Cloudscapes + the Geomorphically Constrained City is a two-week investigation into the ways timelapse photography can improve upon models of landscape, urban, and architectural representation. We propose using the unique sectional opportunities in the country of Colombia as a laboratory in two regions: the desert peninsula of La Guajira and then the interface of urban and Andean topography in Medellín. These diverse and striking landscapes will set the stage for an investigation into the role timelapse photography can play in better understanding workflows and methods of dynamic representation. Each site will produce a set of different products which we will make available to the GSD community. La Guajira peninsula will result in a catalog of cloud motion sequences for use in dynamic representation of design projects. Medellín will result in a montage sequence that presents the city from the perspective of sectionally-driven urban and ecological flows. Each product of Cloudscapes + the Geomorphically Constrained City will be informed by rigorous documentation of environments through the medium of timelapse photography.
Field Investigators: Nathan Shobe, M.Arch I, Emmet Truxes, M.Arch I
Faculty advisors: Felipe Correa, Chris Hoxie
Contacts: Ramiro Almeida
Cloudscapes + the Geomorphically Constrained City is an investigation into the ways timelapse photography can improve upon models of landscape, urban, and architectural representation. Currently, the static image dominates the means of representation within the GSD. We find this troubling, especially when static images are used to portray interventions within complex, dynamic environments based on systems and flows. As such, Cloudscapes + the Geomorphically Constrained City is an investigation in two parts, both of which use timelapse photography as a means of departure. Colombia’s diverse ecological environments would allow us to perform our research within two fascinating landscapes: the desert peninsula of La Guajira and then the interface of urban and Andean topography in Medellín.
The first track is technically oriented and involves shooting high definition timelapse photography of dynamic cloud motion using state-of-the-art DSLR cameras. This continues a body of work performed under a GSD junior faculty research grant with Chris Hoxie during the summer of 2011 which resulted in timelapse animation of cloud movements overlooking New York City’s Upper Bay harbor. We have chosen La Guajira peninsula in the northeast of Colombia for its unique landscape as a desert surrounded on three sides by water. Furthermore, this location allows us to shoot a sky with a clear horizon line, free of the “noise” of modern urban environments (aircraft, smog, pigeons).
The second track uses timelapse photography to better understand urban flows in a geographically constrained city. We have chosen Medellín as the perfect case study into how intense topographical change can influence the development of urban fabric. This continues a body of work performed in the field in Quito, Ecuador for Felipe Correa’s Options Studio in the spring of 2012. Shooting Quito through methods of timelapse allowed us to return to the GSD and analyze the juxtaposition of sectionally-driven urban landscapes within the consistent framing of environmental flows. For each of our thesis projects at the GSD, Medellín presents itself as a fascinating precedent for its diversity of nested natural and human ecologies and the resulting edge conditions.
This two-pronged research track will allow us to answer the following questions.
1. What are the tools designers need to better represent the living landscape in projects that deal with urban and natural environments?
2. Can these tools be created from interrogating the landscapes and climates in which we build?
3. What modes of representation can we create through studying an environment?
4. Can Medellín, as an urban laboratory for the 21st-century Latin American city, be better understood through the representation of urban and environmental flows?
5. Can timelapse photography provide a vantage point, both in the field and in post processing, that can allow us to form new threads of research and methods of representation?
Rigorous photo documentation of a dynamic range of cloud movements and unique urban environments will benefit design analysis and representational workflow by providing the GSD new tools to articulate design projects.
La Guajira peninsula: Produce a catalog of timelapse video files of cloud dynamics for the implementation into design animation and analysis software. This catalog, along with a technical tutorial series, will be made public to the GSD with an emphasis on integration within the 3dsmax workflow.
Medellín: Shoot the city through timelapse, concentrating on how urban and natural landscapes can be framed and represented. In post-processing, develop a stance on how montage can form arguments and narratives for representing a dynamic environment. Identify additional streams of research for thesis work, in the same vein as ideas for new forms of representation.
PROPOSED SITES OF RESEARCH
The proposed locations span ecologies from the coastal settlements of Punta Gallinas at the northernmost tip of South America to the nested natural and human ecologies in the highlands of the Andes Mountain in the valley of Medellín. The Alexander von Humboldt section below of Ecuador shows the biodiversity that results from this type of sectional relationship. Our research sites, therefore, are two unique environments that will index the ecological variety that can result from sharp topographical shifts.
the proposed sites of research in Colombia + the Alexander von Humboldt section of Ecuador
FIRST TRACK, PREVIOUS WORK
The GSD junior faculty research grant with Chris Hoxie in the summer of 2011 was an important starting point for this vein of research. Over the course of several months, a methodology was developed to capture smooth timelapse cloud animations for digital backgrounds, HDRI images for digital scene lighting, and hemispherical cloud animations for digital cloud masks and reflection environments.
We started by shooting New York City’s Upper Bay harbor from a rooftop in Red Hook, Brooklyn using a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera with a fixed 24mm lens. We carefully documented the aperture and shutter speed, as well as time of day and type of cloud cover. In order to create smooth cloud motion between each frame, it was necessary to open the aperture and lower the shutter speed to create blur. Since we were often shooting into the sun, this required attaching a neutral density filter to allow ourselves the ability to adjust the exposure. We shot one frame per second using an attached intervelometer in RAW format and adjusted the exposure later in post-production.
We also worked on a workflow for HDRI capture using an 8mm fisheye lens that could capture a 180 degree hemispherical environment. The camera was tethered to a laptop that could control the camera’s exposure. By stringing together a series of twelve exposures, we created multiple HDRI images that could be put into 3dsmax and used as lighting environments. The ultimate idea here was that we could begin to combine the animated digital background (shown below) with an HDRI image of the environment to create realistic lighting environments that would sync perfectly with the background.
CLOUDSCAPES: Research through a GSD junior faculty research grant with Chris Hoxie, Summer 2011, New York City
The HDRI research made us realize that we could also use the 8mm fisheye lens to shoot timelapse of the hemispherical sky. This type of timelapse would result in a single file that could serve two purposes. The first would be to use it as a reflection environment in 3dsmax, the basic idea being that if we had a reflective building sitting in front of one of our animated backgrounds from the previous page, we would also need clouds to be animating on the reflective surfaces. The second purpose would be to bring the animation sequence into post production and turn it into a black and white image mask that would make the sky black and the clouds white. This image could then be mapped onto a sphere and placed in front of the digital sun, thereby creating animated shadows that would roll over the project geometry in the scene file.
CLOUDSCAPES: Using an animated 8mm hemispherical sky capture to represent dynamic cloud movement in 3dsmax
FIRST TRACK, METHODOLOGY
This investigation, therefore, is a direct continuation of this line of research, making advancements in a number of key areas. First is the implementation of two DSLR cameras shooting simultaneously. In this workflow, one camera is pointing straight up with the 8mm fisheye, and the other pointing towards the horizon with a fixed 24mm lens. The 8mm captures an HDRI image for scene lighting and then both cameras shoot one second interval timelapse sequences simultaneously. This will result in complete digital environments that are perfectly synchronized with regards to lighting, cloud movement, and environmental phenomena. This camera setup is shown on the following page.
Shooting extended timelapse sequences in an intense urban environment like New York City made us acutely aware of urban flows and patterns. Our sequences captured the movement of ships around the harbor, the flight paths of planes arriving to LaGuardia Airport, and a number of seagulls. While we certainly appreciated understanding the pattern of these movements a bit better, we found that this was getting in the way of our requirements for high-definition animated background photography. It is imperative, therefore, that this investigation be conducted in a part of the world that is free from this “urban noise.” As a desert surrounded on three sides by the Caribbean Sea, La Guajira peninsula is uniquely situated as the ideal laboratory for indexing this research investigation.
NOISE: Aircraft and birds muddying the frame.
FIRST TRACK, PRODUCT
This investigation will produce a catalog of timelapse video files of cloud dynamics for the implementation into design animation and analysis software. This catalog, along with a tutorial series, will be made public to the GSD with an emphasis on integration within the 3dsmax workflow.
SECOND TRACK, PREVIOUS WORK
A few days before our Options Studio trip to Quito, Ecuador on February 11, 2012, we purchased two GoPro HD HERO2’s, small, lightweight, and highly versatile wide-angle HD video cameras that have the ability to shoot timelapse photography with a built-in intervalometer. We arrived in Quito with little face-time with the camera, but soon began photographing our studio’s movements around the city. The GoPro allowed us amazing flexibility with its lack of a need for a tripod and its automatic light sensor. Compared to the more robust DSLR Nikon D90’s we also had in the field, the GoPro lacks the necessary resolution to create high-quality, high-resolution sequences.
Quito is an excellent precedent study for the body of research we wish to complete in Medellín. Like Medellín, Quito is a city that sits within an Andean valley, surrounded on all sides by an intense and striking landscape. As a result, the city is highly affected by topography, with numerous vantage points for some incredible panoramas. We became interested in the way timelapse photography could index topographical urban landscapes and act as a framing device for representing Quito.
URBAN TOPOGRAPHY: On the left, two Nikon D90s shoot Quito’s sunset from the Panecillo, the hill seen on the right. In that image, a GoPro HD HERO 2 sits on a retaining wall to capture the sunset in the opposite direction.
We returned from Quito on February 19, 2012 and began organizing the timelapse sequences, passing them through post-production processes using Adobe After Effects and Magic Bullet Looks. This suite of tools allows us to rescale, adjust framing, manipulate color processing, and time remap to a powerful degree. It is through post-processing, therefore, that we can begin to think about how to (re)present the urban environment. A careful sequencing of montage, therefore, can drive a narrative agenda for representation.
SECOND TRACK, METHODOLOGY
Shooting Medellín will be a great opportunity to continue the vein of research we began in Quito. We found that experience to be driven by the schedule of the options studio, whereas our visit to Medellín will be driven by our own academic interests. Both of our future theses at the GSD are driven in varying degrees by urban informality.
Within this lens, Medellín is an excellent precedent study for its multiple layers of edge conditions. As an explicit sectional city with nested natural and human ecologies, Medellín can be read as a series of specific microclimates sponsored by large changes in topographical elevations. Our documentation is expected to index and expose the minute patterns of biodiversity that exist in sectionally-driven urban ecologies.
At the same time, Medellín’s municipality, landscape architects, urban designers, and architects have turned it into one of Latin America’s most exciting urban laboratories. A series of forward-thinking public programs have been situated to bridge the edge conditions between natural landscapes and urban informality. The most widely published project is the Biblioteca Parque España by Giancarlo Mazzanti. These projects offer a further framing device which we wish to take advantage of.
URBAN TOPOGRAPHY: Shooting timelapse for a week in Quito with two DSLR’s and two GoPro HD HERO2’s
SECOND TRACK, PRODUCT
The end goal of this research investigation is to compile a montage video of timelapse sequences interrogated through the previously mentioned post-production processes. This will allow us to develop a stance on how observational field work can form narratives for representing complex ecologies. We expect this product to be heavily influenced by our experiences within Medellín and hope this project opens up new threads for future research.
We have chosen five precedents in mediums that vary from fine-art still photography to photo-realistic digital animation. Each project presents a particular angle through which to view natural and built environments. We look at these precedents through their use of framing, subject, montage, and post-production. In the precedents that deal with the juxtaposition of ecological and urban conditions, we look at how nature acts as a framing device or vice-versa. Subject matter, particularly one that is dynamic, becomes contingent on this framing. The use of montage acts as a sequential device for stitching together multiple angles, ultimately resulting in a sequence that presents content with a particular narrative agenda. Post-production includes anything from color correction, lens phenomena, edge blur and vignetting, and frame rate. We see our investigation as a continuation of these important precedents, ultimately using them as a starting point for thinking of new means and methods of representation.
“Salt”, Murray Fredericks: Australian photographer who has made sixteen solo journeys into the interior of Australia to shoot the salt flats of Lake Eyre. We look at his work as an important lesson in framing, location, and perseverence.
“Timescapes”, Tom Lowe: Astronomical photographer whose work “Timescapes” offers unparalleled views into timelapse photography’s role in better understanding the Earth as an environment of patterns and flows.
“Vancouver City”, David and Dan Newcomb: Twin Canadian DSLR photographers whose perspective of Vancouver neatly justaposes urban and natural flows. Careful consideration to framing the urban within the natural and vice-versa.
“The Sandpit”, Sam O’Hare: A day in the life of New York City caught by this director, photographer, and visual effects artist. This project shows the power of post-production “tilt-shift” effect to produce the sense of miniature environments.
“The Third & Seventh”, Alex Roman: Spanish CG artist who created a groundbreaking photo-realistic animation in 2009 of multiple architectural environments, including these images that show animated cloud movement. A benchmark of CG graphics for us all.