A Year-Long Sky Journal as Video Mosaic

Detail from Ken Murphy's video sky mosaic

A motion mosaic of our ever-changing, endlessly fascinating atmosphere

Detail from Ken Murphy's video sky mosaic

About two years ago, Ken Murphy set up a tripod on the roof of San Francisco’s Exploratorium science museum and aimed his video camera at a particular patch of sky. He’s spent the two years since shooting time-lapse sequences from his makeshift observatory and has stitched them together into this wonderful visual tableau.

Murphy, who is a web developer at KQED and a former artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium, says the project grew out of — well — boredom. He became restless with his experimentation with art works using LED lights. He says he was looking for more natural movement. So Murphy went dumpster-diving for parts and cobbled together a computer-controlled camera that would record the same sky segment every ten seconds, around the clock. He says it took two years of shooting to stitch together one full year of images. Eventually he found himself sorting through three million video frames for the mosaic.

But Murphy didn’t want his frames to be too predictable, so he settled on a sky patch about 45 degrees above the northern horizon, where neither the sun nor moon would enter the picture.

Given his location on the tip of the San Francisco peninsula, what you do see is plenty of fog and rain. Murphy says viewers are often surprised at “how much blue” is in the finished piece.

Murphy with his rooftop camera rig

Murphy says “Patterns that occur in nature sort of resonate with people,” though he wanted to capture something “outside our immediate scope of perception.” He thought some kind of time-lapse imagery would provide that. “I wanted to have a certain fluidity to it,” he told me.

On Murphy’s site are several earlier stages of the work, which are also interesting to watch. He says he’s now working with a team from the Exploratorium on a time-lapse study of tides. We’ll be watching that one, too.

A Year-Long Sky Journal as Video Mosaic 16 November,2011Craig Miller

One thought on “A Year-Long Sky Journal as Video Mosaic”

  1. This is interesting, not sure about the angle, but the next step would be to capture the days where we have aerosol spraying – capture the grid lines of white spray and show how the fan out into white haze — erasing the deep blue of the sky in days of old.  I have been trying to get the attention of KQED on this matter of weather modification for some time.  I will try to contact Murphy at the Exporatorium — the media has been silent.  See the documentary “What in the world are they Spraying” or http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org — julie, sonoma

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Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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