Interview with Rear Window Timelapse filmmaker Jeff Desom
When I encountered the Rear Window Timelapse video it had already been viewed over 300,000 times. In five days. Of which, the first three days had generated 22 views.
I cannot adequately articulate all the ways in which it is awesome but let me just say that there is something in here for panorama geeks, Alfred Hitchcock (and specifically Rear Window) fans, timelapse junkies, After Effects ninjas-in-training and ‘fans of really cool ideas’.
That stuff like this exists and is available for all to view and be inspired by, is what makes the Internet so amazing. That and the fact that I was able to request an interview and so quickly receive filmmaker Jeff Desom’s answers to my questions.
How about a little background information on Jeff Desom?
Originally from Luxembourg. I studied film production in the UK and now work as a freelance director, traveling around quite a bit.
I’ve done a couple of short films, music videos and recently shot my first commercial. By necessity I’ve always done my own VFX. It’s become an important part of my work. This allowed me to also branch out into other, not strictly film-film disciplines. I work a lot with German experimental pianist Hauschka. Ghost Piano is our latest project which is a live performance blending his music and my visuals.
How did the Rear Window project come into being?
The project was commissioned by a Luxembourg venue which has this extremely wide screen above their bar. They let me do whatever I wanted as long as it would loop seamlessly and cover the entire width. I immediately thought about doing some sort of panorama. When looking for a scene my mind kept floating around the buildings in Rear Window. I always loved the art direction in that film. You just wish you could have hung around the studio lot at the time. Eventually I was overwhelmed by the urge to see what the set must have looked like as a whole.
How many times did you have to watch the movie before you began building this version of it?
I watched the film probably one more time before I did a quick mashup to see if that way of assembling would work at all. And thanks to Hitchcock’s uncompromising vision, it did.
From what I understand, you worked primarily with Photoshop and After Effects on this film, was there no 3D set building at all?
There is some very basic 3D in After Effects. The camera isn’t moving much so I was able to mask out the different depth planes. A very crude way of doing it.
How long did this project take, and how many people worked on the project?
There was just me and six weeks.
When I try and make something new, I am sometimes daunted by the amount of work required. Did those thoughts ever cross your mind as you were developing this project? Were there any false starts or did you just barrel on through?
The idea seemed simple enough to fool myself into believing I’d be finished by the end of two weeks. The basic structure was done in a day.
Once I had that, only an archeologist who had just unearthed the skeleton of a long extinct species could have understood my excitement. But I was dissecting and reassembling a feature film here. A tyrannosaurus rex! I ended up with about an hour worth of clips. Played simultaneously and in the chronology of the film, the whole thing still lasts for about 20 minutes. By then I was way too deep into it.
Have you watched Rear Window since you completed the video? If yes, is it a different movie now?
Don’t get me wrong, I love this film. But I think we both need a timeout.
Do you think there are other movies that could be given this treatment?
I thought about that when I started out with this one. There certainly is a lot of potential for remixing classics using a vaguely similar approach. But you’d be hard pressed to find another match to apply this particular technique to. I’ve seen the Zapruder film given this sort of treatment for forensic purposes.
Would you do another one of these yourself?
Sure thing, it is a great learning process for any director. Needless to say, it’s a lot of work and without funding it’s impossible to take the time.
The video has exploded online and I have to ask, was that your plan for this project?
I’d sent out the 20 minute version over the course of last year with very little success. As sort of a catharsis and also as a way of explaining the technique behind it, I decided to condense it into this short self-contained piece. But I wasn’t expecting to get this much attention.
How are you dealing with all this attention?
I’m sure it will blow over in a few days. Let’s see what happens.