This week, nature fans will tune into PBS for Violent Hawaii, the fourth all-HD production by its long-running series Nature. It gives viewers an up-close look at 2,000-degree lava flows, deep-diving humpback whales and the mysterious caverns that make Hawaii so alluring. B&C’s Ken Kerschbaumer recently discussed the project with Nature executive producer Fred Kaufman and director of photography Paul Atkins.
Violent Hawaii covered a wide variety of terrain. What gear did you use?
Kaufman: We shot on Sony HDCam and used a variety of Canon HD lenses, everything from wide-angle zooms to standard zooms. One of the challenges for us was Nature wanted the film to look like IMAX, and that meant moving the camera as much as possible and trying to use wide-angle lenses to get maximum depth-of-field.
What is it like shooting on an active volcano?
Atkins: Shooting a volcano definitely poses challenges. The fast-flowing lava is actually about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and there’s a barrier in the air you can feel. When you try to get the camera close and you cross that barrier, your eyebrows start to singe. In fact, if you take a piece of tissue and flip it in the air, it ignites into flames. There are a lot of sulfuric and other acids in the air, so you have to clean the equipment every night. We learned that the hard way years ago. We were shooting on film and the insides of the camera literally turned to dust a few months later.
NATURE’s next project is Deep Jungle, in April. Why didn’t you use HD for this project?
Kaufman: The Deep Jungle series needed a very lightweight, portable, quick, off-the-shoulder look to it, with many cameras out there. We were in the Congo. If we had a problem with an HD camera, we would need another one. So we used some Canon XL1 cameras to be portable and have a raw look about the video. But I do think HD will eventually be the format of choice.