Behind the lens: Shooting the Endeavour time-lapse video

By Bryan Chan, Los Angeles Times

In Los Angeles it might be said that we’ve seen it all. In February we saw a 340-ton boulder hauled 105 miles over two weeks to an art museum.

But a space shuttle moving through city streets was going to be unique.

When Endeavour arrived in the Southland with a flyover last month, the Los Angeles Times photo department was out in force to cover it. Many memorable images were made on that day. We would be all over this too.

The 85-ton space shuttle was to be transported from Los Angeles International Airport through 12 miles of city streets in Los Angeles and Inglewood to the California Science Center, where it will go on permanent display. Nothing like this had ever been moved through a city.

My plan was to shoot it in time-lapse. This would involve shooting a series of still photographs at specific intervals and converting them to video to speed up the action.

I had shot a time-lapse of it being detached from the Boeing 747 that brought it to L.A. Another I had done was of the stage preparations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  My first attempt at one was Dodger Stadium being converted to a motocross track.

Our photo coverage, led by photo editor Robert St. John, took weeks of planning with staffers scouting the route for prime shooting spots. We secured permission from property owners to photograph from balconies, front yards, etc. We rented a hotel room to ensure a view of the shuttle next to iconic Randy’s Donuts before crossing the 405 Freeway. The people at the Best Western Airpark hotel, Museum of Natural History and Animo Inglewood Charter High school were very helpful in allowing us to use their rooftops.

Luckily for me the orbiter wouldn’t be moving too fast as my plan was to be set up just ahead of it in spots I had scouted earlier. Photographers were also assigned specific stretches of the route or to walk alongside it. Top speed would be 2 mph. In all we had about 15 photographers covering this.

As the details and schedule of the move became clear I realized that this was going to be a long haul with very little sleep, if any. The shuttle was going to leave LAX at 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 11 and be in constant motion for the next several days except for stops to reconfigure the transporter. What did I get myself into? I wasn’t alone. I ended up meeting many other blurry-eyed photographers including Matthew Givot who, along with his crew of five, was shooting a time-lapse too.

To me two of the crucial shots I needed were of the shuttle leaving the hangar at LAX and arriving in its new home at the California Science Center. The key spots in between were the first stopover in Westchester where crowds could get up close, Randy’s Donuts, crossing the 405 Freeway, Inglewood City Hall, the Forum, the tight squeeze along Crenshaw Drive, the turn at the Baldwin Hills Mall onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and its arrival at the California Science Center.

In the hours before the move began, I was still going over the plan in my mind. I reluctantly opted to skip a few spots because logistically I wouldn’t be able to hit them all with the crowds, traffic and street closures. Some shots, such as at the mall, didn’t work out due to crowds forming in front of the cameras just as the shuttle came into view.

Shooting time-lapse can require a load of equipment. I had five cameras and lenses from 15mm to 500mm on hand.

At each spot I had two to three cameras working at a time with different lenses and angles. All were set on tripods or clamped to stationary objects. Depending on how fast the action was, the cameras were set to shoot at intervals of once every second up to once every 2 minutes.

When it was all over, the images were fine-tuned with Adobe Lightroom and produced into a video with Final Cut Pro. Some 4,500 photos make up the final video. About four times as many were shot. The music,”Keeper of the Wind,” was by Eleni Hassabis via stock library FirstCom Music.

This was one of my most memorable assignments. It was grueling but very interesting to see the space shuttle up close. It never got old seeing the incongruity of a spaceship rolling down a city street. In fact, they parked it right outside our hotel window for the night. My colleague Don Bartletti and I kept saying to each other, “There’s a space shuttle right outside our room!” At least it didn’t make a lot of racket and I could get a few hours of sleep.

Follow Bryan Chan on Twitter @bryanchanphoto

Photos from top: Los Angeles Times photo editor/photographer Bryan Chan on the roof of Animo Inglewood Charter High school as Endeavour makes its way up Crenshaw Drive. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Chan waits in Clutter’s Park in El Segundo for Endeavour to emerge from the United hangar at LAX. He used 500mm and 300mm lenses to photograph the departure. Credit: John Chambers

Some of the gear Chan used for the shoot. Credit: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times

Endeavour was parked outside the Best Western Airpark hotel on Friday night. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

More time-lapse video: Endeavour detached from Boeing 747


Endeavour rolls through streets of L.A. | Endeavour’s Southland flyover

Endeavour 1991-2012 | Endeavour’s final mission to space | Moving space shuttles

Back story on our photo of Endeavour and the Hollywood sign

Zoomable high-resolution image of Endeavour


Endeavour in the United hangar | Endeavour arrives in L.A. | Inside the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Order space shuttle Endeavour prints

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