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Screen shot of video from Vox featuring time-lapse of human global footprint.

News Time-Lapse Trends: changes to environment

19 July 2017 Kate

“Time-Lapse Trends” is a video blog series which draws attention to some of the many exciting trends in time-lapse production. We feature a new trend in each instalment, to demonstrate the scope of the medium and the various ways in which it is applied, ranging from the popular to the more obscure.

Time-lapse plays a crucial role in visually rendering change, functioning as a tool to effectively measure this over the course of time. Changes to the world around us are a common theme for time-lapse videos.

Changes to the natural world that are expected, although anticipated and familiar, can be represented visually in a variety of ways. Likewise, changes that are out of the ordinary and pose more of a problem are also indebted to time-lapse for its clarity in capturing these developments relative to time.

Annual change

The four seasons – key divisions of the year marked by weather patterns and daylight hours – is one such example of familiar natural changes.
This time-lapse illustrates the level of variations in these patterns over the course of a ten-month period.

Driving through the Colorado Rockies on the same route ten times, 17,440 separate images were captured to make this impressive time-lapse. Although the same route was travelled, the changing seasons represent the surroundings as if anew throughout the sequence.

Watching the video from beginning to end tracks the route in its entirety but seamlessly integrates capture so that we see the effects of seasonal change play out several times.

Global change

Changes to environment that are more uncertain and troubling can also be mapped using time-lapse capture.

As we have discussed elsewhere, time-lapse enables the accumulative effects of human life on Earth to be measured visually on a global scale.

Google’s ‘Earth Engine’ consists of HD satellite images taken by spacecraft that have been orbiting the planet between 1984 and 2016.

Issues pertaining to the environment are at the forefront of current affairs and political thinking as effects of climate change appear more pronounced. This technology is an important means of presenting these changes.

This presentation method is also being incorporated into news coverage, like this from Vox.

Time-lapse is the main source of video footage in this example, showing what human activities are contributing to our global footprint. The text boxes that appear throughout explain the images and point to significant areas of activity.

Videos like this are now a common feature of coverage for news companies as they can easily be shared via websites and social media, increasing their audience.

Virtual environments

The construction industry benefits immensely from the time-lapse medium, with major contractors able to showcase their developments, even those of incredible scale.

This time-lapse from BRAG shows the development of the city of Dubai over the course of 20 years.

The content we see is largely rendered using visual effects but is taken from real life. Different perspectives are utilised to represent the growth of this iconic city in all its splendour, revealing the true scale of this urban area in relation to its surrounding landscape.

One of the medium’s standout benefits is shown here; time-lapse enables a progress narrative two decades in length to be retold in two minutes.

We stick with virtual environments for this next and final example. This time we are in the fictional state of San Andreas, from the action-adventure gaming world of Grand Theft Auto 5.


Exploring the environment of gaming worlds have become a common application of time-lapse on their own. It is the changes within the gaming environment that are the focus of the footage, totalling 1 hour 33 minutes but lapsed into a four-minute video.

The technique reveals how much the simulated environment replicates patterns from everyday life like daylight hours, the commotion of city life, and weather patterns. The video also provides a ‘free roaming’ perspective, an open-ended dynamic which allows the San Andreas environment to be viewed and experienced as any other environment in real life.

Created using Rockstar’s ‘Video Editor’, this feature allows footage of gameplay to be recorded, edited, and easily shared to other video platforms such as YouTube.

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