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Aurora Borealis in the Can


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#1 Nathan Martin

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Posted 18 October 2007 - 11:02 PM

Hey all.

I am traveling to Dawson city, Yukon for january to shoot an independant feature. It is very low budget so we are shooting mainly on the Sony HVR-V1P, and experimantal sections shot on 35mm with a Konvas 2M.

The question i have is if anyone knows much about capturing the aurora borealis on tape or film.
I was wanting to get sync sound shots of two characters together infront of the lights however i have been reading that the only way to capture the lights is through long exposures and time lapse.

Anyone have any info or tips?

Edited by Nathan Martin, 18 October 2007 - 11:03 PM.

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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 18 October 2007 - 11:32 PM

Hey all.

I am traveling to Dawson city, Yukon for january to shoot an independant feature. It is very low budget so we are shooting mainly on the Sony HVR-V1P, and experimantal sections shot on 35mm with a Konvas 2M.

The question i have is if anyone knows much about capturing the aurora borealis on tape or film.
I was wanting to get sync sound shots of two characters together infront of the lights however i have been reading that the only way to capture the lights is through long exposures and time lapse.

Anyone have any info or tips?


So let me get this right. You're an Australian going to the Yukon in January for a film shoot?

Well as they say, good luck mate!

Have you checked the temperatures for the Yukon at that time of year? As an Australian are you prepared for that kind of cold?

Shooting outside in freezing cold temps will be a real challenge. I've shot with the Konvas here in Southern Ontario during the winter, and it's not a piece of gear that likes the cold. Your cameras and batteries will need some sort of warming system.

Just using camera controls with giant mittens on is a real pain, bare skin will freeze in seconds. You look through the eye piece and your breath floats up, and right into the eye piece causing it to fog, your tri-pod head freezes in place in about a minute. The list of horrors that accompanies shooting in these conditions is endless.

As to your question, you will never get the northern lights on film at 24fps, even with 500ASA film they will be far too dim for a 1/48th exposure. That's why you always see them moving fast, they are always shot with long exposures in time lapse mode. So the camera needs to be able to do two things.

I highly doubt you'll get much on video either.

The easiest way to do this shot is to shoot your characters in studio against blue screen. Then key in the northern lights, shot with long exposures in time lapse mode.

Enjoy your trip, it's gonna be very very cold.

R,
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#3 Michael Collier

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Posted 18 October 2007 - 11:50 PM

Greetings from Alaska, home of the northern lights. Yes, the AB is very dim. You really have to look to even see them with your eyes. You do need to use long exposure to get anything on film. You will see that any shot of the AB in motion is extremely fast. AB moves like clouds, very slowly, very dim. You do need long exposure to get it right. I think if you want people to be talking in front of it, you do need to do a digital shot to make it work. I doubt if you get them in frame and visible that you'll see any of the AB. Even if you shoot 500t pushed a stop you probably won't see anything at 24fps 180 shutter wide open. In my experience an AB shot needs to have at least a 10 second exposure, best with a 1min-2min exposure. Sorry to burst the bubble, but it might be time to replan or hire a good CG artist
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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 01:33 AM

If you decide to take Richard's advice and need stock footage of the Aurora Borealis for your background plates, I know that a DP I work with occasionally, John Aliano, has a library of Super16 Borealis timelapse footage that he shot on his A-Minima last year. You can contact him here: john@bayareademoreels.com

Good luck with your feature.

Edited by Satsuki Murashige, 19 October 2007 - 01:34 AM.

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#5 John Sprung

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 12:17 PM

You might ask the History Channel folks. They've done a season of a TV show, "Ice Road Truckers", that shoots in those conditions. They even had some aurora footage. Also, look around this site for Frank Cook. He shoots wildlife stock in Alaska, using a winterized II-C.





-- J.S.
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#6 Tom Lowe

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 09:03 PM

Perhaps a Red One with a fast lens at ASA 1500?

I doubt you will be able to pull this off. Just not enough light.

You could shoot DLSR plates of AB and then comp the shot with your actors. It would have a dreamy, surreal timelapse effect, but that might be cool, depending on how wild the speed of the clips looks.
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 11:01 PM

...I know that a DP I work with occasionally, John Aliano, has a library of Super16 Borealis timelapse footage that he shot on his A-Minima last year. You can contact him here: john@bayareademoreels.com


Good call Satsuki :)

And here's his online demo reel of his aurora borealis footage: http://www.devildogproductions.biz/
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#8 Nathan Martin

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Posted 21 October 2007 - 08:22 PM

Hey all,

thanks for the tips. I thought i was going to get similar answers to this.
I spoke with the director a while back about compositing over a time lapse and he liked the idea as the film is quite experimental.
Another thing the director and i are wanting to try is taking dozens of stills and making a very jumpy animation.
Any thoughts on this?
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#9 Tom Lowe

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Posted 23 October 2007 - 03:46 PM

The timelapse thing should work out nicely. You just have to pay attention to how you light your actors for the live-action part of the comp.
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#10 Rick Doe

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 05:23 PM

Hi Nathan,

I've been shooting auroral displays on 16mm for about 7 years.
Together with John Aliano, we shot the footage referenced above
in Jonathon's and Satsuki's messages (18 & 19 October).

The aurora has a great dynamic range and quite a few beautiful
colors below the threshold of bare-eye perception. So, if you
shoot time-lapse, you will recover great shades of blues, reds,
and purples not usually apparent in the predominantly green
swirls.

Basically, you want to shoot Vision 2 500 T with a short focal
length fast lens. For S16, I recommend 8mm FL or less. I've
used a 5.5mm Bolex Aspheron on a 10mm F/1.6 Switar on my
Tobin-controlled Rex-5 with great results. On the Aaton,
we used a Zeiss Aspheron on a 12mm T/1.3 for a similar
field of view.

Expose 3 - 5 sec per frame and place the camera in a warm enclosure.

We're heading out next week for another auroral shoot so you
can (knock wood) look for some future footage on our production
site at http://www.devildogproductions.biz

Warmly,

Rick Doe
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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 01:51 AM

Nice footage! Good luck next week, Rick. Hope you guys like that 6mm Zeiss Ultra16 prime lens, it sure is sweet.
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