Using tilt-shift photography combined with time-lapses, videographer Joerg Daiber is able to present the world in miniature. His video series, “Little Big World,” may look like perfectly crafted models, but they are, in fact, made up of real footage shot in real places. His videos make viewers feel like Gulliver in a world of tiny cities and miniscule buildings.
How did you come up with the idea to make the Little Big World videos?
The technique has been out there for a while now. Five or six years ago, I saw the first video of this kind and was intrigued by the technique. I just took my gear with me on a trip to Thailand and did one for the heck of it. It ended up in the Vimeo staff picks.
A year later, on the next trip in Crete, I did another one. Same thing, staff pick on Vimeo. So I was like, “Yeah, I think I have something good here.”
How do you decide which city or country you’re going to film?
It depends a little on my private itinerary. I did the first videos on vacation trips, obviously. Then when I had a corporate shoot in, say, somewhere in China, I’d stay a few days longer to get stuff done for my own project.
How do you choose where to shoot within the city?
It really depends on where I am. One general rule is for the effect to work pretty well, you should be at an elevated spot or vantage point. So usually whenever I go anywhere, I look for the highest points I can get first. Rooftops or anything. Drones have helped a lot recently. For the last few films, I’ve used drones.
But I still do most of the stuff with cameras because I try to capture small things. Like garbage men bringing out trucks, people hanging up their laundry, stuff like that.
How long do you have to spend in a place to get enough footage for the video?
Depends on if I’m making a country or a city video. Anywhere from two days to three weeks. It really depends on how much time I have. I’ve spent less time on it, because in the beginning it was just a fun project, but now I’ve shifted a little bit to a more professional approach. So I spend more time doing everything.
Can you explain to me how the filming technique works?
The official thing would be to use a tilt-shift lens, which you’d use mainly for architectural footage because you can change the angle of the focal plane relative to the camera.
The miniature effect is more a side effect, because with tilting the lens you can increase depth of field of the image. The blur tricks the brain into believing that these scenes look like models.
Most of the purists would shoot it this way, but I don’t. I do everything in post-production, since I feel it give me greater flexibility. So I shoot regular image sequences, then edit everything together, and go in AfterEffects and apply the effect, like making masks around church towers and things like that.
Can you walk me through what you would do when you’re out shooting for one of these videos?
People hate to travel with me because I always say, “Oh I just need five minutes,” and then I end up staying there for like an hour or two. Sometimes I go for a day to night shot, like a sunset/sunrise, and would get up at four in the morning, walk up any hill, and sit there for four or five hours.
Are you doing research ahead of time?
Oh, yeah. I didn’t in the beginning because I would just go [somewhere] and shoot whatever I could get. I do some research. Now I do quite a bit of research before taking off. I look for spots from other projects that people have done and try to find the most interesting viewpoints.
And sometimes you really do have to prearrange to get on certain rooftops and I’m not good with stuff like that. I was in Dubai recently and I had to do so much talking and so many people wouldn’t let me go up on their roofs so sometimes I would just sneak up and pass security. But sometimes they get you and throw you out. So it’s better to be prepared with these kinds of things. It’s always good to have a tourism board as a partner because they can open all of these doors for you.
Why do you think people are drawn to these kinds of videos?
It’s probably because it’s like a “childhood-memory-sandbox”-thing or something like that.
Maybe it’s that in these crazy times of Donald Trump in the U.S. and right-wing movements in Europe, people enjoy some painless, nice entertainment. But, then again, that’s just a theory.
What are some of the things that you’ve learned from making these videos?
For some shots, I end up in many places where many tourists are, too. And sometimes I stay there for two hours and most other people come for two minutes, take a picture, and move on. For me, it’s interesting to see how the tourists have their itineraries and how, sometimes, they’re being shoved through the sites like cattle.
And I do get to see a lot of tiny stuff while I’m sitting there for two hours and looking for things to happen. I think I pay attention to many details that nobody else notices.
And that’s what I like most about the films — that I try to get the small moments of people doing things that are super normal. I try to edit those within the film so that it gets this comic kind of atmosphere.
Were there any moments in making these videos that really stand out to you?
A while ago, during a trip to Montenegro, there was this viewpoint and no one was on it that I could shoot. So I set up my camera and just walked onto the viewpoint myself. For some reason I walked several times in a circle, because I thought this might turn out as a silly, fun shot. But when I walked back I saw that almost 20 people were waiting behind my camera to go onto the viewpoint, but somehow didn’t dare interrupt my strange ritual. They were just all waiting and observing my silly stunt, while they were probably trying to figure out whatever I was doing. The looks on their faces were priceless. Stuff like that happens all the time, it’s fun.
What are some of the places that you haven’t done videos about yet, but that you want to in the future?
There are many. I am planning a trip to Asia again. But as for my bucket list, it would probably be Ethiopia. Also Bhutan is at the top of the list. Taiwan and Korea. This summer, I’m probably going to try to go more off the beaten track … maybe Georgia, Armenia, and also further out east. I really want to go to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, all these countries that are a little bit more remote.
What do you like about making these videos? What do you like about the process and about seeing them when they’re finished?
The editing is painful. That’s the most creative part for me. Finding the right music … it can sometimes take days just to find the right music. I do rough cuts with different types of music and once I settle, I’m usually happy that I can finally put everything together.
I really like editing. It’s painful, but even though I’ve done so many of these films, every time, it’s still fun work.
Do you find that you’re making more purposeful decisions now in terms of filming?
Yeah, of course. In the beginning it was way more trial and error. Now I have more of a plan of what I want to be doing instead of just collecting footage and seeing what I get.
What are you hoping that people take away when they see the videos?
I always say, “If people wouldn’t take themselves so seriously, the world would be a much better place.” And my whole work is about that. We’re just tiny little ants and tilt-shifting somehow puts things into perspective. If a few people get that, I’d say my work is done.
See the other videos in the Little Big World series on YouTube.