary films who’d received a Fulbright Fellowship, screening his work at domestic and international festivals including MoMA NY, Centre Pompidou Paris, and The Los Angeles IFF.

Flughaven photographed by Ho-yeol Ryu
The image that started it all: Flughaven by Ho-yeol Ryu

Then an already-internet-famous image by Ho-yeol Ryu (right), coupled with a move to a new place near the San Diego International Airport, got the artist thinking: what if he applied the same time-condensing concept to moving pictures? (We recently featured another series inspired by Ryu’s image by photographer Mike Kelley).

Kuckenbaker’s proof of concept: a 2012 video clip “time-collapsing” four-and-a-half hours of plane landings at the airport on Black Friday into 26 seconds:

To achieve the powerful effect, Kuckenbaker used a technique called chroma key, which he compares to creating a green screen – in this case the blue sky — removing the planes in post-production, then adding them back within a shorter timeframe. (The image of the bridge, which is from elsewhere in the city, was composited in as well). The effect – you can see something similar in Parker Paul’s An Hour of Birds All at Once at the bottom of this page — is like an attack. And then the internet attacked.

Kuckenbaker posted the clip to YouTube, hoping it would attract 25,000 views; he quickly approached 2 million, drawing international attention and getting inundated with emails from fans, TV stations, research institutions, and universities.

“It’s almost like the Internet came out of my computer and into the room and just got in bed with me. It was so chaotic. The speed was shocking.”

–Cy Kuckenbaker, in San Diego City Beat

On the strength of that reception, Kuckenbaker received a Creative Catalyst Grant from the San Diego Foundation, and an invitation from the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego to expand the series into The San Diego Studies, the results of which are below.

This video shows all the cars on the 163 Freeway in a four-minute time period collapsed into 90 seconds. But look again: Kuckenbaker also re-sorted, then grouped the traffic sequentially by car color (!)

“I basically make special-effect documentaries. I was trying to experiment in showing something that’s totally real and totally factual. That’s the idea. It’s a very pop style that is very well-suited for the web.”

–Cy Kuckenbaker, in San Diego City Beat