The rapid rise of new Seattle: Time-lapse video shot over 3 years captures city’s massive growth

Here’s the 4-minute video you’ve been waiting for to illustrate why a 4-mile drive in Seattle takes 45 minutes.

Ricardo Martin Brualla, a VR/AR engineer at Google in Seattle, and a former PhD student at the University of Washington, has pieced together a 3-year time-lapse video with footage shot from a 360-degree webcam mounted on the top of the Space Needle.

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With old buildings going down and new ones coming up, the video is an almost cartoonish representation of the massive growth taking place in Seattle, and particularly around the urban core and South Lake Union neighborhood where giant tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google have set up shop.

In a post on Medium, Brualla — who has been in Seattle for seven years — describes some of the details that are captured in the video and he explains how he pulled if off technically.

The webcam was installed on top of the Needle in January 2015 and takes a 360-degree panorama of the city every 10 minutes.

“I started with two full panoramas a day for the last two years, more than 2000 panos,” Brualla wrote. “Then, the sequence was stabilized, as the camera shakes and moves over time, either by being knocked, or because of the wind and other forces of nature. The final step was to smooth temporally the sequence, to remove the variation due to weather and lighting conditions.”

Brualla shares a few GIFs of some of his favorite moments from the video. The fall and rise of buildings is especially telling for anyone who, in a more realistic day-to-day time sequence, has witnessed change in the city. We’ve all see the cranes swinging back and forth, but never this fast.

Here’s an industrial building in South Lake Union that is demolished and replaced with a new apartment building in 18 months:

(Ricardo Martin Brualla GIF)

Towers rising on the northeast end of downtown all appear the same, as Brualla notes the 40-story restrictions on development in that area:

(Ricardo Martin Brualla GIF)

The work on the north portal of the SR 99 tunnel project, not far from the Space Needle, is also visible in the video. Of course, the Needle cam can’t see everything thanks to hills and distance. But suffice to say, the down and up theme is a consistent one in neighborhoods across the city as growth continues.

Brualla said he used a total of 2,166 panoramas that correspond to two photos a day, taken at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm, every day for the last three years. He told GeekWire that it took a couple months to build the video, working on it on and off during weekends. The stabilization and smoothing was all done with custom code, Brualla said, and it takes about 24 hours in one machine to process the raw images to the time-lapse frames.

“It’s been super interesting,” he said of the project. “I am amazed at how much Denny Triangle and South Lake Union have changed since I got here. I still remember the car dealerships that were 10 minutes away from Westlake. Seeing the changes through the Space Needle webcam is really cool, and my video just makes them a bit easier to watch.”

Seattle’s rapid rise as a tech hub has attracted engineering outposts from a number of Silicon Valley companies. So it’s only fitting that Brualla’s video reminds us of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and the intro animation for that comedy series:

Or, as a GeekWire reader has already pointed out on Twitter, it’s like watching a livestream of SimCity game play: