Creating a Very Slow Movie Player

Rendering digital images in a new way holds a lot of possibilities

Bryan Boyer
12 min readDec 22, 2018


All photos: Bryan Boyer, unless noted

Walking around Brasília some years ago, I had the distinct feeling that I was doing it “wrong”—because, of course, I was. The center of the capital city of Brazil is organized along the Eixo Monumental, or Monumental Axis, and features an array of important buildings that form a long spine. It is a place designed to be “read” at the speed of a vehicle, so taking it in by foot is like watching a movie in slow motion.

But this can be rewarding in unexpected ways. Pedestrians in Brasília have an opportunity to discover the subtle variations between the seemingly mega-scaled buildings. Rhythmic reflections and shadows bring surfaces to life under the tropical sunlight in beautiful and nuanced ways—just don’t forget to put on sunscreen.

It may not be an obviously human-scaled city, but Brasília holds many delights for the curious pedestrian. Photos from 2010.

Experiencing anything in slow motion is not something that had happened to me outside seeing the occasional Bill Viola installation. Until, that is, in the depth of a Michigan winter, I went looking for a way to celebrate slowness by tinkering with ePaper components and Javascript. I wondered whether a film could be consumed at the speed of reading a book—just as a city like Brasília can be enjoyed on foot.

Slowing things down to an extreme measure creates room for appreciation of the object, but the prolonged duration shifts the relationship between object, viewer, and context. A film watched at 1/3,600 of the original speed is not merely a very slow movie, it’s a hazy timepiece. And while a thing like Very Slow Movie Player (VSMP) wouldn’t tell you the time, it helps you see yourself against the smear of time.

How ‘VSMP‘ Works

VSMP is an object that contains a Raspberry Pi computer, custom software, and a reflective ePaper display (similar to a Kindle), all housed in a 3D-printed case. Every two-and-a-half minutes, a frame from a film that’s stored on the computer’s memory card is extracted, converted to black and white using a dithering algorithm, and then communicated to the ePaper display. The video below explains the…