This is a short science documentary that I created in 2009 while interning for the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center which is located within Point Reyes National Seashore.
I shot it using an old Canon GL2 which was owned by the park. Remember taped-based cameras and mini-DV tape? Did I just date myself? Well, it was a good camera none-the-less. It had a 20x zoom which is pretty long. But you need long lenses for nature photography because often times the animal is very far from you (and it won’t let you get any closer).
Yes, shooting this was a lot of fun. I had to hike in over hills and across streams to where the elk herds were roaming. I had to keep down-wind of them so that they wouldn’t smell me coming. Then I’d hide behind a bush or rock and try to get footage while remaining unseen. If just one elk happened to see me then in less than a minute the whole herd would be staring at me with tense nervousness. Then they would slowly walk away from me, and keep away from me. That’d be a wrap for the day. But boy, what fun days they were.
FYI, hiking “off trail” to photograph the Tule Elk is illegal unless you are a Park Employee, and the Park Service takes that rule very seriously. I don’t want anyone to get into trouble.
This photo shows one of the most difficult dolly tracks that I’ve ever made. The total length of track is about 20 ft. The ground was comprised of a thin layer of moss covering a thousand years’ worth of pine needles. Walking on this forest floor felt more like bouncing on a gymnastics spring board. So laying the track was plenty difficult. As you can see it took about two dozen apple boxes and a hundred wedges or more to make the track level.
This was last fall when I had the opportunity to work with Creative Differences, a production company out of Los Angeles, making a television show about dinosaurs to be aired on the Discovery Channel. There were a lot of static shots (they’re called “plates” in the industry) of old forests or empty beaches. After shooting a 30 second plate we’d “fly in” giant wooden panels painted bright blue and place them behind shrubbery, trees, or rocks. Then we’d shoot the same plate with these blue panels in the frame. Sometimes we shot the same plate a dozen times, moving the blue panels between each shot. These blue panels would allow the computer animators to “paint in” CGI dinosaurs in post. Pretty fun stuff.
Tip: Use a yardstick style bubble leveler to make sure your track is perfectly flat. You can buy one at any hardware store for $15. Be sure to level your track before you put the dolly on it.