VIDEO: Vans Time-Lapse – Born to Roll

Born to Roll

I’m no stranger to long shoots. I dream big, and it can take many hours to turn those dreams into reality. For this shoot, I wanted to show Vans BMX shoes being constructed on an assembly line that reflects the shoe’s life — on a bike or on a board, these shoes are born to roll!

Bruce Wheeler, Jr. flew in from Boston, and Jeff Farsai came in from Cali to help out on this shoot. They’re extremely talented individuals, and as a team we can really produce some incredible results. After two back-to-back eighteen hour days, and a total of 36 hours of shooting, these dudes really earned their stripes on this project!

The Vision


As you might imagine, these videos make for some mean GIF files! Click through to check out some of these looping animations. They’re wicked, clean and showcase the components of the shoes perfectly.

Now that I have a few reverse time-lapse projects under my belt, my mind just keeps coming up with new ways to use the technique. For this project, we decided to ditch the paint cans and try something different. After brainstorming some ideas, my team and I decided we wanted to try a reverse time-lapse with a pair of shoes being laced up. I knew we had to push the concept to the next level, so we stayed at the table and came up with the concept of putting the shoes on an assembly line, being assembled like in a factory.

Sometimes the simplest ideas can cause the biggest headaches! We had to take a shoe apart, piece by piece, while rolling the assembly line forward and creating the effect of an endless army of shoes. It was important for us to show each component of the shoe, highlighting the quality construction of the product. It was only fitting that we should use skateboards as the engine of the assembly line, reflecting the brand’s identity as part of skate culture.

With the concept clarified, it was off to the drawing board, the studio and the home improvement store to begin preproduction and figure out how we were going to make this happen.

Devil in the Details


Game Plan

When I closed my eyes, I could see the whole video: the skateboards carrying the shoes down an assembly line as the shoes are constructed. As I pre-visualized the shoot, I determined that we needed at least four pairs of shoes on four skateboards, to get three of them to be in the frame at all times.

I knew we also needed to tear apart two pairs of shoes, to complete the looping effect.

The reality was that this video was way more complicated to produce than any of earlier my paint videos. There were more moving parts, space in the studio was tighter and the logistics were particularly complex. Since we were showing the shoes moving forward on the assembly line as they’re being constructed, we had to shoot in reverse, carefully tearing the shoe apart as it is rolling backwards.

I picked up my supplies, including four mini skateboards from Wal-Mart, and brought them into my studio to begin laying out my set. My studio isn’t very large, since I do a lot of location shooting, so my set for this shoot ended up just barely fitting, with ¼ inch to spare!

A few weeks before the shoot, I had planned everything out in my mind: every who, what, when and where of the shoot. Well, almost everything. There were still a few issues to be worked out before we began shooting. The skateboard trucks (the metal pieces that attach the wheels to the board) were a shiny silver, and were a little distracting on-camera. In addition, there was some variation on the colors of the wheels and the grip on the boards. Also, I needed a way to lock down the boards during shooting, so that they wouldn’t move even a little bit as I deconstructed the shoe on set.

My final problem was diffusion. Coming from a background in still photography, I’ve always used a Profoto strobe lighting kit. Strobes wouldn’t be practical on this shoot, as they would need to be popped thousands of times in a row. My solution was Husky lights from Home Depot! I have diffusion for my Profoto lights, but not my new Huskies, so I started walking around my house looking for something I could use for diffusion. To my wife’s displeasure, I ended up using a brand new white pillow case, stapled to a cheap picture frame I found in the basement. Despite the fire danger, it got the job done.


For the skaters: I know that these are BMX shoes, not skate shoes. I selected this shoe because the coloring and pattern would look better on-camera than an all-black shoe. Also, I know that many skaters and BMX bikers use their shoes for other sports all the time. Personally, I’ve found that my beat up old indoor soccer cleats make great skate shoes.

The Shoot

This was by far the longest shoot of my career thus far, but I did have a great team to keep me company and help make the shoot happen. In total, it took 36 hours of slowly pulling stitches and moving very carefully so not to ruin the shoot. Back at Brooks Institute, we had long projects that would last days, but nothing like this!

Compared to my paint videos, this shoot was more of a marathon than a sprint. With paint, the second you start pouring there is no stopping and no slowing down. With this shoot, we were able to take breaks, and even sleep in the middle of the shoot. Because this particular time-lapse didn’t have self-moving parts, we were able to take our time moving each component by tiny increments. We were able to remove a stitch every couple shots, taking one shot to loosen the thread and a second shot to remove it.

Freeze Frame

Wanna see details from the Vans video? Check out these 5.6k frame grabs! On this shoot we used: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, 5D Mark II, EOS 60D and EOS 7D, with some supporting camera angles with the EOS-1D Mark II, EOS 20D and Canon Rebel XTi. With seven different cameras and 21 tripod legs to bump into, there was quite a bit of chaos going on. I am very proud that my crew was able to shoot for 36 hours with zero mistakes.

A New Look to GIFs

As you might imagine, these videos make for some mean GIF files! Click through to check out some of these looping animations. They’re wicked, clean and showcase the components of the shoes perfectly.

The small size of these GIF files makes them perfect for product pages, where loading time matters you want to show the inside of the product and the quality of its construction. Its a unique way of displaying a product, while leaving the viewer with the perfect final product shot. Each frame of this video can be used as a still frame.

Take a close up look of these looping GIF files, showing the close up details of the shoe, and the detailed stitching Vans puts into their shoes. Pretty sick right


The Gear


For these time-lapse projects, you have to be able to depend on the memory card in your camera. When you’re shooting 30,000 images over 36 hours, you need cards with huge storage capacity so you don’t have to touch the camera as often and risk bumping it out of position as you change out cards. You also need cards that aren’t going to fail in the middle of an insanely detailed and time-consuming shoot. If one of the cards fails, you’ll be missing a section of the sequential shots and must start over from the beginning.

My go-to supplier of high-quality memory cards is Hoodman. Coming from a background in film photography, I was reluctant to trust the new digital cards at first. Hoodman earned my trust the hard way. I’ve put them through every test I could imagine, and they’re taken quite a beating. Like the little engine that could, they just keep on chugging. I’ve never had a Hoodman card fail on me, and my confidence in their products has allowed me to use higher and higher capacity cards. I started out using their 4 gig cards, so that if something happened to the card, I wouldn’t lose the whole shoot.

When I called Hoodman up to tell them about my newest project, they sent me out a handful of their 32 gig cards. Quite an increase in capacity over my old 4 gig cards! As always, Hoodman cards kept my images safe during the shoot and in transit back to my computer, and they’re still kicking today!


There is nothing worse than working in the studio and realizing mid-shoot that you can’t find a piece of equipment. I like to have everything I need in front of me so I can think about the tasks at hand, and not running around trying to locate a fresh battery. This is especially crucial when you’re working on a lengthy time-lapse project. You can’t risk moving around the set too much, as any movement might bump the cameras or the set out of position.

Lowepro camera bags keep all my equipment organized and ready, no matter what I’m shooting. For this project, I was set up in my studio with eight cameras, 10 lenses and a massive amount of remotes, cables and miscellaneous bits and pieces. I was able to pack it all into my Lowepro Photo Trekker AW II bags, and transport all my gear to the studio. During the shoot, I use these huge bags to keep track of every piece of equipment, tucked away in its proper place.


PocketWizard just saved me hundreds of dollars. With eight cameras set up around the studio (including one mounted to the ceiling!) it was impractical to purchase and synchronize intervelometers for each camera to ensure that they were all firing simultaneously during the time-lapse. Instead, I designated one easy-to-reach camera as the main camera and attached a PocketWizard transmitter to it. The other seven cameras were controlled by PocketWizard receivers and a shutter trigger, so that when the main camera fired all the other cameras would fire at once. This set up was by far a more cost-effective, efficient and reliable solution!

If I needed to pause shooting I only needed to stop the main camera, which instantly paused the other seven cameras. If I’d been using eight individual intervelometers, we would have had to run around the studio to pause all eight cameras! I could not imagine having to pause the camera hanging over the set every time we needed to take a break or fix something. If we were to bump the tabletop set, especially, all the camera angles would be affected and we’d have to start the shoot over from the beginning. The key to the success of these crazy shoots is to minimize the opportunity for disastrous accidents. PocketWizard saved the shoot!

Canon Cameras

My one and only Camera Company! I used several different Canon Cameras on this shoot, from the top of the line models to more common cameras: EOS-1 Ds Mark III, 5D Mark II, 7D, 60D, 1 D Mark II, 20D, Rebel XTi. I also used a number of Canon lenses, including EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM and EF 17-40mm 1:4 L USM lenses. All of these lenses and cameras have been thoroughly tested, and I know that they produce quality and consistent imagery.

Joe Morahan