Meet The Filmmaker Behind Unreal Hyperlapse Tours Of Barcelona And Other Cities

"Barcelona GO!" creator Rob Whitworth talked to us about the stunning worlds of his timelapse 'city portraits.'

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Jul 14 2014, 7:50pm

Images courtesy of artist

Timelapse artisan Rob Whitworth is the urban equivalent of an intercontinental ambassador, bringing his viewers into stunning, lightning-fast tours of some of the world's most vibrant cities. Since 2011, he's consistently been on the cutting edge of timelapse videography, crafting award-winning 'city portraits' of urban hubs that capture the hustle and bustle of metropolises as diverse as Shanghai and Barcelona. 

While a slew of captivating timelapses reveal the mysteries of fireflies, blooming flowers, and international flights, Whitworth succeeds in capturing the essence of specific touchpoints with an immersive style. His camera slides, whooshes, and slingshots across towns, visiting iconic buildings, and soaking up the daily lives of his subjects.

With an extensive, intensive regimen of research and planning, the videographer uses architecture, local events, and swarming throngs of people to illustrate the uniqueness of his chosen cities. His most recent video, Barcelona GO!, swept the web like a wave, gathering over a million views in a single month, and the views of his complete works number over three million. 

Whitworth took us on a tour of the processes behind his artful odes to urbanism, and shared the wisdom that can only come from an ability to encapsulate whole cities in single surging shorts.

The Creators Project: Your Vimeo page description notes that you're an "urban filmmaker." What does that term mean to you, and how do you describe your work? Rob Whitworth: Cities are where it all happens, and every city is different and has a different story to tell. 

I've been searching for the right term to capture what I do. Something like 'city portraiture' is the closest I've got. The idea is to introduce the viewer to a location in a few minutes effectively telling the story of a location / city / event.

People have a tremendous pride for their cities, too. My Barcelona video has had a million plays in less than a week and the biggest demographic of viewers is from Spain. I had a similar reaction from Malaysians to my Kuala Lumpur video. It's amazing to be part of that, and create something that people are excited about. Your work includes a wide variety of cities in Asia. What drew you to that particular section of the globe, and do you have a favorite Asian city? I couldn't choose a favorite. Generally, what I love about Asian cities is the energy and the sense that things are on the up. They are usually typified by exponential growth and a palpable sense of progress. A very different atmosphere to Europe where I grew up. I arrived in Da Nang in central Vietnam nearly four years ago now. I remember it felt like Narnia, where everything was just totally different. There is little more you can ask for as a photographer/filmmaker. 

Can you tell us about your creative process? What kind of planning goes into each video? 

Prior to arriving, I do quite a bit of online research— general internet research as well as stock libraries and existing videos. This is no replacement for being on the ground in a location, but provides a good idea of what to expect. Storyboarding is the key component. As my videos have progressed, the role played by storyboarding has become more and more essential. In a typical first stage of a project, maybe the first few days, I'll check out locations and work out a concept. Any shooting will be just with my iPhone for notes.  Once the storyboard is complete, the locations are locked and the shooting begins. It's always fine to deviate from that storyboard, but it's important to have a plan. It's a lot of fun talking clients through storyboards, as I'm sure I just sound completely crazy.  Generally, one day's shooting normally equates to one day in post. However with the [Barcelona] video I was trying a bunch of new tricks. This made all the stages more complex as I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to realise the storyboard. This, ultimately, made the post take a bit longer.  Can you explain your location scouting process? How much of it is trial-and-error? I like the idea of breaking a city down into 5 key aspects— not necessarily all positive things, but attributes that are unique to the city. Most cities have a landmark building that makes them instantly identifiable, I think this is a good place to start a video to introduce the location. Trial-and-error is great but you need a lot of time for it to work. My last few projects have been completed to tight deadlines, which by and large results in me delivering the storyboard and not getting a chance to play around so much. With the [Barcelona] project, I have so much beautiful footage from some of the great locations I got access to that has, so far, gone un-processed.

What types of shooting techniques and editing effects do you implement, and can you offer any tips for achieving that dramatic 'slam-zoom' effect? 

I use a bunch of tricks and transitions in my work, none of them particularly groundbreaking. That said, I think a couple are pretty unique to timelapse videos currently. Where I think it gets interesting is how they are used to tell a story, hence 'flow motion.' For example, in a lot of hyperlapse films, the camera moves past a location and then we cut to a different location with the camera moving along. Why not use the camera movement to link it all together? Hyperlapse is an amazing tool to connect shot A with shot B in a really cool way. It's not always possible, but the ultimate for me would be to go on a tour of the city where every location links up; give people an idea not only of the sights, but how to get there.  Have your shoots revealed anything surprising or unique about the cities you've chosen? Any patterns in city life or urban behavior?  I actually get teased quite a lot for spending too much time on rooftops, looking down on the world. When you're on the ground in a busy city, it all feels very human and individual. Your attention is caught by an advert, a pair of shoes, an old lady crossing the street— there is far too much going on to be able to take it in. This is why timelapse is the perfect media for capturing cities. By putting a camera on a rooftop, suddenly all of the individuals below become a blur of consistent movement, and a scene that on the ground appeared chaotic becomes very orderly and predictable. A lot of people a lot cleverer than me have observed how the city mirrors the natural world in many ways; for example, how highways become arteries and capillaries. One of my first videos was set in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, renowned for it's crazy traffic, motorbikes everywhere. It's a great example of this. When viewed from the ground it appears to be utter mayhem, however, viewed from a high location and sped up through timelapse, it becomes an harmonious flow.

Do you have any examples of the creative problem-solving your shoots require? I guess a shoot could be defined as one big creative problem that needs solving. There are always challenges and things to be overcome. A recent shoot that comes to mind was in the start of the Barcelona video, where we join Marta walking along the streets below. So many challenges came up: it started to rain and for some reason car after car needed to get past. Then, a key location we had organised fell through. All of these required improvisation and the occasional expletive.

Can you tell us about your upcoming series, One Planet I can't say a huge amount about this— it's going to be the BBC's next flagship natural world series. I'm just a very small part of this. I grew up watching these series so It's something of a dream commission for me to be part of.  Have any other timelapses impressed you recently? Do you have a favorite? There is always cool stuff coming out. Most recently I loved this tilt-shift time lapse by Pau. He was actually part of the same project as the Barcelona video - both were commissioned by the Catalan tourism board. 

My all time favourite has to be Keith Loutit's Bathtub IV. It really inspired me to specialize in shooting timelapse and stop pursuing other photographic areas.

Can you offer any tips for aspiring filmmakers? WIth the internet and affordable camera tech, it's all up for grabs and has never been more exciting. My first viral video was launched from a laptop in central Vietnam; I had a handful of friends on Facebook and sent it to family and a bunch of websites. Within four days, it had received around 700k views over various media with a huge range of embeds and global attention. Anything is possible. 

Lapse your own time on Whitworth's professional website and Vimeo page.

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