Ever wondered what summer-friendly venues like safari parks do to keep visitor numbers up during the colder months while all the monkeys are sleeping?
We were called by CGI and production giants Framestore, who had been commissioned to produce a TV advert for Longleat Safari Park’s winter programme, the Festival of Light. Among other things, this would comprise of hundreds of illuminated Chinese lanterns of all shapes and sizes, spread amongst the grounds and in trees.
David Hogg from Horizon Imaging was piloting or us on this shoot – a very experienced pilot, and all-round nice chap.
This was to be a night shoot, though the time required to prep would have us arriving long before dusk. Our journey took us into wonderful Somerset countryside, to the stunning Elizabethan stately home and seat of the Marquesses of Bath, Longleat House set in acres of beautiful landscape gardens.
On the site recce, we saw an amazing, huge dragon statue, which had been built almost entirely of china plates. Adding to the magic was a rainbow in the background.
During set up in the afternon, we were buffeted by 30+ mph winds, and the likelihood of doing any aerial shots during the night was looking ever-smaller.
Once the rain came, we decamped to a nearby marquee, to continue setting up under shelter. We realised that this marquee was where the Chinese lanterns were being constructed, and we were soon joined by about 20 Chinese craftsmen who were checking out our kit. It was a funny situation to be sure – in the depths of the English countryside we were surrounded by these guys who didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Chinese, so after a few appreciative nods between us we carried on working, though they didn’t leave for another half an hour at least!
Due to the fact that we were shooting in the dark, a camera with great low-light capability had to be used. We rented in the recently-released Sony A7s, which can push its ISO up to the mind-boggling 410,000!
By the time darkness had settled in, the wind had miraculously dropped to within safe operating levels, so we were suddenly good to go.
Our shots included flights over an amazing illuminated chinese pagoda, and tracking past crowds surrounding the dragon made of crockery. In the dark, all parts of the dragon were lit with thousands of LEDs – also the dragon’s head turned and emitted smoke – quite a sight!
Our flights over the lake, toward the House itself and the illuminated elephants and the crowds of people around them, were the most challenging as the wind was picking up again, and being ready to launch on the queue of a 2nd Assistant director controlling a crowd of 200 people from the other side of the lake, was not always simple!
Once we had finished, packed up and had some dinner it was around 4am. On the way out we saw the crew preparing for another setup of ground shots, showing a herd of animals crossing the plain. A serious amount of light required to illuminate those trees – really impressive production value.
The drive home was long, but at least the lack of traffic made it a little easier!
Click below for the finished advert.