Adventures with Video No.2
by Ian Smith
(Dunedin, New Zealand)
Nine years ago I abandoned art, as painted, for art incorporating movement. I had long led a double-life as a painter and film-maker. By 2005 I had felt it was time for a change, and I began to focus my efforts solely on the, then, rather newer medium, video production. As a retiree, I was in the perfect position to do so, living, as I do, on the Otago Peninsula, but in the Southern City of Dunedin, well known for its wildlife. So, I began a documentary series in the old 'Standard' definition and using a rather inadequate camcorder. That situation changed in 2011, when I went over to High Definition exclusively, and started again, from scratch to revisit all of my old haunts, although I was, at that time aged 75.
The series of programmes I set out to make is still far from complete, but it what I have learned in the meantime which keeps me at-it up to 14 hours per day, in summer. The idea was to cover the entire Otago Coastline, 250 kilometres of it in fact and to record its geology, wildlife, history and importantly, the impact man has had upon it, and to do that as professionally as it was possible for me to do. During filming I have been retrieved from dense rainforest by 'Search and Rescue', although only a few hundred metres from the road while making my way out unaided, mainly due to the inadequacies of the hand-held GPS I had used at the time. I have made strenuous climbs of cliffs and waited patiently for many things to 'happen', such as the hatching from its egg of a baby black-backed gull.
Possibly my crowning achievement so-far, has been a twenty-minute-long feature made to introduce those who might be interested in our tremendous diversity of bird-life, most of it, it must be admitted, Australian imports which have settled here and adopted new forms in adapting to New Zealand conditions. A priceless asset in all of this, has been the location, just five minute's drive away of 'Tomahawk Lagoons', where I spent much of last winter filming, amongst other things, seven 'Kotuku', (white herons, or 'egrets') which had chosen to winter-over there, rather than fly, as most of our country's herons do, to Okarito Lagoon on the West Coast, to nest. I have also discovered things which excite ornithologists to a degree, as I obtained video of seven white herons in a group, involved in a co-operative fishing exercise, a sight which is likely unique.
Of the other bird species, the Western Australian Black Swans are plentiful. It was originally thought that they arrived here in the west-to-east prevailing winds, from Australia, but, equally, they may be descendants of swans which were imported into Canterbury many years ago, to control weed-growth on Christchurch's River Avon, and have spread throughout the country. And, bird species continue to arrive, such as 'Welcome Swallows' from Asia, which are recent imports. So, with Canada Geese, Swans, Royal Spoonbills, three varieties of Herons, and just about every duck imaginable I have no lack of camera-fodder.
But then, there are the shipwrecks, some of them still able to be visited, others requiring land-owner permission, geological features such as volcanic vents, since volcanoes more-or-less shaped the Dunedin area, although the last eruption was 10m years ago and other interesting features to be visited and recorded for posterity. Parts of New Zealand which is almost the only visible portion of an undersea continent at least half the size of Australia, date back to 'Triassic' times, and to tell the stories in detail of those portions which are of that age, I have had to do a lot of computer-animation, especially of the spinning-globe variety, one-frame-at-a-time. To be able to relate such stories accurately, involves studies of tectonic-plate movements and other natural phenomena. No day is ever dull, or contains enough hours to allow me the time to do things in the way I would like.
The standard of footage is uncompromisingly professional, and I have had to do a great deal of research into video formats, how they work, and how to wring the last skerrick of image-quality out of them. For example, in wildlife shots, I reject anything in which the subject's eyes are not razor-sharp. In addition, I compose and score my own music for virtual, (that is in-computer), performance, which has proven to be most successful as I studied music, myself for a total of twelve years, beginning at age six. My parents paid for the lessons, and participation was not 'optional', even if the lessons encroached into my 'Rugby' time.
And, that, basically, is where we are 'at' currently, getting out of doors on suitable days and when the light is 'good' to 'adequate', with a preference for editing and other post-production work during the winter months.
My dentist, a lady, asked me recently how I went about making my video series. I thought for a moment, and replied, 'You know what it is like at the end of a movie when the credits roll and you see the names of all of those who had a part in its making - well, I have to be all of those people'. I cannot think of a better way of summing it all up, than that.
Ian Smith (22-07-2014)