How To Manipulate Time In Video Productions

Hi there! Have you ever tried manipulating the perceived flow of time in your videos? I'm talking about slowing down and speeding up the videos so that you create different sensations of movement.

You may not realize it, but most movies and professional video productions don't run in real-time. There are elements of expanded time and time compression at play.

If you're shooting a war film, you'll probably compress 5 years into just 30 minutes of footage. If you're filming a live sports event, then things will be shot in real-time.

Time and its manipulation is a critical element of your ability to tell stories through video. So in this article, I'd like to introduce you to some basic time manipulation concepts in video.

1. Overview

First, let's look at the three basic types of "time" in a video:

Expanded time. Expanded time refers to a slow down of action. You purposely slow down your video so that the audience can view full details of a sequence.

It's more common in say, fight sequences or dramatic events (e.g. lovers running towards each other on a beach)

Real-time. In real-time, things happen as you shoot the video. This is comon in videos of sports events, concerts or real-time interviews done on-site with subjects.

Compressed time. Compressed time will allow your footage to run, say, 30 minutes and describe events that span 10 years in your story. It's very common in movie epics and war films, for example.

Let's look at each of these time modes in more detail below.

2. Expanded Time

Let's talk more about expanded time as a start. Now, expanded time is not so common in video. You basically slow down motion to create drama or highlight specific actions in the video.

How is expanded time done? Well there are several ways to do it.

Slow down the video

The first way is to just slow down the video. This can be done using good video editing software like Adobe Premiere.

Use Time Remapping

The second way is to slow things down using time remapping. What's time remapping?

Well, let me give you an example. Remember the movie The Matrix?

There's a scene of Neo slowing running across pillars and dodging bullets, somersaulting and attacking his foes in slow motion.

Neo starts out in real-time, walking towards his enemies, then starts slow down depending on when he's attacking or dodging. That's an example of time remapping.

In general, time remapping is also very useful for fight scenes to slow down, then speed up certain movements.

Repeat A Scene

A third way to expand time is to repeat a scene shot from different angles. For example, or an explosion happens, you can shoot it from various angles, then splice the scenes together post-production. This creates a sensation of expanded time too.

3. Real-Time

The next time mode we'll look at is real-time. Real-time video is tough to handle. We're talking about sports, kids' concerts and news coverage.

If you're filming, say, a piano recital, it's probably ok, since your scene tends to stay stable. But if you're out filming an emergency or sports, it's tougher.

If you use only one camera, you risk having your hand shake and messing up the footage.

One way around this is to multiple cameras instead. By shooting from multiple cameras, you get more footage to play with post-production and reduce the risk of not covering certain elements of the event.

There's a great example of "real-time" used in a special way in the TV series "24". The events of one day are divided up into 24 physical TV episodes - the producers used various tricks to achieve this. Watch it and see how it works - it's good, creative stuff.

4. Time Compression

Ok, on to the last time mode - time compression. Now, time compression seems easy - but it is one of the more difficult time manipulations to get right.

There are various ways to do time compression - time lapse, time remapping and cuts / b rolls. Let's look at each in turn.

Time Lapse

In time lapse, you basically mount a still digital camera on tripod and leave it there for several hours.

The camera regularly takes a shot (e.g. every 10 seconds), so that at the end, you get hundreds or thousands of images you can splice together. The net effect is one "video" that shows time moving forward. This technique is very commonly used to showcase moving city scapes and weather.

Time Remapping

To understand how time remapping to used to compress time, imagine a tourist walking around a monument.

Now, you can use time remapping to speed up his or her walking. This creates a smoother looking effect (than using cuts and b rolls) and is now very common in movies and other professional video productions.

Cuts and B Rolls

Next, cuts and b rolls can also create an illusion time compression. Imagine this scene - a kid is getting ready for school. You can use cuts to switch to another scene of him or her brushing teeth, and then to another of breakfast being prepared.

The audience will subconsciously connect the scenes and believe that time has been compressed.

The "fade to black" transition is also useful for time compression. Some folks just fade to black in interviews to create a movement of time. Others fade to black and add a title "Ten years later" to be explicit that time has passed.

Wrapping Up ...

As you can see, manipulating time in your videos can be very interesting. It is, however, a difficult topic to master. I hope the above has given you some basic insights into how time works in video.

To learn more, I suggest you watch some movies or national TV broadcasts and take notes on how time is slowed down, sped up or kept real-time. Then apply those learning points when creating your next video. With practice, you'll only get better and better.

Until next time, have fun shooting and editing your videos!

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