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Going Wild: Capturing African Landscapes and Life for ‘One Planet’

Director/producer Chadden Hunter and cinematographer Susan Gibson recently headed to the savanna grasslands of Kenya with the ARRI Amira.

Director/producer Chadden Hunter and cinematographer Susan Gibson recently headed to the savanna grasslands of Kenya with the ARRI Amira camera to begin shooting footage for One Planet, a documentary series produced by the BBC’s Natural History Unit that will air in 2016.

“We’re trying to give an experiential feel of the wider habitat, which means we can use slightly more toys and techniques to create an immersive viewing experience,” says Hunter. “Given that, and the fact that this was the first shoot of a big series, we took out a lot of new equipment and experimented.”

“I knew that the ARRI Amira was a documentary-style camera with great ergonomics,” adds Gibson, “and it just seemed like a compact, lightweight option that wouldn’t have lots of wires hanging off it when you’re shooting. I’ve used the Alexa before and was blown away by it, so a camera that has the same technology in it but is more compact can only be a good thing.

“It’s great being able to change the Amira’s frame rate very quickly at the flick of a switch in the field, and to customize the buttons to the frame rates you want,” she continues. “We filmed herds of buffalo with loads of cluster flies around them. We wanted to show the volume of flies and all the mud the buffaloes were flicking around—the 200 fps really brought that out. And we only went through about three batteries a day, which is amazing given how often we were shooting at 200 fps.”

Director/producer Chadden Hunter

Regarding light, Gibson says, “We were often filming at dawn or dusk, when the light changes very quickly, so being able to easily adjust the amount of ND was very useful. You don’t really want to be moving around in front of the camera when you’re trying to film an animal, so the internal ND filters are a lot better than fiddling around dropping filters into a mattebox, because you might scare the animal off.

“You don’t seem to be able to under- or overexpose with the Amira,” the cinematographer adds. “We were putting it through quite a lot, with dark buffalo backlit against a rising sun, but the tonality was incredible. I also experimented with filming jackals and hyena after the sun had gone down completely, and the images were totally usable for situations when you’re trying to capture animal behavior.”

“There’s a tonality to the image from ARRI’s sensor that I just love as a field director working with natural light,” Hunter concludes. “Some other cameras and formats have a less realistic color balance to them. I don’t know how to describe it technically, but when I look at the organic and earthy feel of the Amira image, it strikes me as an ideal way to capture the natural world.”