For the past five years, Berlin-based filmmaker Joerg Daiber has been transforming locales all over the globe into amusing miniature worlds. From big international cities like Chicago and Hong Kong to more remote areas like La Rioja in Spain and the Ardennes in Belgium, no place seems unshrinkable for Daiber’s "Little Big World" series, now found on Youtube, television programming in 50 countries, airline entertainment, and more.
Daiber’s dynamic short films rely on tilt-shift photography, which can selectively focus on a part of a scene while softening the rest of the image, leaving viewers with the illusion of peeking into toy lands modeled after our own. And with impeccable music selection, the time-lapses also tend to have comedic appeal. In this email interview, Daiber talks to Curbed about his process, the impact of drones, and more. Stick around for a few "Little Big World" videos featured along the way, starting with this trailer.
Curbed: The first Little Big World video was posted in 2011. That’s a long time! How did you get the idea to start doing these tilt-shift videos? And how did you pick Thailand to start?
Joerg Daiber: Back in 2011, I saw some tilt-shift stuff for the first time and was intrigued by the technique and wanted to experiment with it myself. So I took my camera gear along to a trip to Thailand to get some shots and see how it would work out. This first film ended up in the Vimeo Staff Picks and all the positive comments encouraged me to do another one half a year later when I went to trip to Crete. When this one was also staff picked by Vimeo I think I thought about turning this fun project into a series for the first time.
When I submitted the series a half year later with some more episodes for the Vimeo Awards, it ended up there as a Finalist. As one result, I received the first licensing requests from TV channels. As you can see, I never really planned this as a long-running series. It basically just happened along the way.
Curbed: Can you tell us what goes into making each video—how much time, travel, and resources? Are you the only person who works on them?
JD: This is still pretty much my own project and I do pretty much everything by myself. Shooting time is really different for each project and can range from two days to two weeks. There is also quite some time involved in research and post production, which can also take up to two weeks.
Curbed: And how do you actually take the footage? Is it drones? Has the technology changed in the years since you first started?
JD: Most of the shots are done with a DSLR camera and I spend a lot of time on vantage points to collect my footage. About two years ago, I started to use some drone shots to add another dimension to the films. However, still most of the footage from the newer episodes comes from a regular camera. I try not to use too much aerial footage as I prefer to focus on small human actions of daily life, which is difficult to achieve with a drone.
The first 20 episodes I basically only shot with a DSLR camera and a Gorillapod. On my shooting trips now, I carry along two DSLRs with tripods, a small motion control device, and a drone. Also the first 50 films were all produced in HD, while the last 20 episodes were produced in 4K, which makes the post production much slower.
Curbed: Browsing your video collection, there seems to be a good mix of major cities like Chicago and Guangzhou, and lesser known places like the Ardennes in Belgium and Aragón in Spain. How do you pick which places to shoot?
JD: That depends. When I am in a certain city or country for a corporate project that I am realizing with my production company spoonfilm, I usually try to stay a little longer to get some shots for a Little Big World episode. This is for instance how most of the episodes in China have happened. Sometimes I am also asked by tourist councils to produce an episode of their destination for the series. La Rioja and Aragón in Spain are one of those.
And when my girlfriend was working in Boston for three years, I spent a lot of time in the U.S. and shot most of the North America episodes in that time. And then there are some places which have been on my personal bucket list for a long time and when I finally go there I do also shoot an episode there. Albania, Burma, Jordan, and Oman (coming soon) are such places.
Curbed: I noticed that the soundtrack can be very different from video to video—for example, the Chicago one is busy-techno, the Miami one is kind of classical comedy, and the Detroit one is very dramatic. Do you pick the music yourself? How do you choose?
JD: Finding the right music for each film is actually one of the most difficult parts of each project in my opinion. Sometimes it takes me three days just to find a piece that works well with the images. Basically I start with the mood that I want to transport for a certain place and then I look for music that may work. Sometimes I end up doing rough cuts with three different pieces before settling for one final version to edit. However most of the time I end up with classical music as I am many times not happy with the quality of production music archives.
Curbed: I see you also allow these clips to be licensed, correct? What are some of the coolest or strangest places that have shown Little Big World footage?
JD: Apart from TV channels in about 50 countries, there have been some closed circuit systems that have licensed the show, like airlines and such. The public transportation of Istanbul, for instance, is showing the series on the screens in the subway. Also a large gym chain is showing Little Big World. I workout there myself and do think it’s kind of weird every time a Little Big World episode comes up while I am doing cardio or such.
Curbed: Do you have a favorite video or two from your collection?
JD: This is always the hardest question for me to answer and it always depends on my current mood which one I pick. However, from my early films, Burma is still one of my favorites, while from the more recent stuff, I am very fond of Albania, Detroit and Sanya.
Curbed: I feel like a lot of these videos have a comedic feel to them—is that intentional? Or is that just what happens when everything is shrunken?
JD: This is actually on purpose and I don’t think that the miniature effect is responsible too much for this—it makes things more cute and adorable. Like I mentioned earlier, I try to catch many regular and unspectacular scenes from daily life in each country. Then I usually edit these scenes in a fun way to the music, which should give it the comedic touch.
I really think "tilt-shifting" puts things somehow in the right perspective. I think people should not take themselves and what they do too seriously. If some people get that feeling while watching my films, then my work is done.
Curbed: What motivates you to keep making more Little Big World videos?
JD: I still love to travel around the world, meet new people, experience different cultures and try all kinds of food :)
That being said, I have neglected my company activities for the last two years pretty much in favor of more Little Big World stuff. However, I also still love to produce documentaries and commercials. If I can find a good mixture of all these different activities, I think that I can go on for quite some more years with new Little Big World episodes.