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The Making of "Intervals"

 

For information about my dolly or turntable, see The Motion Project.

 

Scene 1: San Francisco and the Bay Bridge

In October 2011, I drove out to Treasure Island, which is halfway across the bay from Oakland to San Francisco. It was a pretty uneventful trip.

 

Scene 2: Lick Observatory

I managed to obtain permission to film timelapse at Lick Observatory, located in the hills above San Jose (which is in the South San Francisco Bay area). I had hoped to film their laser adaptive optics system, but they cancelled the laser on the night that I drove up due to sub-optimal weather. Alas, timelapse of a giant laser shooting off into space will have to wait for a future montage.

 

Scene 3: Yosemite Falls Fog

Nathan Yan, Kelley Cox, Alan Wong, and I went to Yosemite in May 2011 in order to photograph (and timelapse, in my case) the moonbows that were sure to follow the season's record rainfall. Unfortunately, it rained almost the entire time we were there, so the moonbows didn't occur. I filmed this scene during a brief break in the rain. Nathan returned in June for the the following full moon and got the moonbow photos. I was in Baltimore and missed out on that trip.

 

Scene 4: Ibex Sand Dunes

On December 18-23, 2011, Michael Relich, Charles Huang, and I did an offroad trip through Death Valley. We spent the first night at Ibex Sand Dunes, which are in a remote part of the park and receive almost no visitors. We had the place to ourselves. The lighting change partway through the timelapse scene was due to the rising moon.

 

Scene 5: Trona Pinnacles Dolly

On June 6-8, 2011, Charles Huang and I headed out toward Death Valley. We spent the first night at the Trona Pinnacles (driving the 12 miles of dirt road in a minivan was lots of fun). The following day we drove to Surprise Canyon, north of Ballarat, and did the grueling backpack trip to the ghost town of Panamint City, where we spent the night.

 

Scene 6: Joshua Tree

In January 2011, Michael Relich, Matthew Saville, Robert Baur, Karlee Mortensen, and I spent 3 days in Joshua Tree National Park. This scene was filmed on the first night, at Ryan Campground. I originally planned for the scene to be longer, but because of the freezing temperatures my dolly batteries died after covering just half the tracks. When I filmed the second night (Scene 25), I put the batteries in a sock with hand warmer pads to keep them alive longer--it worked!

 

Scene 7: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

I returned to SoCal for a couple days during my Thanksgiving 2011 break. I met up with Matthew Saville and Charles Huang one night, and we drove to LAX. It took us a while to find a location with a clear view of the runway that didn't have "no photography" signs posted, but we finally succeeded.

 

Scene 8: Sutro Baths, San Francisco

The Sutro Baths are the ruins of a public pool facility west of San Francisco. The Sutro Baths have a very rich history, but today survive as publicly accessible ruins. Kate Foreman and I drove out there in May 2011 to photograph the ruins. Although we had to deal with beer-bottle-flinging drunks, aggressive raccoons, and sketchy fraternity initiates, we still managed to get some decent photos. I set up my dolly in one of the building shells to film the night scene, and I used my head lamp on a very low setting to cast some light on the wall. Bonus points if you noticed the cockroaches and spiders crawling around on the wall during the video.

 

Scene 9: Sharktooth Bay, Davenport

Alas, the filming of this scene will go down as a dark day in history. In November 2010, after shooting the sunset at a nearby beach, I drove to Sharktooth Bay and set up my camera for the night (on the far side of the cove in the photo below). Next to the cove was an entirely empty field, and as a bonus a large hedge blocked the view of the field from the road. I pulled into the field to spend the night. Around midnight, I woke up to my car being illuminated by a powerful spotlight--the police had somehow noticed me. After being informed that the beach was closed ("But officer! I'm not at the beach!") and that I was illegally parked, I was sent away with a ticket ("vehicular trespass", it says) and had the fun experience of driving back to Berkeley in the middle of the night. Adding insult to injury, the batteries of my camera died after about 100 frames, so I didn't get more than a few seconds of footage. It took about four months for the ticket to actually come in the mail (the Santa Cruz court system is FREAKING SLOW). It was $220, making this my most expensive photo trip ever. Now I look over my shoulder several times before camping in dubious places...

 

Scene 10: San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm

Speaking of camping in dubious places... In August 2011, on the night before I returned to Berkeley to begin my last semester, I went with Matthew Saville and Charles Huang to the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, near Palm Springs. We parked on the road next to the highway and hiked over toward the windmills. The windmills were surrounded by a giant electric fence, and the security was a little ridiculous. Even though we stayed in legal territory the whole time, security guys in 4wd Tacomas kept driving the dirt roads in the middle of the night, forcing us to occasionally scurry for cover. Because we wanted to be at least somewhat coherent if the police showed up and told us to leave or security noticed our cameras sitting out in the open, we took shifts staying awake, sleeping, and guarding the cameras.

Following sunrise the next morning, Charles drove me a mile up the road. I set up my railroad dolly and pushed it back to where we camped. Below is an image of the railroad dolly, but in a different location (this scene didn't make "Intervals").

Matt and the electric fence:

 

Scenes 11-12 and 20-21: Joshua Tree National Park Driving Timelapse

Charles, Michael, and I tried to film night driving timelapse during our first trip to Death Valley in May 2010, but Michael's T2i and 30mm f/1.4 weren't quite up to the task. I've wanted to try it again ever since then, and I finally got a chance in January 2012. Matthew Saville, Michael Relich, and I took advantage of the full moon to do a 1-night trip to the park. We left Fountain Valley at 9 PM, arrived at the park after they stopped collecting fees, and shot driving timelapse at times that no one in their right minds would be driving.

We used Michael's snazzy new 5D Mk. II and rented a 24mm f/1.4L II. Because of the full moon, at ISO 6400 and f/1.4, we were able to get 1/2 second shutter speeds, which was fast enough to produce nice timelapse video without blurring everything into oblivion. We mounted the camera to the car and rolled with it, effectively making the car the heaviest and most expensive dolly possible. Putting the car in gear, even with no gas, resulted in rolling which was much too fast (5 miles per hour! Oh no!). After some experimentation, we elected to put the car in neutral and then took turns pushing it at speeds of about 1 mph. After shooting for a good portion of the night, we arrived home a bit after 5 AM.

HANDHELD photo at MIDNIGHT. ISO 25,600 and f/1.4 makes this possible. Crazy 5Dii witchcraft.

 

Scene 13: Campsite at Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park

After setting up our cameras to film Ibex Dunes (see Scene 4), we walked the ~1 mile back to our truck. Michael wasn't using his 7D, so I attached my 11-16mm lens and filmed this scene. The winter Milky Way shows up a bit.

 

Scene 14: Beveridge Canyon Truck, Death Valley National Park

Beveridge Canyon is definitely one of the creepiest places I have ever been. On the fourth night of our December 2011 Death Valley trip, after visiting the Saline Valley hot springs, Charles, Michael, and I drove up the extremely steep and washed-out driveway to the abandoned Beveridge Canyon Mine. Halfway up the driveway was a truck that had clearly lost control and crashed off the road, stopping on a boulder with the front right tire completely off the ground.

We drove up the driveway after dark and were forced to stop about a hundred feet below the top because the road had completely washed out. There were numerous destroyed and flipped vehicles, and decades of trash was strewn around. We unanimously agreed that we didn't want to camp near the cabin, so we went back down the driveway and camped near the crashed truck.

There must have been kids here:

Inside the cabin:

 

Scenes 15-16: Charcoal Kilns, Death Valley National Park

On the first night of our May 2011 Death Valley trip, Charles, Michael, and I camped near the Wildrose charcoal kilns. In the 1800s the 20-ft tall kilns were used to produce charcoal for use refining ore from the mines. Michael had the bright idea to put candles in the kilns, and I set up my head lamp with an orange gel on a pole to throw some light onto the exterior of the kilns. I set up my Rebel on one end of the 10 kilns and my 7D on the dolly on the other end of them. We finished setting up around 1 AM. Charles and Michael slept in the truck parked adjacent to the kilns to make sure no one absconded with our camera gear, and I walked the mile up the hill to Thorndike Campground in the oppressive darkness, where I spent the night. We began the next day at 5 AM to drive to Racetrack Playa (scene 26).

 

Scenes 17-18: Lunar Eclipse

Since my attempt to photograph the December 2010 eclipse ended in dismal failure (see below), I was determined to photograph the December 2011 eclipse, which was the last one until 2014. I picked up Kate Foreman at the ungodly hour of 3:45 AM and we drove to the Lawrence Hall of Science, located in the hills above campus. This was sufficiently high to see over low-level fog and offered a decent view of the bay. There were scattered clouds, which made the viewing less than ideal, but by Berkeley standards it was remarkably clear. I filmed the wide scene with my Rebel and 24mm lens and the telephoto scene with my 7D and 300mm f/2.8L.

 

Scene 19: Shack in Rhyolite, Nevada

Our December 2010 Death Valley trip went less smoothly than planned. Michael, Charles, Matthew, and I planned to spend 5 days in Death Valley, but a huge storm hit the area during the week we were there. Our first night was spent in the mountains above Badwater Basin (scene 28), and in the morning we attempted to drive to Racetrack Playa. We wanted to shoot the lunar eclipse at Racetrack Playa, and we anticipated that Death Valley, of all places, would have the best weather. I even borrowed a 400mm f/2.8 lens for the event. Unfortunately, we got a flat tire 7 miles down the sharp-rock-strewn 27-mile dirt road to Racetrack, abandoned hope of reaching it, put on the donut spare, and had the fun experience of driving back out on it. The nearest tire service was in Beatty, Nevada, so we headed in that direction. We arrived at Beatty in the dark after all the shops had closed, and it began to rain heavily. We needed a place to pass the night, so we drove to the nearby ghost town of Rhyolite. It was raining far too hard to set up a tent, let alone see the eclipse, and Michael and I took turns running through the pouring rain from the cab of the truck to the back to stir our soup for dinner. Everyone was cold and soaking wet, and the four of us ended up "sleeping" (read: sitting and staring at the ceiling) in the cab that night. It was definitely one of the more miserable nights I've spent.

Around dawn, the rain stopped. We were exhausted but elected to explore the area and photograph the ruins under the breaking clouds. One shack in particular caught my attention, and I set up my dolly in it. Inside was a rotten spring mattress. In order to make the lighting of the interior of the shack match that of the outdoors, Matthew set up a strobe in the window and used radio triggers so it would fire at the right time.

Also in Rhyolite:

Matt timelapsed the dolly:

 

Scene 22: Death Valley Cloudy Mountains

After leaving Rhyolite, we went back into Beatty and found the tire repair shop. They patched our tire as best as they could, but said that the damage was too extensive and recommended that we not drive on the tire unless absolutely necessary. We left the donut spare on the truck and thereafter regarded the patched-but-compromised tire as the spare.

We drove back into Death Valley and photographed the epic clouds at the Mesquite Sand Dunes. We needed a place to camp, so we drove down Cottonwood Canyon road, which basically was just a random 4wd road to who-knows-where. After a couple miles we found a wide area, pulled over, and set up camp just before it started raining again. The whole area was basically a flood plain, so we were a bit nervous about flash floods. It rained all night but stopped around sunrise, and we emerged from the tent to see the clouds breaking on the mountains around us.

 

Scene 23: Trona Pinnacles

After leaving Cottonwood Canyon, we discovered that another tire had low pressure...we had somehow managed to damage ANOTHER tire. Fortunately, it was a slow leak, and for the remainder of the trip we would stop every few hours and re-inflate the tire with my portable electric tire pump.

On the final night of the trip, we drove out to the Trona Pinnacles, which were "closed due to flooding." The road wasn't blocked off and we reasoned that we would be able to see any floods, so we proceeded into the pinnacles. After plowing through fast moving streams and sliding around in the mud, we reached the pinnacles. Once there, though, the ground was so soft that we really couldn't walk on it without immediately sinking up to our ankles. It took us quite a bit of searching to locate an area of the pinnacles that was firm enough to camp. The skies were FINALLY clear and the pinnacles were lit by a full moon, so we stayed up almost the entire night doing night photography. Driving out the next morning was another war against the mud. At one point we entirely lost traction and had to resort to rocking the truck to get it unstuck. We made it out of the Trona Pinnacles, but resolved to use 4wd vehicles for all future Death Valley trips.

 

Scene 24: Golden Gate Bridge

This was filmed at the same time as Scene 1, from Treasure Island.

 

Scene 25: Joshua Tree Rock Arch

I filmed timelapse at the rock arch in Joshua Tree in January 2010, but wanted to re-film the arch with my 7D and dolly. On the second night of our January 2011 trip (scene 6 was filmed on the first night), we stayed at White Tank campground. The skies were completely clear throughout the day, but as soon as the sun set the entire sky clouded over. The temperature dropped into the 20s as the five of us huddled around a tiny campfire and attempted to stay warm, hoping that the clouds would part. At 10 PM, after several hours of shivering in the cold, we went to bed, planning to check the skies each hour. At 11 PM, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard Matthew: "Sean, get up. The skies have cleared."

I hauled my dolly over to the rock arch and set it up. I put an orange gel on my head lamp and stuck it on a rock to pull the arch out of the shadows. Matthew, Michael, and I stayed up the entire night shooting photos--we went to bed just as the sun started to rise.

Behind the scenes timelapse:

Our campsite near the arch at White Tank:

 

Scene 26: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park

On the second day of our May 2011 Death Valley trip (scenes 15-16 were the first night), we drove to Racetrack Playa using the Hunter Mountain route. The skies were clear but it was extremely windy, so I couldn't set up my dolly. I carried the dolly out into the playa in anticipation of the winds dying down, but that didn't happen, so I ultimately had to carry the dolly back to the truck. We camped across the road from the playa.

Our truck that night:

Racetrack the following morning:

 

 

Scene 27: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park

This scene was filmed six months after the previous scene, on the last night of our December 2011 trip. After leaving Beveridge Canyon (scene 14), we drove the infamous Lippincott route to Racetrack. It really wasn't that bad (Mengel Pass and Goler Wash were FAR worse). For the first time since I've gone to Racetrack, the winds were remarkably low, and I was able to set up my dolly on a slant. Unfortunately, however, the temperatures were horribly cold. It was about 25* when I was setting up the dolly, and when I started it, the camera wouldn't trigger correctly. I assumed there was a bad connection in my stripboard circuitry, so I started ripping out wires and reattaching them with duct tape, without success. After extensive troubleshooting, I finally realized that the optocoupler (the circuitry component that triggers the camera) must have been below its minimum operating temperature. I was forced to use my regular timer remote, but unfortunately now I had no way to ensure that the camera's firing would sync with the dolly's movement. The temperatures continued to drop, and in the morning it was 14*--our water jugs froze solid. Dealing with the cold metal of the dolly in the morning was outright painful.

 

Scene 28: Badwater, Death Valley National Park

On the first night of our December 2010 trip, we camped at the Natural Bridge trail head above the Badwater basin. There were very threatening clouds all around us (indeed, it was snowing on the nearby mountains), so we expected it to start raining at any time. However, it didn't rain that night, and in the morning we headed down to Badwater to photograph the (non-colorful) sunrise.

 

Scene 29: San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm

This was filmed the night before Scene 10, in August 2011. A security vehicle drove up and down the rows of windmills all night long...