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Old March 20th, 2011, 10:49 AM   #1
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A Gathering of Ducks

My wildlife doumentary goal is to create something that is of high quality, understandable in human terms but still trying to reflect what is "natural". I doubt very much I can ever think like a duck (although some might argue I can not think much better than a duck), so my interpretations are necessarily at least gently anthropomorphic. I am aware of the increasing emphasis on high drama with danger, blood, and gore mixed together in 3 to 5 second clips in nature documentaries featured on National Geographic and Discovey channels these days. While these are often amazing documentaries, I hope there remains a place for something more gentle and realistic. For sure animals are predators or can be the prey of predators, but if they survive to adulthood, most are also usually able to live full and complex lives.

The documentary I have titled "A Gathering of Ducks" is essentially a work in progress. I hope the ducks will return this year so I can round out the story a bit more. The material presented here represents a "test short" or "short pilot" of my first try at creating a gentle nature documentary.

I hope you will be interested to watch it, but the documentary is just over 36 minutes, so if you would like to watch it all, you may want to start it when you know there is enough time.

Given that this is the first time I have tried to do everything I know there is a great deal left to learn so I would be very interested in any comments you might have that would help me improve my techniques in all aspects of the documentary style.

The camera is a Canon XLH1s fitted with stock lens and a Nikon 80-400mm zoom tele. I found it is important to use ND filters to keep the f number at f6.3 or wider on the Nikon lens or the image is significantly degraded. The images and sounds were recorded onto a Nanoflash (100mbps). Most of the sounds were recorded with a shotgun microphone supported just off the ground outside of the blind. Post production was with PProCS5.

Alan

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Old March 20th, 2011, 12:03 PM   #2
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

That's great Alan....

This must have been very difficult..As a duck hunter myself, i can appreciate the level of difficulty you must have had to get to your locations and setup....
The only thing i can suggest (without getting anal), is the quality of the narrative. There's an annoying hiss throughout. Perhaps if there's going to be a final cut done, you can have the "Labatt's Blue" fellow do the talking :).....Just kidding.
Also, when we're in the marshes alone, there's a strange silence. I'm sure you know what i mean..Try and capture more wide shots, and use them more often for insert shots, and let us feel what you feel when you're out there...

Have you perhaps looked into funding in part by Ducks Unlimited and/or the MNR?? I'm sure they would be more than helpful in helping you get some location, suggestions, and maybe some money to take the documentary to the next level??

Looking forward to seeing some more of your work..
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Old March 20th, 2011, 01:17 PM   #3
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Hi Peter,

Thank you so much for your comments and suggestions, it is very encouraging. I have to confess that the location is actually not difficult. I live on a 100 acre mix of field, swamp, and bush. The pond is on our property and not very far away. I do find that once in the blind I need to wait one to two hours before the ducks will return even if they were not on the pond when I set up the blind. I suspect they monitor what goes on there from a distance.

Some of your comments have to do with audio and I know that is something I have not yet mastered. The narration sections are short clips, so if there is a "constant annoying hiss" I suspect it is actually the ambient sound which is essentially throughout the documentary. The ambient sound was recorded trying to optimize background noise and the sounds of the animals. I ran the XLR cables directly into the camera rather than to an external recorder so that the sounds are directly tied to the actions. I'll see if I can reduce that hiss in this recording, but obviously I will need to improve the original sounds the next chance I get to record them. I have never heard anyone else comment on the marsh "silence" you mention, but I know what you mean and it seems most intense when it is really close quarters.

You suggested a need to improve the quality of the narrative. Did you mean the storyline? or my amateur voice? or both!? If I hire the Labbats Blue guy, I will definitely need some funding. So far, this learning wildife documentary adventure has been a strictly solo task. I haven't looked for external funding so far. It is definitely encouraging that you think an institution like Ducks unlimited or MNR might be interested in supporting my effort.

Many thanks for the suggestions and encouragement!

Alan
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Old March 20th, 2011, 01:54 PM   #4
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Sometimes we get immersed so heavily in out work, and all the lovely footage, that we need to step back and realize that the story we see, needs to be cut down to a story we want to tell..

That being said, when you get back to your edit bay, develop a story line (which you've already done), and keep the shots no longer than 10 seconds, or else the eyes get tired fast. That's where the insert edits of the marshes come in handy...
If you have time, scout out some spots at the Cavan swamp, and get some extra stock footage..I didn't realize this was done in your backyard.

As far as the narrative goes, this can be done anytime. With an inexpensive setup, you can record the narrative in a separate room, or in front of your timeline. Let the CTI run through, and speak into the mic.
Even if you slip and trip, simply continue talking.
Once you've recorded the narrative, you simply add it to the timeline, and slice and dice to clean it up..

BTW, how did you do the timelaps in the end? Did you just keep rolling, and speed it up in post??

Take care, and congrats.
I would love to have the same opportunity to do something like this..
Check out the AWOL section , and maybe you can find some tips...
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Old March 20th, 2011, 04:01 PM   #5
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Hey Peter,

It turns out I am about 15 minutes or less from the Cavan area, I will check it out!

10 seconds upper limit... OK I'll give it a try. You are right it is definitely difficult to chop into a wonderful sequence and some of the ones I got are a minute or more in length.

I will capture some of the swamp scenes as inserts. All the story line as I have it so far takes place before mid-May. If I can find some nests I will set up near them and hope for some duckling footage as well. That could take me into June. Another set of inserts I want to do is to visually illustrate some of the other birds, insects, and frogs making all the background sounds.

The timelapses are all done using the Nanoflash and the images come directly from the XLH1s. The Nanoflash allows you to take single images at intervals as short as 1 second and pretty well as long intervals as you want. The sunsets and cloud timelapses were all taken at 1 or 2 second intervals.

Many thanks again.

Alan
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Old March 21st, 2011, 05:35 PM   #6
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Hi Alan,
Beautifully done indeed. Loved the footage and the story line. A few comments I thought about while watching were:
Nice voice over. Maybe the music is a bit loud, I'd like to hear more of the marsh sounds. Also, maybe fewer different types of music? I enjoy longer clips for nature and found these very relaxing.
Please keep up the great work, I'd love to see more.
Regards,
Doug.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 08:12 PM   #7
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Hi Doug,

Thank you very much for your comments. Part of the rationale for this piece (my first attempt at a long(ish) nature documentary) was to attempt to create something more like real nature, where the animals and plants are not always in great danger nor do they always represent great danger, all in 3 second clips. Instead they are portrayed in a more realistic and natural context. I am hoping to make documentaries that will make people appreciate nature rather than be fearful of it.

Great advice on music, it is not my strong suit.

A short piece was my first experiment in this vein and focused on plants that have seeds that fly away in the autumn. Have a look, I gave it a working title: "A Walk by the Pond -- Autumn" so that I can fill in the other seasons.

Thanks again,
Alan

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Old March 22nd, 2011, 06:30 AM   #8
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Hi Alan,
Loved A Walk by the Pond, this is just about perfect in my view. Loved everything about it.

BTW, where did you get the music?

"I am hoping to make documentaries that will make people appreciate nature rather than be fearful of it."

My thoughts exactly! Also can't stand those 3 second clips with a passion, nature's not like that, but I suppose it's what sells.

A few other suggestions are to create some B roll by very slow panning of the lake so we can see how big it is and get an overall feeling for the area. Perhaps introduce the movie with this, then maybe 10-20 seconds A roll of you talking so folks can see who you are, then your wonderful A roll ducks?

I'm working on something similar for our local wildlife area with deer, turkeys and other birds, and will do something like this. It's not easy for sure, but that's the art in it.

Important work, please keep it up & thanks for sharing.

Regards,
Doug.
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Old March 22nd, 2011, 07:25 PM   #9
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Re: A Gathering of Ducks

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the votes of confidence and the great advice! I have found learning how to do this (at least to the extent I have learned so far) has been both very challenging and a lot of fun. Presenting nature as a full, complex, often beautiful and always interesting topic that is more than just something to observe, but something of which we are an inseparable dependent part is my hope.

The music is royalty free music primarily from Stock20 and Hark Music.

Thanks again,
Alan
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