Tigress shoots 3D in the Namibian desert5 December 2011
Tigress Productions’ first foray into 3D is a 60-minute natural history programme shot in extreme conditions, which required two years of research and preparation. Hazards for the cameras and rigs included the magnetised sand of the Namibian desert. Beautiful Freaks Producer and Director Charlotte Jones says, “We chose Namibia because it is cinematically gobsmaking with a variety of environments which has helped produce some really weird wildlife that has adapted to some of the most extreme landscapes on earth.”
These include lizards, crickets, bat-eared foxes and desert elephants, which have adapted to survive for long periods without water.
To combat risk of magnetic sand particles entering the camera and rig mechanisms or getting onto the mirror itself the team came prepared with bin bags and gaffer tape. They also had to contend with corrosive sea salt and mist on coastal locations.
In production since 2009, Jones and cameraman Simon Wagen, who also acted as stereographer, worked with Bristol facility, Films@59, to find the right kit for such exacting environments. The third member of the on-location crew was camera assistant Barney Carmichael who also helped stereograph.
“Most of the locations which Tigress Productions goes to are either very hot, remote or wet, but most 3D equipment has been made for studio-based features and dramas,” said Jones. “The machinery is complex and precise and designed to work in sanitised studios as we needed to pick it up and shoot in the desert with it.”
The primary rig was a P+S Technik mirror rig with Sony F3s and a set of primes shooting 35-85mm focal lengths. Wagen detached the legs and used the 22kg rig shoulder mounted to achieve a 2D style of shooting. A side by side Hurricane rig and a Panasonic 3DA1 camcorder were also used, as was a Canon XF 305, for cutaways and pick-ups intended for a 2D version.
“We wanted to get away from the idea that in 3D everything is very static and controlled, and instead to give that feeling of being like a 2D programme where we are in among the action and not being restrained by kit,” said Jones.
Preparation also extended to thorough understanding of each animal’s behaviour in order to plan which shots were needed and in which order.
“Sometimes it would take two hours to get the kit up and running and calibrated, but when we did, we had to hit the ground running by knowing whether we were shooting wide shots first or close-ups, building lens changes into the time and having a good understanding of how the sequence would piece together,” said Jones. “That meant understanding animal behaviour and the restrictions when shooting. Some animals were slightly habituated so we knew more about their likely behaviour, such as when they may get bored and disinterested or how long we could handle them for. Since we were working with available light, we also had to factor that in.”
Achieving a good sense of 3D in natural history programming is often tricky on long lenses since the 3D tends to flatten into a cardboard effect. To get around that, presenter and naturalist Nick Baker (pictured) was often filmed in shot with the creatures.
“We didn’t have a blue-chip budget, so having Nick in front of the camera was a shorthand to produce a good feeling of depth,” Jones explained.
Tigress, which is an Endemol company, produced the hour long show with majority funding from Smithsonian in the US and Discovery Networks International. It will air on Sky 3D on January 15. Endemol have international rights. Post-production is also at Films@59.
“We are exploring various other projects in the low to mid-budget range since I think Beautiful Freaks has proved a great success,” added Jones.