A JOURNEY THROUGH YELLOWSTONE

November 20th, 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

Geyser nicknamed Old Faithful.

Geyser nicknamed Old Faithful.

by Bob Fisher

Yellowstone: Land to Life was produced for display at the renovated theater in the Canyon Visitor Education Center at the national park. The 20-minute film premiered on Memorial Day in 2009. The poetic imagery ushers audiences on a journey through the ecosystem that created the park, which stretches over some 3,400 square miles of Wyoming, including mountain ranges, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful and animal life. A 30-minute version aired in HD format on PBS in September.

The project had special meaning for John Grabowska, who has been producing films for the Harpers Ferry Center of the National Park Service since 1991. His parents visited Yellowstone on their honeymoon and took him camping there during his youth. Grabowska and his wife also spent part of their honeymoon at the park.

The project was funded by a grant from the nonprofit Yellowstone Park Foundation. Grabowska began preproduction planning by scouting with the park geologist. “He told us that during the glacial period, the ground was buried under 4,000 feet of ice,” Grabowska says. “The volcano which erupted 600,000 years ago created the geysers, hot springs and hot spots. The single-celled micro-organisms which emerged from acid hot springs like those at Yellowstone were the beginning of life on Earth.”

“The geologist also explained that when the glaciers melted after carving the valleys, they created a perfect environment for grasslands, which attracted bison, moose and elk,” he says. “That attracted wolves and other predators. I decided to make those connections clear in a lyrical, poetic way rather than creating a science textbook on film.”

Grabowska took his 16-year-old daughter Hilary on hikes through the park. She took photographs at places he selected to feature in the film and he used her pictures to augment notes about places, times and his vision for telling the story.

Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park

Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park

He also recruited Jeff Hogan, who has specialized in shooting still and moving images in the region since he moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1980. Hogan offered suggestions. “For example, I told John about a canyon where ice is squirting through cracks in the ground,” Hogan says. “It’s a fascinating example of geology in action.” Additional cinematography was done by Bob Landis, another local cameraman who specializes in shooting nature films.

“Their eyes lit up when I told them that we would be producing this project on Super 16 film,” Grabowska recalls. “I prefer film for natural history projects, because of its organic look. It is also a proven archival medium. That is particularly important on a project like this because geology isn’t static. Future geologists, historians and filmmakers will be able to see what Yellowstone was like in our time.”

Hogan shot film during all four seasons over a two-year period in virtually every type of weather, including rain and snow, and cloudy and sunny days with temperatures ranging from 25 degrees Fahrenheit below zero to more than 85 degrees above. He carried a lightweight ARRI SR camera, an Angenieux 11.5:138 mm zoom lens and an ample supply of KODAK VISION2 7201 50-speed film, which is balanced for daylight. The camera was modified to enable him to shoot slow-motion effects.

“I shot when and where the light was right,” Hogan says. “You can perform magic in postproduction, but it begins with painting natural scenes with light on film.”

The film was processed at NFL Films in New Jersey, and transferred to HD format for postproduction by colorist Jim Coyne. Mike Majoros at Boston’s Northern Light Productions edited the digital master file with Grabowska, who narrated the script.

“Jeff and I created a detailed log about the archived footage, describing when and where it was shot and other details for scientists, filmmakers, historians and anyone else with a need to know in the near and distant future,” Grabowska concluded.  

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