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Behind the lens: Time-lapse shoot of the Hollywood sign repainting

Los Angeles photographer Alex Pitt had a challenge: to make drying paint look interesting. But the drying paint would be on the Hollywood sign during its nine-week restoration, which he was hired to document.

So Pitt set out to shoot it in time-lapse.

We tossed him a few questions on how he went about it:

Alex Pitt, photo by Abe PerazaAlex Pitt: Everyone has seen the Hollywood sign from afar, so I was more interested in getting closer, more intimate shots to give the viewer a better idea of the scale of the letters. I was particularly interested in severe low-angle shots which have a graphic and at times, abstract quality. Since the action was primarily taking place on a scaffold, I could not shoot straight up on the letters and capture action at the same time, so that limited me to some degree.

Q: How many and what cameras did you use?

A: Five Cameras: two Canon Rebels, housed in weather-tight boxes shooting 24/7; a Canon 5D; a 5D Mark2; and a 5D Mark3.

Q: Where were the cameras?

A: One camera was on a pole where the Hollywood Trust’s webcam is housed (behind a fence and barbed wire). The second (24/7) camera was on a rooftop of a house in Beachwood Canyon. The other three were hiked in each time I made a site visit.

Q: Any special equipment? Anything improvised such as to keep paint off lenses?

A: I used pocket wizards to fire the cameras for the closer time lapses. I just had clear filters on the lenses for the overspray. I used painters’ rags to remove said overspray. Painters’ rags work well on eyeglasses as well.

Q: How many hours a day shooting and how many days?

A: It varied by day and by week, but overall, probably 20 days during the restoration and a few extra days beforehand to scout for various angles of the sign. I probably averaged 5-6 hours per day, though some of that was spent waiting for the specific actions I wanted.

Q: What were the challenges?

A: The terrain! It is a steep hike down to the sign, especially challenging when lugging cameras, lenses and tripods–and water. Additionally, there is very little room to move back for a shot before it drops off again. At times there was a lot of paint stripper goo on the ground, which was slippery and made it that much more difficult to do my job.

During the project there were a number of press photographers who visited the site; one of them wiped out and hurt some ribs, another one went tumbling down the hill with his video camera, but he was uninjured. I myself lost my footing climbing up from below the sign and grabbed some rusty, barbed wire that happened to be in the ground, to keep me from falling 20 feet down. Luckily, I had thick gloves and I did not grab a barb.

The lighting contrast between the white of the Hollywood sign and everything else is extreme. I had to shoot things a lot darker than one usually would in order to get detail on the letters.

Q: How did you go about editing it all together? How long did that take?

A: I processed my raw frames in Adobe After Effects and then edited in Apple’s Final Cut Pro. I worked on the shots bit by bit as I got them and began the edit about seven to 10 days prior to delivery. I was still shooting throughout the editing process. An additional challenge was that I needed to end the piece with a clean shot of the finished sign without scaffolds, etc., but the weather turned bad at the end and I couldn’t get the final sunset shot until the day I delivered the video.

Q: How did you choose the music?

A: I work with a pair of musicians, Abe Peraza and Lily Popova; thankfully, they are very talented and flexible. I kept having new ideas and changing direction until the last week. They were able to make sense of my rough ideas (and add their own to work with the images on the various rough cuts) and turn them into a great finished piece.

Q: Who did you do it for? How did you get the job?

A: The job was sponsored by the Sherwin-Williams paint company (it is their paint on the sign). I was contacted in the spring by their ad agency, Carmichael Lynch. I had to keep the project secret until the official announcement on Oct. 2nd.

Photo: Alex Pitt above the Hollywood Sign shooting the time-lapse. Credit: Abe Peraza


The Hollywood Sign through the years

More time-lapse videos


  1. December 6, 2012, 4:59 pm

    It takes a lot of talent to make drying paint intriguing!

  2. December 9, 2012, 6:25 pm

    Looks like about 10% of that paint made it onto the sign. The rest is the air!!! Not very Californian.

  3. December 11, 2012, 8:09 am

    Very cool. Enjoyed the time lapse. And here's my take on the HOLLYWEED prank of 1976:


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