Andrew Takano's fascination with the sky is obvious from the opening moments of "Sleepwalking Austin," a time-lapse video postcard of the city shot by Takano in the middle of the night last spring that has notched nearly 30,000 views on YouTube.
Set to a dreamy synth-pop soundtrack, the clip opens on an inky expanse salted with stars before giving way to neon jets hurriedly descending upon Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
It's a fitting image considering Takano is earning his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. He specializes in orbital mechanics, or, simply put, "how things fly around in space and how to control how things fly around in space."
Takano produced the video with a technique called hyperlapse, achieved by taking still photographs from a tripod and moving the set-up a few inches in between each photo. He then edits the photographs into a video using the computer programs Lightroom and Sony Movie Studio. It's a tedious process that relies on precision and concentration, not elaborate equipment or trick shots.
"Nobody wants to believe that the secret ingredient to anything is hard work," says Takano.
He first experimented with time-lapse photography when trying to capture the Comet PANSTARRS that was visible over Austin in March. He started the "Sleepwalking Austin" project in order to give himself a break from 70-hour study weeks for his Ph.D. qualifying exams.
He found that stepping behind the camera freed him from some of the structure that comes with lab work.
"In engineering, there are physical laws and constraints like budgets and hardware limitations that conspire to drive you toward a certain solution. There is not a lot of room for your aesthetics," Takano says. "But for photography, there aren't really right or wrong answers. It all comes down to how I want it to look. So it pulls from this creative side of me that I don't use in engineering so much."
Last week Takano posted his second hyperlapse video, "Spectral Austin." Shot during the summer, it captures the city at all hours of the day, including several stunning sunrise and sunset sequences.
Some online commenters have complained the videos will only encourage more people to move to the rapidly growing capital. Others criticize Takano for not filming much beyond downtown, but he says his goal was to capture the most recognizable parts of Austin and scenes that captured his interest, not the entire city. Meanwhile, he is licensing footage to KXAN News and other local entities.
Takano has a new project in the works, but he's not yet ready to reveal what it is. One job he does have on the horizon: finishing his Ph.D. in the next two years.