Family Matters

Childhood in Two Minutes: Why a Dutch Dad’s Time-Lapse Video of His Kids Went Viral

Kids grow up so fast. One father figured out how to preserve the transition for posterity.

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Every parent wonders how to capture the ephemeral nature of childhood. Born completely dependent, babies swiftly learn to hold their heads up, roll over, sit up, crawl. Independence is a heady thing; once babies master walking, the march toward adulthood is steadfast. So how to preserve the ever-changing face of youth?

Some parents go crazy taking pictures. I am vigilant about keeping periodic journals, literary snapshots of who my kids are and what they’re like at a particular point in time. Then there’s Frans Hofmeester, a Dutch dad who relied on time-lapse video to create a poignant portrait of his daughter from 0 to 12.

Why spend two minutes, 45 seconds watching an infant you don’t even know morph into a preteen? Ask the millions of strangers who’ve viewed Hofmeester’s Vimeo clip since he posted it last week. “This almost made me cry,” wrote TJ Chavis on Vimeo. “My sister of 23 (2 years my senior), has just had a baby and I can not believe it! I feel like we are still babies ourselves. I really can’t believe how fast we’ve grown up. Time is so fleeting, whether we feel it pass over us or not.”

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Hofmeester, a photographer and filmmaker in Utrecht, The Netherlands, can hardly believe all the attention the video he made of his daughter, Lotte, is getting. “I’m — how do you say in English? — flabbergasted,” he said on Wednesday. “I always had the feeling I had something special but I never dreamed it would get this kind of exposure.”

Now, Lotte is everywhere. CNN posted the clip. Coldplay tweeted it. Jay Leno joked about it. “It’s a little overwhelming,” says Hofmeester, who came up with the idea of filming Lotte — and later Vince, her little brother — when she was two weeks old.

“I noticed a subtle change in the way she looked,” he recalls. “She wasn’t the same as the week before that. I thought, I have to capture this image otherwise I will forget what she looked like.”

Using a spare, artsy approach, Hofmeester filmed every clip against the same white background — actually a baby blanket. In the infancy stage, he let the camera roll for just four or five seconds once a week; as his kids grew and began babbling, then talking, he stretched the filming time to 20 seconds. He tried to be consistent and record the kids every Saturday morning, even setting a reminder alarm. “My phone would ring, and it would say, Film the kids,” he says.

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They weren’t always cooperative. Often, he’d prompt them: did you have a fight with a girlfriend or lose at basketball or go to the zoo? Then he’d record a snippet of what they thought was important about their lives right then. Hofmeester also assembled a longer, 30-minute version that he hopes will find a home in an art gallery.

Because Hofmeester used actual video instead of still photographs for the time-lapse sequence, Lotte and Vince appear more alive, the transformation from newborn to big kid literally happening before your eyes. “It’s a bit spiritual,” says Hofmeester. “It touches your soul.”

For some reason, Vince’s video — he’s 9 — hasn’t received as much attention. Hofmeester’s not sure why but he speculates it’s because Lotte’s a girl who’s on the cusp of hitting puberty. At 12, she digs Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse. She favors sneakers and skinny jeans, plays basketball and the drums and often perches a flower in her hair.

She’s also a little taken aback by her global fame. “She’s like, what’s happening to me?” says Hofmeester.

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One of the upsides to all the attention is that Hofmeester feels vindicated. Lotte and Vince used to ask him why he insisted on filming them. “Now,” he says, “they know what daddy did all those years is quite special.”