Louie Schwartzberg: The True Art Behind Creating Mushroom Time-Lapses The complexities of manipulating time

Cinematographer, director, and producer Louie Schwartzberg has been working on creating time-lapse, high-speed, and macro videos of plants, animals for television and movies, National Geographic, Netflix, and more, he won international awards and for the past 4 decades he never stopped shooting and his cameras keep clicking as we speak.

In the video above Wired magazine takes a look at Schwartzberg’s work on Netflix’s movie Fantastic Fungi including some of the complexities of capturing the movements of these Fungi in a cinematic fashion.

Speed up and slow down

Every living thing operates in the world on a different temporal rhythm. Capturing this rhythm has been the work of Schwartzberg throughout his entire career. You can slow down a fast pacing Chita by shooting more frames per second or compress a long event like the growth of a mushroom into a few seconds by capturing a frame every several minutes.

Released in 2019, “Fantastic Fungi” explores some of the many magical properties of mushrooms. Capturing the footage for this hour and 20 minutes documentary was far from simple and required years of filming.

Unlike what some might think, most of the footage was actually captured indoors and not outdoors as wind, insects changing lights, and other limiting factors make it much more complex to shoot outdoors. Using a blue screen and building sets allows for the creation of a realistic outdoor look around the mushrooms.

When shooting these types of time lapses you always need to consider the rate of change. Schwartzberg shot 4 frames every hour or 96 frames every day which gave him about 4 seconds of video for each day of shooting.

If this is not enough, even with his 4 decades of experience in this type of work he still only nails about one in about 6 shots which means that for every six days of shooting only one day actually get to be used so the numbers quickly add up to many months and even years of shooting.

The only advantage is that you can shoot several scenes at the same time as long as you have the room, the camera gear, and the correct subject matter which is maybe the only thing that makes such a project feasible in any reasonable time frame.

The official Netflix cover page for the Fantastic Fungi

Aside from timing, one of the challenges Schwartzberg faces is how the framing and composition of a slow-growing plant or Fungi will look in 24 hours or even a week. This is extremely difficult to predict and takes a lot of practice (and contributes to the relatively low amount of usable footage).

For the film, Schwartzberg had to consult researchers on the best ways to grow the Fungi in such an unnatural environment but the result certainly speaks for itself.

Adding controlled movements with synchronized capture is something that became much easier in recent years with the introduction of motorized (and computerized) sliders and heads which were used extensively for this production.

Some shots like that of the Mycelium were even more complex to shoot and required a special electron microscope and significant accompanying virtual effects work to create the final shots of traveling through the Mycelium network.

You can find more interesting timelapse videos on our timelapse section here on LensVid.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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