Capturing Eagles In Flight


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Capturing Eagles In Flight
As a highly regarded wildlife cameraman, Mateo Willis is in great demand from blue chip broadcasters such as the BBC and the Discovery Channel, which employ him to work on many of their most prestigious nature documentaries.
Mateo’s speciality is long-lens work and he often spends large amounts of time in remote locations filming everything from small lizards to large carnivores.
In a bid to find a more accurate way of framing shots, particularly when working with heavy cameras and lenses, Mateo has been experimenting with a CineToys GearNex geared camera head, supplied by CineToys’ UK distributor Oxygen DCT.
This unique product was developed by former Hollywood cameraman Bret Allen in response to a significant gap in the market for affordable geared head technology. It is designed to give film makers access to Hollywood-style geared heads without paying Hollywood prices.
“I was going on a shoot to film Verreaux eagles that required very fine precision moves combined with rock-steady stops,” Mateo explains. “Nothing beats the motivation of following an eagle in flight – in wildlife filming there are no repeat takes. Having read about the characteristics of geared heads I thought they were worth experimenting with and when Oxygen DCT offered me a GearNex for a trial run I jumped at the chance.”
Launched at NAB 2008, GearNex immediately won two prestigious awards including a Best of Show and a Creative Cow Blue Ribbon Award. Among the many film makers who have spotted the unit’s potential is director Robert Altman Jr, who has used GearNex with a Redrock DSLR Cinema Bundle.
Steve Hathaway, managing director of Oxygen DCT, says: “Today’s cameramen face the challenge of operating cameras adorned with monitors, matte boxes, power packs and focus-assist products, all of which can make them heavy and unwieldy. What GearNex offers is the ability to smoothly pan and tilt, even when the camera is loaded with additional equipment. It delivers a much smoother panning experience than conventional fluid heads and is ideal for a wide variety of filming tasks including motion pictures, music videos, short films, television documentaries, commercials and corporate videos.”
Mateo Willis used GearNex with a Panasonic Varicam and hopes to try it with different cameras in the future.
Like other areas in the industry, the introduction of high-end but relatively low-cost digital cinema cameras is creating a fast-changing landscape in wildlife filming,” he explains. “Last year I was working mainly with ENG cameras supplemented with specialist cameras such as the Phantom, but this year I’ve shot almost everything with Red Epic and Arri Alexa although I haven’t had an opportunity to use those with the GearNex yet.”
As a newcomer to geared head technology, Mateo says there was initially a steep learning curve, but once he became comfortable with GearNex he found it incredibly useful and really appreciated the extra control it gave him.
He explains: “The camera I was using was mounted with a long lens and counterbalanced by several batteries, so was fairly hefty. Once the GearNex was in place I was impressed at how little energy, and hence more control, it took to precisely move the camera. Also, I found the Gearnex robust enough to put up with the arduous conditions of the desert; dust, rough roads and heat. Finally, I was impressed with its size and weight - everything fitted into a single Peli. When you're travelling with thirty cases, the less you have to load in and out of vehicles the better!”
Mateo adds that GearNex has demonstrated that inexpensive but high-quality geared heads can be made and he is looking forward to seeing where CineToys will go with the next generation.
“My next project is filming geese on the side of a cliff in Greenland, for which I am designing a ‘vertical’ tripod to hang on a sheer rock face,” he says. “This will allow me to film while sitting in a climbing harness so only a super-light head will be appropriate. Now if the Gearnex head was motorised……”

Tags: iss066 | gearnex | oxygen dct | cinetoys | N/A
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