Corals and sponges don't fit neatly into the typical idea of "animals." They have bizarrely shaped bodies, no discernable faces and seem to live mundane, almost motionless lives on the seafloor.

They are animals, though, and important ones at that. Coral reefs are the linchpins of bustling marine ecosystems worldwide, and millions of people depend on them for food, jobs and $375 billion in annual economic activity. Sponges, meanwhile, play vital roles in nutrient recycling and oxygen production, helping make life possible for a variety of sea life. Both are diverse and abundant, but both also face a barrage of man-made dangers including pollution, climate change and ocean acidification.

If that's not enough to inspire more respect for these underappreciated animals, maybe the time-lapse video above can help. Produced by photographer Daniel Stoupin, it's a dramatic reminder that "life has a very broad spectrum of speeds," as Stoupin puts it. But it's also much more than that. It's a mind-blowing opus of time-lapse wizardry, described by the photography blog PetaPixel as a "masterpiece" whose hypnotic images "defy proper description." It was quickly named a Vimeo Staff Pick, and has already been watched more than 1.6 million times so far during its brief tenure online.

Titled "Slow Life," the video reflects an incredible amount of work to capture the subtle majesty of these enigmatic animals. It consists of 150,000 raw exposures, each one 22 megapixels, that Stoupin squeezed into 218 seconds of video. Why so many photos? "Because macro photography involves shallow depth of field," Stoupin writes on Vimeo. "To extend it, I used focus stacking. Each frame of the video is actually a stack that consists of 3-12 shots where in-focus areas are merged."

Focus stacking is a post-production technique that increases depth of field, but it can also complicate processing. Each frame of the video required about 10 minutes of processing time, Stoupin says, and it took roughly three months to produce each minute. There's no digital enhancement or alteration of natural colors, he adds, although aquatic logistics did force him to shoot in tanks rather than the ocean. "[F]ocus stacking in open water is not worth the effort and next to impossible," he writes.

But Stoupin is a marine biology Ph.D. student as well as a photographer, so he adds that his video shouldn't be seen as approval of keeping wild ocean creatures captive on land.

"Please do not share this clip to promote or endorse the marine aquarium industry," he asks. "I simply want people to admire life, but not to be told to buy stuff, especially possess captive animals. ... I know that my clip will be shared largely in aquarist circles, and I'd like to say: I'm not asking to throw away your passions and hobbies, but please think carefully about what you really love, protect and invest in. The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger and you have the power and finances to change its fate."

For more context about the animals in this video, see this in-depth explanation on Stoupin's blog. And to see other impressive time-lapse videos of nature, check out the related links below.

Russell McLendon is science editor at MNN. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

Related time-lapse videos on MNN:

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