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I'll stop the world

So, here’s a plan that I had the idea for ages ago, but only managed to assemble the relevant ingredients (a slam-door intercity train, a first class ticket, a daytime journey, some decent weather…) for this weekend.

In all my slow-motion work so far, I’ve used a static camera to capture a high-speed event. But, I wondered, what would happen if the camera was the fast-moving object? For instance, if you use a 210fps camera at 35mph, on playback at 30fps it’ll seem to the observer that they’re moving at walking pace- but everything observed will be operating at 1/7th speed.1

What I’d hoped to do was film the people on a railway platform from a train as it blasted past, but since the places they don’t stop at tend not to be listed in the timetables, this would be hard to co-ordinate. I figured that being at the very front of a fast train as it approached a stop would suffice; although the ‘frozen in time’ effect is less pronounced towards the end of the video, the platforms at non-stops tended to be mostly empty, so there’d be less to capture anyway. Helpfully, people don’t seem to move too much as their train arrives!

Here’s the most successful of my attempts, then- as it happens, the first stop, Bath Spa, had the best lighting. Youtube has, as usual, mangled things somewhat- it’s a lot smoother at the original quality, but vimeo does no better, so this’ll have to do.

Without a slow-motion camera you can achieve something similar by convincing a large group of people not to move! This improv-everywhere scene experimented with just that, which inspired a ‘big freeze’ flashmob in Edinburgh whilst I was living there. Portraying lack of motion in a photograph strikes me now as a fools errand, although like many others I did try, and the (annoyingly uncredited) photo in the BBC coverage is one of mine. The opposite problem, of compressing a block of time into a single frame, can give fantastic results, and is in some sense the inverse of what I’ve been trying here, which is to stretch a moment into an extended video. I find all this mucking around with time endlessly fascinating…


1 I’ve reworded this bit slightly as a lot of people have assumed the train was doing a mere 35mph- British rail isn’t that bad! I believe intercity services such as this can hit 125mph, although I don’t know whether they can build up that much speed between Bristol and Bath – or how fast you’re allowed to enter a station.

45 comments to I’ll stop the world

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