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Offspring take wildlife night filming to new levels

Offspring take wildlife night filming to new levels

The extreme low light 4m ASA Canon ME20F-SH has been used by Offspring Films to capture the behaviour of one of the world’s fastest mammals at night for the first time.

The Elephant shrew, with a recorded speed of 28kmph, was filmed in the wild in Kenya by Offspring for One Wild Day (working title) for a major Broadcaster. The 3 x 60-minute natural history explores how certain animals survive and thrive in different habitats over a 24-hour period.

For the episode set in the African savannah, Producer/Director Anwar Mamon with DP Mark Payne-Gill selected the ME20F-SH. This is a full-frame HD camera with a sensitivity of over ISO 4 million (+75dB).

“Obviously, telling the story of an animal’s life over 24 hours means filming at night,” explains Mamon. “The traditional way of doing this is to use infrared (IR) imaging which gives you a look which is quite cold. In contrast for this series, The commissioning channel wanted to give the show a warmth and that meant making the animals look natural by capturing as much colour as possible.”

The Elephant shrew – or Sengi, as the creature is colloquially known – moves rapidly at ground level making tunnels in the grass as it uses it extended nose to hunt for insects.

“The tunnels are about three fingers’ width and provide a roadmap for judging where they might go and therefore where to place the camera,” says Mamon. “We put the camera on a slider so we could move between tunnels.”

Footage was recorded onto a Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q recorder with a 5.6" TV Logic monitor used as a makeshift viewfinder.

“VMI had supplied us with the ME20 before so it made perfect sense to work with them again,” says Mamon. “While we knew exactly what we wanted they delivered it all for us just as we expected.”

Offspring and Payne-Gill had first used the camera to film small primates called Tarsiers in Indonesia last year, so had a good working knowledge of just how far to push it before introducing too much noise.

“We found, in tests, that the ME20 produced excellent results up to 45dbs (approx. 140,000 ISO) after which noise became noticeable but with noise reduction would still produce incredible results,” says Payne-Gill.

 The team were able to use very low soft key lighting provided by an Aladdin 'A' light and Eyelight LEDs without effecting the creature’s behaviour. “As a result we only needed to shoot between 18 and 21dbs (approx 50,000 -70,000 ISO),” says Payne-Gill. “The camera wasn't even having to work hard to give amazing noise free images.”

The use of a little supplementary lighting meant he was able to select f2.8 and f4 macros.

Other programmes in the series explore jungles and deserts. For the deserts programme they deployed the ME20F-SH to film an even smaller animal called the Kangaroo Rat and in the Namibian desert they recorded wild elephants at night.

“At times we were shooting at times during a full moon which is bright enough to see detail on the animals and in the sky,” says Mamon. “We also filmed elephants with less than a full moon and despite not being able to light for such a larger area the camera still performed well.”

The offline is being performed at Bristol's Filmsat59 on Avid with online in Autodesk Flame and the grade on Lustre. Noise reduction is done in Avid Symphony using Neat Video. 

TX is later this year.

Offspring Films

Mark Payne Gill, MPG Films

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