Filming the snow

Posted by Jacqueline Farmer on September 20, 2018 – News

Cyril Barbançon filming the snow
C. Barbançon behind the camera, in the heart of a snowy forest.

Why do snowflakes always fall in the shape of a star that has six angles and six branches, feathery like feathers? There must be a reason why the snow has the shape of a little six-pointed star. This cannot be due to chance. Why always six?

Johannes Kepler, astronomer

Our work is conducted in both 3D and 2D.

The formations of the snow crystals, the snow falling from the sky, a snowstorm in a forest, an avalanche that descends a slope … the challenge is to retain the magic of the snow on film, giving the spectator in a darkened room the same sensation of wonder and grandiose spectacle, as he or she would have in the forest, among the trees that are crumbling under the weight of the snow.

Cyril Barbançon filming the snow

But filming the snow presents a multitude of technical problems; cold causes electronic equipment to malfunction, and it can be difficult to create dynamic 3D images with real depth in light conditions created by snow reflection that lack contrast.

In windstorms, wind and humidity pose real problems for image capture as well as for sound recording on ground where snow covers everything.

We have developed unique equipment to film in these conditions. For imagery: two 3D camera systems, side by side and mirror rig, specifically adapted to be both waterproof and portable. Because of the physical risks in the field we prefer to work with equipment that can be installed and removed relatively easily.

To shed the snow from camera lenses, we use a spintek system (glass that rotates at a very high speed), so that the viewer can be completely immersed by a pristine image without snow landing on the lens and revealing the presence of the camera. The spinteks enable us to film in 3D with the snow and the storms blowing directly into the camera.

Among the many technical challenges of the project, we want to film avalanches from drones. We’ll do this in collaboration with avalanche specialists: researchers from the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research in Colorado and with the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. The latter will work with us on shots crafted in a more controlled environment (the SLF releases 15 kg explosive charges from a helicopter to setoff controlled avalanches in selected research areas).

We will also film aerial scenics of the mountain and forest landscapes while snowfall carpets everything in white. Using the bespoke designed helium airship (Soulcam) and its 3D rig we will film these images in full 3D relief without minimal disturbance to the snow pack and natural environment.

helium balloon carrying a camera

Throughout – this film will require precise prediction of weather conditions. The team, fresh from shooting the feature film “Hurricane”, is experienced in working with extreme meteorological situations. The skillsets include tracking weather maps, prediction of deepening weather depressions, and experience in the use and logistics of heavy 3D logistics in remote environments.

The technical expertise of working in the field is matched by know-how in production logistics. Our teams were already shooting in 4K 5 years ago, guarantying our films a long shelf life. “Snow” will be shot in 8K dual stream with ‘Red’ cameras that have proven their reliability in extreme temperatures.

We are filming in the new 8K format for several reasons: to future proof the film in the markets; to ensure flexibility for special effects because of the very high resolution; to meet the requirements of the IMAX Dome, one of the principal formats for the film’s release.

For snow crystals, we will use photogrammetry (a scientific technique that allows you to reconstruct a three dimensional image from thousands of stills images, taken from different angles and mapped onto a lidar cloud point matrix). This is a detailed macro task that will require specific research and development that is pushing the realms of the possible. “Snow” is teaming up with international experts in the science of photogrammetry to realise this specialised imagery. These images will allow us to appreciate snowflakes in their all different forms but also to “travel” amongst them as though we were in the clouds amidst the forming crystals. This technology will give the snowflakes a three dimensionality and an unequaled screen presence. To go even further down, to the atomic level, we will work with images from x-ray crystallography CGI (Computer Generated Imagery).

3D remains the best format for immersing viewers in the natural world, both in image and audio mixing. We have developed a world-class expertise in native 3D: not only image capture in the field but also in the post-production workflow.

We are experienced in managing complex post-production workflows in multiple formats because we work extensively with international partners. We were among the first in France to release the 4K 3D dual flux FADs. For editing sound and mixing, the Dolby ATMOS / IMAX 12 tracks will be able to explore all its power in this film: the express train roar of the avalanche echoes from the cliff or the gasping of bison entrenched in the deep forest as branches snap under the weight of the snow. Above all it will capture the magical muffled presence of snowfall – true silence being perhaps the hardest of all soundscapes to record in a world so disturbed by the endlessly noisy presence of mankind.

The Future of Snow

The Future of Snow