Secrets of the Rainforest

In August, 2015, I headed down to Panama with Ben and Katina from Pioneer Studios to shoot a series of shorts for the brand new Smithsonian Earth network. We spent most of our time on Barro Colorado Island, a research island run by the Smithsonian Institute that was formed when they flooded Lake Gatun to create the canal. We spent three weeks schlepping our kit through the rainforest chasing everything from leaf cutter ants, to capuchin monkeys to the quick footed Smithsonian researcher. We got to play with lots of new toys as everything was shot in 4K. The FS7 stood up well to the heat and brutal humidity. We also brought a Dactylcam (cable camera system) that was super fun to rig and yielded some of the most dynamic shots from of the whole project.

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One of my favorite shoots was for the glass frog story. We spent much of our day packing, charging, media managing and taking a ferry off the island (the glass frogs we were filming are on the mainland.) At 9PM our Smithsonian scientist and guide picked us up and drove us for about an hour down a brutal jungle 4×4 road that explained why his Nissan Titan didn’t seem to have any shocks. We got to a river, packed up the leanest kit of cameras and lights we could manage, then proceeded to walk upriver about a mile and a half. By upriver, I mean literally up the river bed. There was no staying dry.

Only after we got to our destination and started setting up lights did we receive the warning that we “almost certainly wouldn’t have to worry about” but there were definitely caiman that liked to hang in the river. Great.

We found all the glass frogs he had promised us and were pleased to learn that they were pretty tolerant of a clumsy film crew shining lights in their face (I only fell fully into the river once.) We got lots of behavior but still hadn’t gotten the money shot of the mating season, where the male fertilizes the eggs after the female lays them. We followed mating pair after mating pair as they hopped around leaves trying to decide where the ideal love nest lay, only to be foiled again and again.

It was now 5AM, we hadn’t slept for a full 24 hours, our lighting was running low on battery and we were about ready to call it a day (night?). Finally, Ben called out to strike the lights and right at that moment the female expelled her eggs and the male fertilized them. We celebrated getting the shot, packed up our things, slogged back to the car and with a mix of exhilaration and pure exhaustion crashed until our next shoot which was coming up in just a few hours.

All the videos are up on the Smithsonian Earth streaming service which you can learn more about here.

Here is a teaser from the hummingbird sequence we shot.

 

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