The Chia Mr. T Experiment

Where I, Bart Grantham, bring life to a Chia Mr. T head over the course of 4 weeks, and then murder it, all for your viewing pleasure in time-lapse webcam.

March 2011 update: I've put both videos up on Vimeo.
You can now check out the longer one (1s = 2.5h), or the shorter one (1s = 20h).


Many, many years ago my good friend Rich Stein gave me a concrete bust of Mr. T's head for my birthday. Rich found it in a shop in Harvard Square, of all places. What made this gift even more special is that he had hauled this 20 lb monster all the way from Boston to Blacksburg, Va, where we were having a large party for our group of friends.

As this happened in the mid-90's, please bear in mind that this was long before Mr. T became popular again.

Picking up on the gag, the Mr T gifts just started flowing from my friends. Mostly from Todd Rice. Soon I had a pre-school level plastic Mr. T puzzle, not one but TWO sets of Mr. T comics, a Mr. T air freshener, and a plastic Mr. T doll with a pull string for quotes like "don't be a fool, stay in school". My girlfriend even got me a Mr. T bobble-head. I had half of this T brik-a-brak on my desk when one of the ex-partners of the company I work for noticed the T theme and informed me that he was the proud owner of a Mr. T chia head. Yeah... like the chia pets, but it's a head that grows hair in a mohawk.

Fast-forward to 6 months later and the partner in question is now leaving for greener fields. In cleaning out his desk, he bequeaths the Chia-T to me (Thanks, Andrew!). I start plotting.... what I needed to do was not just to grow this thing, but to record the process for posterity! Then it dawned on me:

webcam + 24/7 powered desktop at work + AMCAP.EXE = Time-Lapse Chia-T.

The Execution

In order to time-lapse capture everything properly I spent about an hour after work getting a big portion of my desk set up for the filming. I used my normal desk lamp, a D-Link DSC-350 USB webcam, the simple but oh-so-effective amcap sample application from Microsoft, about 7 gigs of disk space and a lot of duct tape to keep everything from moving.

I also took the time to frame the picture with strips of paper so that if the camera moced I'd be able to get it close to where it was before. The lamp had bits of tape and markings to show where it was. And, of course, there were signs of 'Don't Touch!' everywhere.

I set up amcap to record a frame every 5 minutes. Every once in a while it would bomb so I really ended up with 10 large avi's of 640x480 uncompressed video at .00333 f/sec. These were merged and reworked with AVIEdit and VirtualDub. The final 6.7G movie was compressed into multiple versions with TMPGEnc, including the three downloadable versions you see below. If someone is REALLY fired up about doing some editing on this I can provide him or her with the much larger and higher quality MPEG2 version.

The Results

See for yourself! The fast versions only display every 8th frame, making it much more interesting. It you like your chia delicately aged try the full version, it's relaxing.

640x480 Fast version - 0:31 (4.5M MPEG1)
640x480 Fast version - 0:31 (9.6M DivX5)
320x240 Full version - 4:14 (36M MPEG1)

What Am I Seeing?

For the full version, 1 frame every 5 minutes * 30 frames a second means that each second of the clip is equal to 2 and a half hours of real time. For the fast version, the math turns out that one second is equal to 20 hours of real time. Every few seconds you see the head get 'splashed'. That's just me watering it. Also, it got bumped ever so slightly a couple times. Hopefully that's not noticeable. What is PAINFULLY noticeable is the brightness "pumping" of the CCD in the webcam. Ugh! Maybe if I can figure out a good way of equalizing the frames to the same brightness I'll fix this. Don't hold your breath, though.

Look for (times are only for the long version):

0:00 - 0:09 -- Soaking the head in water, per Joseph Enterprises instructions.

1:20 - 1:30 -- First sprouts! They begin on the back of the head and then work their way to the top.

2:40 - 3:15 -- An explosion of chia action! Mostly in the back, though, as the top was getting scorched by the desk lamp. Next time I'll try a more gentle light source.

3:30 -- The last time I water it. It starts wilting almost immediately. From here until 4:06 the water is slowly evaporating out of the head.

4:06 - 4:14 -- The water is all gone and it spells certain doom for the Chia-T!


Lots of fun and it was definitely a good learning project for more serious video work. I've learned that:

- Lots of disk space is VERY important.
- Having one large video editor is nice, but having multiple smaller packages is probably more flexible.
- VirtualDub is awesome and FREE!
- TMPGEnc is awesome and FREE!

And if I do time-lapse again, I've learned that having a good webcam that can have a fixed exposure control is important.

I hope you've all enjoyed my little experiment. Drop me a line if you have any suggestions for the next installment.

This page and movie contents © 2002 Bart Grantham. But if you want to play with it, have fun. I just want credit if you use it.