Dave Mossop of Whistler-based Sherpa Cinemas has collected footage for the company's unique ski films in all kinds of wild and remote locations, but his recent work for FlyOver Canada — a new Vancouver attraction opening on June 29 — was a challenge he'll not soon forget. Everything from the camera gear to the camera mount to the screening room they used to test footage was a custom job, and needed to be to deliver an experience rich enough to blow minds.
If you've ever been to Soarin' Over California at Disneyland, you'll get the general concept — people are hoisted from the ground on rows of moving chairs and then manipulated into a screen that's curved like the inside of a 20-metre globe — picture a ping pong ball cut in half — to surround them on all sides, and top to bottom, with moving images. The film itself is Canada, flying through a mix of dramatic landscapes and Canadian scenes.
"It's one of the most immense projects we've ever done, and everything about it is a completely custom job," says Mossop. "Everything from the camera, to the helicopter mount, to the screen, to the editing style and the post-production work is a total, cutting edge experiment. It was huge, and just incredibly challenging to figure out all of the technical aspects to get it all right."
The camera used is a Phantom 65mm IMAX camera with a huge custom chip on it. The camera shoots at 60 frames per second at 4K resolution — a video format with about four times the number of pixels as a 1080 high definition picture.
"Every camera shot we took is basically 50GB to 100GB, which is a ponderous amount of data to deal with, as you can imagine. Typically we use a really high-end digital camera when we work, but the largest shots are maybe a gig or two — this is 50 times that."
They had to customize an Eclipse Gyro Stabilized Aerial Camera System mount to fit on the front of the helicopter, create a custom projector for both the screen and editing room (created at Sherpa Cinemas' studio in Whistler), and use the top computers to process all the data.
The finished film consists of about 18 shots, and it took about a year to get footage from all the different seasons in all the diverse shooting locales across Canada that were featured in the project. If that wasn't difficult enough, Mossop insisted that at least one of the shots had to come from the far north of Canada and feature the Northern Lights — to do it they had to rent a Lear jet with a custom glass nose and fly all the way to Churchill, Manitoba, (a region known for its polar bears) to stage shots of the far north.
"It was a totally surreal experience, to be sitting in this jet just a few metres above the mountains at sunrise," says Mossop.
While Mossop has shot in the most beautiful mountain ranges around the world, he says there was one area in particular that took his breath away.
"Everybody has to go to Gros Morne National Park (in Newfoundland)," he says. "It's one of the most spectacular places I've ever been. It's just a specular environment with an amazing vibe. There's this massive, glacially carved canyon that is just incredible. It's one place I would definitely go back to."