The Making of “Terra Australis” – A Retrospective in Reality
The Meeting & Conception
I met Phil Arntz, a young but incredibly brilliant & talented filmmaker at the 2012 NAB conference in Las Vegas in April. Having seen his work, I introduced myself, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be “judged”, and the gesture was returned in kind. I knew this lad was driven, focused and passionate, minus the baggage you find sometimes with other aspiring filmmakers, peers or personality types. A brief chat resulted in a sincere & genuine friendship amidst all the hustle & bustle, wheeling & dealing. Phil & Ryan Killackey (another talented filmmaker from L.A) invited me to join them for a series of timelapse shoots around Vegas, in our down time, that would later become “Relapse”.
Phil & Myself stayed in touch and continued to correspond online & on twitter. It just so happened on one conversation when I said, “Phil, I think we should collaborate and do something together, why don’t you come to Australia?” In the ensuing months, we chatted frequently, and I even found the time to contribute my services to Phil’s short film “Sophie”, in which I was responsible for the sound design. We talked about what we could possibly do here. A Narrative, a Doco, a Timelapse project? What would it be?Then finally the time came when Phil just said, “Alright mate, my flights are booked, I’ll be staying for a month.” The rest is history.
Timelpase photography is a funny business. One either loves or loathes it. I started experimenting with it when the Canon 5D MKII first surfaced. I was never under the illusion or pretence that I was a master at it, though I knew that with enough commitment & practice, I would eventually wrap my head around the concept. My attitude towards this technique of filmmaking is to simply broaden my skill sets. They way I see it, if you can use any given environment to light, frame or compose a still shot, the results will enable you to grow & better yourself as a filmmaker. It’s free education through trial & error. Nothing beats taking the plunge, going out there in doing it yourself. It will continue to be a learning process.
Prior to meeting Phil, I was already aware that he shared the same passion. The very same people also inspired us. Amazing shooters like Tom Lowe, The T-Recs team, Preston Kanak, amongst many others are setting benchmarks in timelapse photography. This gave us the drive & determination to follow suit, and to create something we loved. It’s important that I acknowledge the tremendous amount of very highly skilled timelapse photographers out there who create some amazing work. You will continue to inspire us.
Within a blink of an eye, Phil was here. Comfortably set up in his own room with an ensuite. Phil had expressed that he wanted to see his brother, who had been here in Australia already, working on a farmstead near Narrabri, some 500Kms north of Sydney. The initial plan was for Phil just to visit his brother, and train it up there, but then we came up with the idea that I would take a weekend off and drive him there and shoot timelapses along the way, and a profile piece about his brother and his experiences as a foreigner in rural Australia. So armed with a Turbo Charged Subaru 4 wheel drive, a ton of film & audio kit, supplies, plenty of food & drink, and tunes for the ride, we both embarked on the trip like 2 excited little children getting on their pushbikes for the very first time.
As one could imagine, the drive was long. We co-ordinated to meet with Tim (Phil’s brother) in the nearest town, as he would lead us back inland to the farmstead which was another 40kms off road. We arrived close to 12:30am that night/early morning.
Country land in rural Australia is simply stunning & surreal. The smell & aura is indescribable. One will have to experience this at least once in their lifetime. So, in predictable fashion, even after being the sole driver for an almost 7 hour stretch, Phil convinced me to stay up the night to capture shots & wait for the sunrise. We set up separate shots, sat, waited & had a chuckle, still in amazement at how beautiful this place was. Lets just say the morning didn’t pan out very well when Phil’s camera crapped itself, and it would have landed in the paddy field if it were not for my Zeiss lens attached to his camera.
That point, we decided to call it a night. But just after a couple of hours sleep, Phil was up with brother Tim, doing donuts with his Jeep Cherokee outside my bedroom window of the farm shack. The next 2 days eventuated into more late nights and full days walking, hiking & exploring the farmstead and shooting a mini doc and more timelapses.
On the way back to Sydney, we decided to make a detour and stop at the Australian Telescopic Compact Array Centre and grab more motion control shots. Sad to say, none of them made the final edit due to artistic and technical issues.
Back in Sydney, we ran into a dilemma. Realistically, I had to tend to multiple tasks and jobs, not forgetting that I also had a household to run. We never really discussed how we would continue shooting the rest of the project. There were plans that Phil & I would also endeavour to shoot another documentary piece, but time didn’t permit that luxury if we wanted to complete the Timelapse film. The same time, I had to finish edits of shoots that were way behind schedule, attend a 3 day business seminar, and was offered a new job in the film & TV department at the School Of Audio Engineering Sydney. Time was tight. I also had a commitment to RØDE microphones to produce a series titled 60 seconds on set. Luckily, Phil graciously assisted me in meeting a few deadlines that would enable us to continue shooting.
The Locations Post Narrabri
We devised a plan and marked locations we would visit based on a timetable that would allow me to continue “making a living” (While Phil was in “holiday” mode), and use whatever spare time we had to execute our plans. Lets just say it was easier said than done. Be it weather changes, late nights processing previous shots, meetings with equipment manufacturing companies, company dinners, beta testing gear, family commitments, etc.
Hence, we limited our locations to Sydney, The Blue Mountains, Eastern Suburbs & the South Coast.
It was probably in the last 2 weeks before Phil left, we decided that we had to step up. To make matters worse (though not necessarily in a bad way) time became more of a premium when our good friend and an amazing shooter Matthew Allard arrived in Sydney and we had 2 more projects on our hands, both of which we were thrilled to be a part of.
The initial purpose of this timelapse shoot was to showcase the superior optics and capability of Zeiss lenses. The Zeiss team at NAB were kind enough to loan us their newly released 15mm T2.9 Compact Prime lens during the show with the understanding that Eduard Schneider, Phil Arntz and Myself were going to shoot footage around Vegas to showcase that lens. This never eventuated as we had left additional equipment behind after the tradeshow that Preston & the good people at Kessler Crane had also offered to loan us as well.
So onto plan B. I assured Michael Schiehlen from Zeiss he would see this film regardless if it were about Vegas or elsewhere.
Indra Apriyana & I had already started Prior to Phil’s arrival. Between us both, and armed with a Canon MK3, 2 MKII’s & 2 7D’s, we braved the cold nights during the Sydney Vivid light festival and shot away. Combining our resources, we used 2 Kessler Crane pocket dollys (a traveller & standard length), A 200 & 500 motor, the revolution head, the basic and oracle control systems. The icing on the cake was a full set of Zeiss ZF primes from 18mm to 85mm.
Upon Phil’s arrival, he brought an additional pocket dolly, with a basic controller system with a 500 series motor, and his infamous Canon 550D that had already done a massive amount of “timelapsing”. Phil made a conscious decision to travel light given the notorious charges for excess baggage, and we discussed what would be practical to travel with around New South Wales.
Along with other essentials such as sandbags, occy straps, quick release plates various tripods & a monopod from Sachtler, E-Image & Manfrotto, we were set.
Phil & I had also experimented with a motion control jib move we set up and tested in my living room prior to the actual shoot. Worked a treat.
During the same period, we were blessed with an opportunity to test the new GenusTech Eclipse ND fader before its release, so we
decided what better way to see how its stacks up, so it was utilized for this entire timelapse project, along with a GenusTech compact wide matte box with 4×4 filters.
I also brought along my modified MacBook Pro with an internal SSD on each shoot, along with a couple of my Lacie Rugged drives and Phil’s G-Tech’s, and used it as our DIT station.
In hindsight, we would have loved items such as Kessler Crane’s Shuttle Pod, Jibs, Fusion systems, etc which would have allowed us to get a little “crazier” with our plans, but all those things come at a substantial cost. Hence we settled with what we had, and made the most of it.
The entire “Terra Australis” film was a culmination of various timelines, stages, team & individual shots. There would be instances
where Phil would go into the city by himself during the day and capture sequences if I had another job or meeting to attend. On more elaborate moves, we had to do them together.
Phil & I did shoot a ton of sequences together, a lot of which did not make the cut. We had to be selective, as we decided from the beginning that we didn’t want a long film.
Shooting collaboratively can also pose challenges. Often, when you put creative minds together, each person has an idea on how a shot should be framed or what ”shape” the composition should take. It requires a huge amount of trust. It works both ways. Phil had to trust me on framing or coming up with various shots and I had to trust his young able hands on pulling focus. Camera settings were discussed and agreed upon collectively. Yes, we had disagreements occasionally, but it was all part of the collaborative process. As long as we left our “egos” behind, two minds were still better than one. It gave us perspective.
The final car sequence shot was a very special and exciting moment for us, purely from the fact that we wanted to break the mould from typical slider shots.
It was an idea I had for about a year now, especially since I had the sunroof option in my car. We figured it would be cool to do an interior to exterior move, not horizontally, but vertically. We were going attempt this while driving to Narrabri but other priorities took precedence on that trip. I told Phil we had to make sure we execute that move before he left. Also, we didn’t have a permit to have this contraption sticking out of my car. In Australia, our occupational health and safety laws & standards are serious matters here, however I can now confidently assure everyone that the extruding dolly track was minimal & we spent a sufficient amount of time securing the pocket dolly. I did tell Phil that if we got pulled over by the cops, I would do the talking.
We made 2 attempts. One just after a night shoot, however we nailed the 2nd one when our friend Steve Rushworth kindly allowed us to set up & rig the shot in the comfort of his underground garage. Then after running across the Sydney harbour bridge & tunnel a few times, and spending a fortune in toll charges, we finally timed the shot we wanted.
Phil was adamant after we had completed the project that he wanted to edit the piece back in Amsterdam. He did an amazing job in doing so. We batch processed preview files here, and experimented with grades on certain shots just to give us an idea of what the final result would look like. We used Adobe Bridge & LR Timelapse to ascertain how it would hold up in post. All stills were shot in RAW & the final workflow Phil used was Adobe Lightroom. LR Timelapse & Final Cut X. “Terra Australis” is available in a 4k, 2k and 1080p version. By the way, kudos to Phil for coming up with that name.
It is my great belief that it requires more than one person to create work in our industry. And to show gratitude to everyone involved, no matter if it’s directly or indirectly. To me, that is the essence of collaboration. Naturally as shooters, we tend to focus on the DP or cinematographer in any film offering. But it takes a lot of other people’s time, effort & contributions to make something happen. Throughout this project, we’ve had some amazing family, friends & folk who gave their time freely, provided meals, help lug and even loaned us Equipment to use.
Throughout the project, we had many guests. Steven Rushworth from GenusTech, and Shaun Medvedovsky from CR Kennedy, who braved the cold with us, and generously took us out for dinners after. Sharon & Katie Fox, who came along to document our shoots, hike the Blue Mountains and help lug our gear. Indra Apriyana, my dear friend, who helped us on several occasions. Laurence Owen who we corresponded frequently with from the UK, and wrote the terrific soundtrack while we were in the middle of shooting the project. It would be fair to say that he was just as important to this project as anyone else.
The good people at RØDE Microphones also graciously allowed us to use their rooftop to shoot one sequence after “invading” their conference room for an entire afternoon to shoot a music video.
David Roche from Silverpixel Rental House for lending us much needed gear, and also joining us on various shoots.
Matthew Allard for just being an all round champion for inspiring & believing in us.
Suffice to say, we couldn’t have done it without these very special people.
Art is subjective. Some people will like it while others won’t. In retrospect, I think shooting & creating these events shouldn’t be about the accolades, nor should it be a means of trying to prove a point about how cool you are. If that were the case, we would be missing the point. Anytime we put something out into public domain, criticism is almost a certainty. Usually it’s constructive, for which we take away valuable lessons to improve ourselves as human beings first, then after, as technicians involving our craft. I can’t speak for Phil, but I’m pretty sure we did this because we enjoy Timelapse photography and the process of creating & sharing it. And as a result, a friendship & bond developed, which is priceless. So again, here is “Terra Australis”