San Diego Study #3: San Diego Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Car Color

Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

Finally! It's done. In this new video I took a four minute shot of state highway 163, which is San Diego's first freeway then removed the time between cars passing and reorganized them according to color. I was curious to see what the city's car color palette looked like when broken down. We are a car culture after all. I was surprised that the vast majority of cars are colorless: white, gray and black. The bigger surprise though was just how many cars passed in four minutes of what looked like light traffic: 462 cars. I invite my fellow arm chair anthropologist to parse out what those car colors say about us. Do twitter if you can. I think what it says about Caltrans is pretty clear. I had never really considered how many cars the freeways have to support but if you do some conservative math - at the rate captured in the raw video (below) you'll hit 125,000 cars in 18 hours. If I had a nickle...that's how much I'd need to fix the road.

A quick note on the colors. They're ordered by prevalence or popularity within the sample: white, silver/gray, black, blue, red/orange/yellow, green. The group that is actually the largest is silver/gray but I put that group second to white because the silver/gray group is really a set of tones and colors that we don't have language to easily parse but are visually obvious. In other words, it's the biggest group linguistically but it's not one discreet color.

There are no CG elements in the video and none of the cars have been moved from their original lanes or had their speeds altered. The gaps in traffic are due to the different volumes in the lanes. For the tech curious the way I did this is conceptually simple but labor intensive. With After Effects I cut out each car frame by frame and saved it as it's own new video. Then I grabbed a still shot of each lane when it was empty, laid those over the source video, which produces an empty freeway and then put all the cars back in on top of that. Each car took an average of fifteen minutes to cut out and save x 492 cars, which is around 120 hours. I'm not entirely sure how long it took to put it all back together. Here's the entire raw shot I sourced, which was taken from the Washington St. Bridge in the Hillcrest area of San Diego looking north.

Raw Footage San Diego Study #3 from Cy Kuckenbaker on Vimeo.

I’ve started to call this idea of removing the time between events without altering the speed of the subject(s) a Time Collapse video. Many people were calling the earlier videos in the series time lapse, which is similar but not totally accurate. Hopefully time collapse will make sense to others.

There is a discrepancy between the time collapse and the source footage. For technical reasons some car shapes and movements were unworkable and those cars were dropped. I only counted this once but here's the breakdown:

Lane 1 (far left): 111 cars passed 107 appear Lane 2: 82 cars passed 71 appear Lane 3: 143 cars passed 137 appear Lane 4 (far right): 134 cars passed 127 appear Overpass: 22 cars passed 22 cars appear Total cars lost: 28

That means that the real traffic in that four minutes is actually about six percent heavier than the time collapse depicts.


Dupont does a Global Car Color Survey every year that correlates to my results in the video except for one difference. In Dupont's 2012 North American survey red is more popular than blue nationally but in my sample blue is more popular than red in San Diego. If my video is accurate, that would make sense to me. Red is thought of as an aggressive color and blue is considered a calm color. If you know San Diego, you know this is a (notoriously) laid back town. So I think if the video reveals anything really novel about San Diego's preferences, that may be it. We're way more blue than red...bro.

A few frame grabs: 1_WHITE






Here's some trivia - can you find the empty Gatorade bottle in the video? I didn't notice it for weeks but it's featured prominently in every frame of the video. Tweet me if you find it and I'll ask Gatorade to send you a case of coolant.

A few making-of notes: While I cut this I got hooked on audio books. During the edit I listened to Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen, How Music Works by David Byrne, Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Super Sad True Love Story by (hero) Gary Shteyngart, 1493 by Charles Mann, 1491 by Charles Mann, With the Old Breed by E. Sledge, The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera all of which reminded me, happily,  that I'm doing something preposterous with my life. I liked all of these book but 1493 reorganized my understanding of the world. It is remarkable.

I tried to use an app called IOgraphica during the long edits. It's a mouse movement tracker. Computer work is so odd because it can feel almost motionless at times, it's hard to understand why it's tiring. The app is free and it's an interesting way to visualize the physical activity behind a project. The images below represent about a third of the total for this video. The app helps further prove that I'm, happily, spending my life making digital yarn balls.

2013_11_26_IOGraphica---8.3-hours-(from-9-50-to-23-25) 2013_11_27_9.5-hours 2013_11_29_6.5-hours 2013_11_30_8.7-hours 2013_12_01_7.6-hours 2013_12_02_9.6-hours 2013_12_04_10.4-hours 2013_12_08_14.1-hours 2013_12_09_10.5-hours2013_12_15_10.5-hours2013_12_16

This project is supported by MOPA San Diego and The San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Fellowship Program. If you don't know MOPA be sure to check them out on Facebook + Twitter and more importantly stop by the space in Balboa Park. Something I didn't know until I started my residence with MOPA is that they have an incredible library of photo related books and journals that you can easily access by appointment, here's the link.

Big thanks for the valuable feedback from Bear Guerra and Freerk Boedeltje who looked at early versions and thanks to Luis Guerra for his deft audio touch.

The video was shot on a Canon C100 in CLog with a canon EFS 17-55 f/2.8 lens at 24p

I drive a green car known as The Pickle. That's true.