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How to Animate a Timelapse in Blender | 3D Log Cabin Building

What do you mean?

Lately, I’ve been enjoying these log cabin videos for example by Erik Grankvist. That’s where the inspiration came from to animate a timelapse of a character constructing a 3d log cabin. 

I haven’t seen a lot on this topic so let’s talk about animating a timelapse.

Check out the video, in there I’m not just showing what buttons to push, I’m trying to show the principles behind how you animate a timelapse shot. In the rest of this blog post, I’ll give you some more tips and provide extra context.

Timelapses are pretty common in movies of all sorts, from feature films to instruction videos.

However, we rarely see someone animate a timelapse, at least I don’t know of many. (Big Hero 6 has the one I know of.)

If you do, let me know I love to study them and learn more about them.

Timelapse cinematography is a technique used in film to show a generally slow process, such as the construction of a site or daily traffic on an airport. A timelapse displays these events in a greatly accelerated fashion.

As we know traditional film and animation are played back at 24 25 or 30 fps, nowadays there are higher frame rates, but they have yet to become industry standard.

This will display a fluid movement to the naked eye.

In timelapse, these frames are captured at much greater time intervals, usually minutes. After which they’re viewed at one of the previously stated framerates. 

Why make an animated timelapse? 

Timelapse cinematography is mostly suited to capture slow processes that normally wouldn’t be very visible or interesting if being watched with just the human eye.

One instant you might want to animate a timelapse is when you need to convey the passing of a long period. Yet you don’t have room for a full animation telling the same story in full length. As an animator but also a filmmaker in general you need to consider the edit.

I did something similar for a client in an explainer animation. Telling the story of scientific advancements regarding a certain topic. Over time showing trial and error, but eventually coming to master the science.

An example from the feature film Big Hero 6 shows the main character working through nights and days to complete his project. This extremely well-executed timelapse serves a purpose in the storytelling. 

Hiro Hamada, the main character of BH6, shows a side of him full of conviction and dedication while remaining his youthful playfulness. 

Planning stage

Animating a timelapse is a massive undertaking. Especially if you work in a smaller team and you’re responsible for multiple departments. 

It’s wise to plan your shot. Make sure you hit every story bead you need to hit.

In my case, animating the log cabin, had several constructional layers. Using multiple reference videos, I boiled down the steps needed to animate up a log cabin in a believable way.

Besides those practical and mechanical story beads, I had to work with the character. 

What emotions and characteristics do you want to emphasize? Ask yourself how you plan on portraying those.

It’s up to you how you plan your shots. My workflow for this shot was to sketch every layer in photoshop. Building the construction layer by layer.

In another document, I wrote down the character moments I wanted to include in the animation.

Like I always tell you, there is no set-in-stone way to approach these things, go with what feels most natural and take a shot-by-shot approach.

Your workflow may vary from shot to shot

Modeling stage 

Modeling for this timelapse wasn’t just simply modeling the cabin. No, I needed to be able to show every stage of the construction at any given time and have it be believable.

I looked at reference videos and saw what tools, scaffolding, and other things the builders used to build the cabin in real life.

Normally you could ignore parts you won’t see in the end, but now the result showed the entire construction, so that meant more modeling was required than normally.

practically, modeling for any shot is pretty much the same if you ask me. However, the magnitude of the scene is what multiplies the workload and complexity.

Animate a timelapse shot

Similar to a rudimentary blocking pass, but this is not a shortcut. The animation stage has to have a balance between enough information and speed.  That makes rhythm one of the most important factors in a shot like this. 

Emphasize the storytelling moments and speed through repetitive steps. In animation we can take a bit more liberty than usual filmmakers, seeing that we opt for believability rather than reality. 

I consider skipping through repetitive action as a favor to the audience. Likely, the repetitiveness doesn’t contribute to the story whatsoever. Therefore making it unnecessary to dwell on.

On the other hand, emotional moments are a great way to break up the shot. Giving the audience a sense of character and mood.

This makes the shot more relatable, probably more than a plain mechanical timelapse could ever do.

In my timelapse I chose to slow down the animation, by introducing some more keyframes from the same action. So for example, laying down a log and wiping off the dust from his hands. Where I took 3 keyframes to show this, I could have shown 3 times the same action of staking log after log.

But this way, we get a moment of rest, in all the rapidness. On top of that, we get the chance to learn something on an emotional level about the character and/or situation.

This naturally creates a sense of rhythm in your animated timelapse. 

I keep preaching this: “Rhythm is one of the essential factors in retaining attention from the audience.”.

Practical tools for animating a timelapse

At the beginning of this post, we learned that a timelapse is a bundle of pictures, sometimes taken minutes apart, played back at normal speed.

This can lead to rapid movement and jumpy action. The longer the frames are recorded apart from each other the more likely the object or person is moved.

To replicate this effect in an animated timelapse you would animate everything in a stepped fashion. That means holding the keyframe till the next keyframe takes over.

Again in a similar manner as blocking an animation. In Blender, we call this interpolation mode ‘stepped’.

Animate your timelapse with that in mind. Things I use quite often when doing shots like these are.


Whenever a timelapse has one character or more, the same posing rules as regular animation apply. 
Clear silhouette, line of action, energy, etc.

Lumberjack posed for how to animate a timelapse


In modeling I usually stay away from booleans, it’s a tick. For animation I quite like them to reveal parts of a mesh or drill holes in objects.

Keep in mind that booleans can affect your shading and textures, cause they change the mesh and its mapping.

I like to animate the booleans in constant interpolation as the rest of the timelapse animation. It’s quite easy to keyframe the influence of the modifier on an object-by-object basis.

Take advantage of that!

Shape keys

Usually, my rigs are limited or quickly rigged. Maybe in bigger studios, that would be less of a problem.

However, sometimes you need to clean up a deformation mistake on your model. Shape keys allow you to do that on the fly. Keyframing the influence and blending them can get you a long way.

On top of that, shape keys can give your pose just that extra push, where your rig might have broken. Even in regular animation, I would suggest doing so. 

Hide/Render restrict

An easy way to make stuff pop up in your seen, matching with the constant interpolation, is hiding and restricting the renderabilty.

Blender allows you to keyframe almost anything, including the renderabilty. In the outliner, you have the screen and camera icon, for viewport and render visibility.

Lighting cycle

In timelapses long periods pass in a short moment of screentime, and we start to notice that the lighting changes.

The sun comes up and goes under. Which will influence the lighting direction and the strength.

Even more, the light color will change depending on the height and power of the sun.

In my shot, I just rotate the HDRI on the z-axis, which rotates the light source around the scene subject. Realistically this isn’t accurate, however, that is the compromise I choose to make for keeping my scene lit and readable at all times

Space Day GIF – Isaac Lenkiewicz

Motion blur

Where movement is captured there is motion blur. 

You’ve probably seen timelapses of busy roads and highways where blurry streaks of light fly by. The motion blur in a timelapse helps to tie large movements together.

Now when you animate with stepped interpolation, you might get funky results, depending on your render engine. 

In that case, you could fake moton blur by using, images planes, duplicates of your models and blurring them, or think of some other creative way.

I hope this gives you the handle to animate a timelapse for yourself. 

Share your work with me and the others here in the community. Use #mvartz or @mvartz on Instagram and I check out your work and share as much of your projects as possible.

I hope you enjoyed this one, I personally loved doing this!

As always, stay creative.