Malcolm Ludgate, Director of Photography for Hidden Universe, filming a motion sequence in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Credit: Lisa Germany
Malcolm Ludgate, ACS has the resume of a modern day adventurer. His far-flung treks have literally taken him to the edges of the Earth. IMAX® fans have seen his work in epic nature projects like Antarctica, and Australia: Land Beyond Time. Shark lovers have likely viewed the predators through the DP’s eye in TV documentaries like The Fox and the Shark and Shark Tribe. This cameraman has also taken his lens into some of Australia’s most unusual and dangerous places.
Ludgate loves the challenges that come with shooting in some of the world’s most extreme places. So, it’s easy to see why he was chosen for Hidden Universe 3D.
The giant-screen documentary takes audiences on an extraordinary journey deep into space, using impressive IMAX® 3D cinematography. The deepest reaches of the universe are brought to life with unprecedented clarity through real images captured by the world’s most powerful telescopes. Audiences will explore the earliest galaxies and travel the terrain of Mars; witness images of distant celestial structures including stunning new views of the sun; and peer deep inside the universe’s most mysterious nebulae where stars are born. These dramatic new images offer fresh insight into the origins and evolution of the universe, and have never been seen before on the giant IMAX® screen.
The images of deep space are complemented by Ludgate’s large-format cinematography. “It really can be a bit of a nightmare filming at times when maybe you don’t get the light you need or weather conditions change and suddenly your plans have to be completely scrapped,” laughs Ludgate, who has won over 60 international cinematography awards and worked in more than 65 countries. “But then you find a way to make it happen, you change things a little, and you sometimes get something even better than what you’d planned.”
Hidden Universe is made up of footage shot by Ludgate and his crew in a Chilean desert, as well as time-lapse photography of the stars moving through the sky, shot by director Russell Scott in another HD format. The movie also incorporates CG animation generated using information from radio telescopes.
While working in Chile for this project, Ludgate and his team used the specialized IMAX® Solido 65mm duel film strip 3D camera–one of just two working units in the world. They took the 320-pound camera along with their 65mm film and magazines loaded with KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 and KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 5201 into the high plateaus of the Atacama Desert for several days where the air is known to be extremely thin and dry.
Scott had the crew go into the desert to show audiences how isolated the telescopes which record the movement of the stars must be. They need to be placed in some of the world’s most remote spots to avoid light pollution.
“You find these ancient-looking landscapes in the Chilean desert, with all these reds and oranges, that make the place look like it could be another planet, like it could be the surface of Mars,” says Ludgate. “It’s not like anywhere else.”
Scott also asked Ludgate to be mindful of not overshadowing the universe, which was to be the overall focus of the project. So the crew aimed for a kind of balance with all the images they captured.
“For a while, I was known as the Antarctica guy, the underwater guy, or the wildlife guy, because I’d done so much of that kind of work, so it’s always good to have a new experience, because it improves everything you do,” says Ludgate. “In this business you are constantly relearning your craft again, whether it’s IMAX composition or understanding the many unique 3D considerations like the stereoscopic comfort zone and convergence.”
Ludgate shot the Chilean footage using interchangeable fixed interocular lenses purpose-built by IMAX for the Solido camera. The Solido shoots left and right eye images simultaneously onto two rolls of 65mm film running through a single camera body housing two camera movements. The images from the each lens are captured on the film, slightly offset, so when they are later projected, the combined image is 3D. These lenses, combined with the Solido camera and high-performing KODAK 65mm film, thrilled the DP. “Film still has a warmth you don’t get elsewhere,” says Ludgate. “When you see film on the big screen, you get the most intimate kind of detail.”
But there’s something beyond the lenses, film stock and exotic locales that keeps Ludgate coming back time and again. “The best part about being a cameraman is that we always get sent to extremes,” says Ludgate. “You go to the most beautiful or the most polluted places, or to the richest or the poorest places, to the highest mountain or the deepest oceans.”
Hidden Universe is a December Cinema Productions film produced in association with Film Victoria, Swinburne University of Technology, and the European Space Observatory (ESO). It is executive produced by Emmy® Award-winning producer Tony Wright, and produced by Stephen Amezdroz, with writing and directing by Scott. Produced in association with MacGillivray Freeman Films, Hidden Universe is playing at select IMAX® theaters and giant screen cinemas.