Magazine article American Cinematographer

Majestic Mammals

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Majestic Mammals

Article excerpt

Humpback Whales provides an intimate look into the world of the sublime mammals nearly hunted into extinction a half-century ago. The 39-minute Imax film, narrated by actor and activist Ewan McGregor, tracks the communicating, mating, parenting and migratory behaviors of the giant marine creatures.

The movie marks the 38th Imax release from MacGillivray Freeman Films, joining other such aquatically themed spectacles from the Laguna Beach, Calif.-based production company as Dolphins, Coral Reef Adventure and Journey to the South Pacific. Humpback Whales continues the mission of director and company president Greg MacGillivray, who also chairs the ecofocused One World One Ocean Foundation. "I'm a surfer and diver, and through Imax 3D films I want the public to understand the importance of keeping the oceans healthy," he says. "We were looking to create this character of the humpback that people would respect and understand so they would say, 'These are worth helping so they'll survive the next 10,000 years.'"

Above-water shooting was led by director of photography Brad Ohlund, whose work for the production company dates back to the 1976 blockbuster historyof-flight documentary To Fly! {AC July 76). Howard Hall, a 20-year MacGillivray Freeman collaborator and director of the Imax hits Into the Deep and Deep Sea 3D, served as director of underwater photography.

Ohlund and MacGillivray, also a cinematographer, switched between the production's 2D Williamson W4 and Imax Mark-ll 15-perf 70mm cameras. Additionally, crewmember Robert Walker operated a Red Epic Mysterium-X, recording in 5K Redcode raw with compression ratios between 5:1 and 12:1 to 256GB and 512GB RedMags. MacGillivray estimates that 20 percent of the film was captured digitally. The finished film with its mix of formats was converted for Imax 3D and Imax Dome presentation.

As always with wildlife material, the filmmakers were at the mercy of what unfolded before their cameras. "We create a script that [serves as] a point of departure," Ohlund says of the preproduction process. (Stephen Judson is the movie's writer.) "Then we start thinking about what we're filming and how to deal with that color palette. Here we're mostly shooting the ocean, so we consider as much as possible introducing elements of color that will correspond to our underlying blue palette." That includes cutting to a school of yellowand-black-striped fish, or the maroon sails of a passing catamaran, or wide shots revealing Hawaii's lush greenery.

Cameras began rolling in 2011 for about 180 shooting days spanning three years. MacGillivray had scouted Hawaii and the Pacific island of Tonga looking for sufficient humpback populations. "I picked locally tions for color, water clarity, contrast and time of year," he says. "We needed weather that's right for Imax, meaning beautiful blue skies with few clouds. You need strong, hard light."

The crew traveled to Alaska to pick up additional footage, which will also be featured in a forthcoming movie about national parks; there, they captured slowmotion establishing shots of the environment, including seals and salmon, on a Phantom Flex4K in the Cine raw format to 2TB CineMags. The whales travel to the polar waters for the abundant summer food supply - so abundant that it was too dense to shoot underwater.

MacGillivray says that in prep, he watched "every humpback-whale movie ever made" and recognized the great potential for capturing the creatures via aerial photography. For airborne tracking the crew used the SpaceCam DCam 65-15, a camera that installs into SpaceCam's Large Format Gyro Stabilized System on a helicopter's nose.

The W4 was the crew's workhorse. "It has a beefy construction, a spinningmirror viewfinder and it seldom, if ever, fails," Ohlund explains. "The Mark-ll uses a beam-splitter viewfinder, where one-fifth of the light goes to the viewfinder and fourfifths to the film, so you lose a partial exposure stop. …

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