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The glowworm “galaxy” time-lapse project

 

New Zealand is the perfect place to explore unspoiled and unique natural landscapes. For our latest film project, we had the chance to capture a rare phenomenon endemic to our country: the glowworms at Waipu Caves.

Larryn Rae, professional landscape and astrophotographer, reached out to us with the idea of shooting a time-lapse inside the cave using similar settings as he would for shooting astro.

“I have been doing time-lapse for about 4 years and always loved seeing time-lapse scenes on tv documentaries and nature/wilderness feature pieces.” I love the passing of time, how it is consolidated into a much faster time frame and how scenes change over the certain time frame so you just can get a feel for it in real time.”

The idea was simple, but setting up the gear to show the glow of the worms at its best is a big challenge. These bioluminescent creatures can be found all over New Zealand, North and South Island, clinging to the bushes on a dark night and hanging in caves, turning them into something a little more magical than the night sky.

 

We decided to shoot at Waipu Caves because it is off the beaten track and we had more chances of having the location just for ourselves, especially at night time, as there are no organized tours. Luckily, this turned out to be the case and we were free to wander around taking the best shots.

Waipu is a vast network of limestone caves with stalactites and stalagmites adorning the inside. The third chamber is the best for viewing the ‘galaxy’ of glow-worms and after wandering around looking for the best spots, that’s where decided to set our gear up.

Our crew of filmmakers wanted to get a unique shot that involved shooting different movement on each axis at different times, this required the use of all 3 axis on the Genie II and keyframing. Together with Larryn, we wanted to capture the glow of the maggots in movement, filming during two nights for hours on end and in complete darkness.

But what exactly are these unusual creatures? The New Zealand glowworm is unique to this country. They are the larval stage in the life of a special kind of fly known as a fungus gnat.

The larva glows because it uses the light at its tail end to attract small flying insects lost in the darkness of the cave. To catch food, the worm larva builds a network of silk threads that hang down vertically and it places droplets of very sticky mucus over it to trap insects. And that’s what those shots that look like a crystal chandelier hanging from the top of the cave really are.

 

Behind the scenes

 

Hoping to get the footage needed for this time-lapse in just one night, we headed to the cave at sunset with enough time to set up the gear before everything turned pitch black. We did some research before we went as we didn’t want anything to go wrong during the shoot. We realized that the biggest challenge was getting the camera settings and exposure just right.

We were equipped with extra batteries, Genie II motion controller, few Genie Minis, Magic Carbon Fibre, multiple slider extensions, several tripods and more than enough cameras to capture different sequences at once.

With the camera moving a couple of millimetres at a time, we knew that shooting this time-lapse compilation was going to require spending the night under the stars, so we geared up for it. Headlamps, tents, gumboots, blankets, some snacks and some even brought a pillow to be more comfortable.

“Bringing all the gear into the cave and working underground in a wet environment with an uneven floor was very challenging for the initial setup and making sure the cameras were protected from the damp” – commented Larryn. “The limited space in the cave where we could physically set our motion rigs was tricky in places. The lack of sleep was physically demanding as well because of the numerous hours we had to shoot for.”

After returning to Syrp headquarters and processing the footage we realized that it wasn’t enough. We ended up going to the caves for another try the week after. This time we knew exactly the shot that we were missing and we were more prepared.

“My advice for filmmakers is to plan and prep well before shooting. Have a vision for the end goal in mind before you start.” – said Larryn – “I have wasted a lot of time and energy in past projects because I didn’t plan well in advance. Know your gear, know what settings you need in specific environments in order to achieve the look or feel of the final sequence.”

We listed below all the equipment required to shoot this time-lapse.

 

We played a bit with the exposure and settings and although each shot was different, this is the range that we recommend:

Exposure: 5 to 10 seconds
64000 ISO
f/1.4 fast lens
Record time: 4 hours
Interval: 19 seconds

Quick Tip – How to set keyframing

 

Having the ability to add keyframes to your movement opens a whole new realm of creative possibilities. You will be able to customize the speed and ease on each axis independently, depending on what you want to achieve.

In this video, we show you how to use the keyframing feature to shoot very specific movements like the ones needed to capture the glowworms nestling on this karst surface, between weathered rocks, stalagmites, stalactites and narrow passages. This option is now available for Genie II Linear, Genie II Pan Tilt and Genie Mini.

For Larryn, being able to have dynamic movement was key as it will add a cinematic and dramatic look to the film. In this video, he shows us how to add keyframes using the Syrp App after setting the camera movement up using the onboard joystick.

In order to define the movement of the axis, he first analyses the landscape and what exactly the camera should capture. He uses the scrubber to move the camera to the desired position where he will add a keyframe for a change in the movement.

More in-depth, Laryn will talk about the keyframe customization he used specifically for this time-lapse by altering the degrees of movement and adding ease in/out.

Gear used:

Canon 6D
Sigma ART 24mm f1.4
Sigma ART 50mm f1.4
Genie II Linear
Genie II Pan Tilt
Genie Mini
Genie Mini Pan Tilt
Syrp Ballhead
Magic Carpet Carbon Fibre and 5 extensions
4 Manfrotto tripods

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