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A unique lava lamp time-lapse

We occasionally take our kids to a local place, Big Al’s, which is one of those bowling/arcade places that give out tickets as rewards from the arcade games. Being good parents, we too sometimes play the games (you know, to spend time with the kids…yea, that’s it). Over the years, we amassed quite a bunch of tickets, but weren’t quite sure what to spend them on.

The last time we were there, I was smitten by a lava lamp, similar to this one, but ours has a black base and blue “lava.” I don’t know why (childhood flashback?), but I decided some of our points cache would go to this mesmerizing but otherwise useless device.

When I got it home, I was surprised at just how long it takes to warm up: It can take nearly an hour before any “lava” starts flowing, and about two hours before it really looks like a traditional lava lamp. During the first hour, though, the melting wax in the lamp makes some really cool abstract bits of art, as seen in the photo at right.

I thought this might make a neat time lapse, so I set out to record it with the iPhone. My first attempt failed, due to the iPhone’s auto-adjusting time-lapse feature. Because the lamp takes so long to get going, the gap between frames winds up being quite long. Long enough that when stuff does start happening, the iPhone’s time-lapse gaps are too wide to make for an interesting video.

I needed another solution, so I headed to the iOS App Store to see what was available…

A search on “time-lapse” returned nearly 100 matches. Overwhelmed by the choices, I read lots of reviews, and eventually decided on OSnap! Pro, which sells for $3.99. (There’s a free version as well, but it adds a promo screen to your videos.)

This app was perfect for the task at hand; I’ll have more to say about it in the future. For time-lapse use, I was able to set both a fixed interval between each photo and control the frames per second of the final movie, which is exactly what I wanted.

I set up the lamp in our downstairs bathroom (the only room we have without any windows), stuck my iPhone on a tripod and connected it to an external battery, started the recording, and shut the door. I returned a couple hours later, did some editing, and here’s the final result:

Pretty wild; it’s almost as mesmerizing watching it warm up as it is watching it once it’s fully warmed up!

As an aside, keyframed timecodes in Motion are simply amazing—the accurate clock below the lamp required only a few mouse clicks to set up. A big thanks to Mark Spencer for the Motion help I needed to get that working.

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