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posted by - Thursday, 05 May 2011

The new IMAX 3D film Born to be Wild, currently showing in IMAX theaters, tells the story of orphan orangutans in Borneo and orphan elephants in Kenya. The film was shot in both locations, combining footage from the IMAX 3D 15/65mm film camera and a prototype IMAX 3D digital camera. The IMAX digital camera uses a pair of Phantom 65 cameras and custom IMAX 3D optics.

On Born to be Wild, we used a prototype system to test the quality and reliability of the Phantom 65 cameras. As a Digital Cinema Specialist at AbelCine, I supported the Phantom 65 cameras in the field.

We shot in the jungles of Borneo for seven weeks under difficult environmental conditions from extreme heat to torrential rain. The temperature was over 100º almost everyday and the humidity was over 90%. This made for tough going on both people and hardware. The Phantom 65 cameras performed flawlessly in the heat and humidity of Borneo and in the dry, dusty heat of Kenya.

In addition to the reliability and quality of the Phantom images, the IMAX 3D digital camera allowed us to capture more spontaneous wildlife behavior than would have been possible with the IMAX Solido camera. The terms “lightweight” and “portable” are not often used on an IMAX 3D film shoot. However, the IMAX 3D digital camera allowed us to be much more mobile, often with the camera sitting on my lap as we changed locations. It also meant we could use smaller jibs and heads to support the camera, even a monopod for some shots!

Di Roberts, producer of Born to be Wild, told us prior to the start of production that images shot with the IMAX 3D digital camera would account for approximately 10% of the finished film. The camera proved itself so valuable early on in the project that the final cut of the movie ended up with nearly an equal mix of digital and 15/65mm film images. Roberts, who has produced many IMAX films, says she would like to go “full digital” on an upcoming IMAX project.

Another factor when shooting animals is the buffering capability of the IMAX 3D digital camera. In the film, there is a shot where a tree falls on a young orangutan as he is grabbing for it. The tree fall and how the orangutan gets himself out of this jam were captured in the buffer of the camera, and the decision to grab the shot was made after the event happened. You can’t do that with a film camera.

The prototype IMAX 3D digital camera has been used on several additional projects since the production of Born to be Wild. IMAX and Vision Research, with the help of AbelCine, are taking what was learned on these projects and applying it to the next generation IMAX 3D digital camera system, which will integrate two Phantom 65 engines in a unique, proprietary way that’s exclusive to IMAX. The production camera is nearing completion and will be put into service by IMAX later this year.

Many of the IMAX crew, along with myself, are excited to use the new production model IMAX 3D digital camera. Not only will it be able to shoot up to 140fps, but it will also be the smallest and lightest large format 3D digital camera system in the world.

You can learn more about Born to be Wild on its official website.

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