Making time-lapse videos turns your hours-long 3D prints into hypnotizing minute-long films. All it really involves is turning a large number of photos into a video or slowing down a recording.
Time-lapse videos aren’t filmed like normal videos. You don’t continuously shoot what’s happening during six hours of printing. That kind of recording would simply turn into a regular, boring 6-hour long video and nobody wants to see that. A time-lapse involves shooting a single frame, sometimes two, every second. By shooting one hour's worth of printing action at a speed of 1 frame/second, you end up with a two minutes worth of exciting time-lapse video (assuming a 30 fps format).
Now, before we get to the details about time-lapse production, here’s why you should learn how to make them.
Why bother with time-lapse photography?
Besides the cool factor, time-lapses have several uses. The most important one is marketing. People are attracted to videos, especially those that offer a lot of information and/or entertainment value over a very short time frame. Since a time-lapse can pack hours' worth of 3D printing into just a couple of minutes, you can create marketing magic by condensing the whole process to show the world how your product comes to life. People are attracted to new things that were previously unknown to them and they get to know and understand better what you have to offer.
However, time-lapse videos aren’t just for entertainment and sales. You can also use them to learn something. As you probably already know, 3D printer software comes with more than 100 settings that you can configure. This means that you’ll sometimes choose the wrong ones and end up with an unsuccessful print. Time-lapse photos are valuable here because they can show you where the problem first occurs and you’ll get some clues about what went wrong. While such recordings aren’t as good as real-time videos, they’re still far more effective and useful than what the slicer can tell you.
That being said, time-lapse footage is educational, entertaining, and it tells the story behind your 3D prints. So, let’s go through this step by step guide, learn what you need, and figure out how to piece everything together.
Taking time-lapse photos doesn’t require much when it comes to gear. All you need to get started is a smartphone and a stand. While that’s not going to get you professional results, it’s enough for you to learn the process.
Assuming you don’t have a good DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or even a Go Pro a mid-range phone will do just fine. Some of them come with the time-lapse feature available, while for others you can download and install one of the many available apps. As for a stand, you can manage it with a plain tripod or a smartphone stand. You’ll just have to find the best position where to place it, depending on how your printer is set up.
Furthermore, you should keep the phone or camera constantly charging, especially if you’re printing complex models that require a lot of time. Having a phone or DSLR on for more than a couple of hours will drain your battery in no time so keep it charging. If you don’t have access to an outlet near your printer, you can purchase a power bank and use it instead.
Once you have everything set up, you need to consider the angle of the recording and the distance from the printer. The camera has to be set in such a way to capture the whole process. For example, if it’s too close to the printer, you won’t be able to get a focus on the subject. But if it’s too far, you won’t be able to see much. So experiment with the camera until you find the best position and angle.
That’s it! Now, remember this is a basic setup to get you started. This is all you need to get decent time-lapse shots for practice. For a more professional setup, you’re going to need a couple of extra things to consider.
To take high-quality time-lapse photos you need a good camera and more equipment. You need good lighting, solid camera positioning, a professional background, and you need to consider the movement and vibration of the 3D printer.
You’ll also need to step up from the smartphone world and pick a better camera. Take note that the biggest and most expensive DSLR camera isn’t always the best choice. You need to take into account the amount of space you have, your mounting equipment or stand, and built-in features for time-lapse frames. Therefore, a balanced choice for most setups would be the GoPro. It doesn't weigh much, it’s small, easy to mount, and it comes with time-lapse settings.
In addition, you should upgrade to a solid, high-quality tripod or stand that can either be installed on your printer or next to it. Stability is crucial in every kind of photography and it’s worth the price.
Once you got the main equipment covered, you need to think about your light source. To get professional lighting you can purchase studio lights. If you’re shooting indoors, chances are your light sources aren’t strong enough for camerawork. It may suffice for you, but not for the gear. For an optimal setting, you should aim for two lights that have adjustable intensity.
Without a good light setup, you’ll end up with a low-quality time-lapse video, despite using a professional camera. The subject that you’re shooting should be evenly illuminated from most angles. However, that doesn’t mean that bright light is automatically good. If you have too much light, you’ll lose details due to increased levels of saturation and simply make everything look too bright.
By using dimmable studio lights that you can move around your printer, you’ll have full control over lighting and not have to worry about quality.
Another important aspect to consider is the printer movement. Depending on your printer, you might have a moving base plate or a steady one.
In the case of a still base plate, you can easily place your camera next to the printer and you have nothing to worry about.
On the other hand, you can’t do the same thing with the moving base plate. By placing the camera next to the printer, the moving base plate will make it go in and out of focus. The final result will be a collection of blurry shots that you can’t use for anything. To solve this issue, you need to mount the camera to the printer’s base plate.
This step depends on your type of printer and you’ll have to manually improvise. All you need to be careful with is to not place the camera in the path of any component that moves. Just imagine what would happen if the camera would run into the extruder during the printing process. Ouch!
The background is especially important if your time-lapse video is aimed at entertainment or marketing. By using one, you’ll eliminate any possible distraction from around your printer.
Before choosing a background, however, you should tidy up and remove any unnecessary objects from the camera view. You should also tie any loose wires or cables neatly. As for the backdrop, most people opt for a single color, usually white or black. Keeping things simple will maintain the focus on your printer, but feel free to be creative and see what works for you. Others choose the green background, also known as a green screen so that they can edit it in post-processing.
Time Lapse Configuration
While the interface and software are different for each camera, the settings you need to adjust are the same. In this case, we’re specifically interested in the interval, or frame interval. The interval timings will depend on the duration of the print and the length of the final video.
In time-lapse photography and photography in general, a frame interval refers to the time between two frames (shots). Therefore, a low interval translates to a higher number of shots and a longer time-lapse video as a result, while a larger interval means fewer frames and a shorter time-lapse.
If you’re printing a complex model that requires several hours, you should aim for a high interval of around 30 seconds. In other words, a picture will be taken every half a minute. So if you’re recording a print for eight hours, you’re going to get 960 shots. When you process them and create the time-lapse video, the final result is a 32-second recording (at 30fps).
On the other hand, if the print time is short (an hour or less), you should opt for a low interval from five to ten seconds. If you would go with the same 30-second interval as before, the final video would last four seconds. That’s not much of a time-lapse.
But to keep things simple, we can create a formula and avoid choosing random intervals based on a hunch. Here’s how that formula would look like:
Time lapse = Recording time / frame interval * fps (30 in most cases)
This simple formula will allow you to make all the calculations you want regarding the time-lapse to get a good result. Once the interval is set, start printing and record.
Creating the Time-Lapse
Once you have the raw footage, you have a few ways of turning it into a time-lapse video. Most of them rely on a video editing software, like Adobe Premiere Pro, so you’ll need to brush up on your video editing skills. However, there are simple options, such as the Time Lapse Creator from Microsoft.
For starters, you should try Time Lapse Creator because it’s free and user friendly. Leave the professional editing software for future projects, after you gather some experience.
That being said, to create a time-lapse all you need to do is direct the software towards the folder where you stored the raw footage by clicking on the “Select Photos Folder” option. Next, you need to specify the length of the video using the TimeSpan metric. This value determines the amount of time that each photo is displayed before switching to the next frame. For example, if you lower the TimeSpan, you’ll get faster videos.
Once you’ve found the ideal setting, click on “Save Video” and you have your first time-lapse video.
3D printing time-lapses are magical and definitely worth investing some time in. Each time-lapse is a video summary of your printing project. It can teach you a lot of things about your process, it can entertain your friends and introduce them to this new world, or it can help you sell your prints. Whatever your goal is, creating a video time-lapse has never been easier. So get started right now with just a smartphone and a simple time-lapse editor!