Born to Be Wild 3-D director David Lickley is no stranger to the world of nature documentaries or to the world of IMAX (the exclusive viewing format of his latest film). The Sudbury, Ontario native and frequent Science North collaborator recently turned his sights to covering the story of two extraordinary women working to save orphaned animals. The film focuses on the work of Doctor Daphne Sheldrick, who along with her staff cares for baby elephants just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and Doctor Birute Mary Galdikas who does similar work with orphaned orangutans in Borneo. While Lickley has previously covered animals from bears, to eagles, to ground squirrels, he faced a whole new set of challenges while dealing with such playful animals.
“You look at a baby elephant and it still seems like much, but you are also at eye level with it,” Lickley said during a recent roundtable interview at the Royal York Hotel, “but then you just see what these babies grow into and it is really quite astounding. They now have these huge tusks, but they are still playful and want to put their trunks all over you.”
Even dealing with orangutans was a bit of a stretch for Lickley, who had previously worked with noted chimpanzee studier Jane Goodall.
“The orangutans are young and extremely playful, but they interact well with the staff in a one on one setting unless they are annoyed. With the chimpanzee, there is no way you could deal with them one on one. No one was ever allowed to go in with a chimpanzee by themselves because of their aggressive nature. But when you approach an orangutan with nothing more than a 40 foot crane, it is just one more thing for them to climb on.”
The story on screen is largely about the women behind the animals, the staff they employ, and just how daunting the task at hand can be.
“There is something truly incredible about how these two women have given their lives so entirely to these animals. Once they are gone, there are people ready to take their place, but it is still a difficult job to take on.”
In addition to the difficulties faced by any crew filming animals in a remote location, Lickley was also partially filming using a new form of IMAX 3-D digital camera alongside the traditional dual-camera IMAX 3-D film system.
“The traditional [IMAX 3-D] cameras weighed about 130 kilos and can be extremely noisy, which can be a hindrance if you want to capture animals at their most candid. But on our first day with the new digital cameras we actually didn’t get anything usable at all. There was some serious clouding caused by the fact that the camera was not acclimated to the 42 degree heat yet. The cameras were literally still being tested right up until they were placed in the crates and shipped to us.”
But once Lickley and his crew were able to figure out their new technology, it gave the filmmaker more freedom than he was previously allowed when only working with film stock.
“There’s a scene in the film where a tree splinters apart just as an orangutan latches onto it and he jumps back. It is such a gorgeous shot in 3-D, but we had to put a camera 40 to 50 feet up in a tree so that is something we never could have gotten with a 130 kilogram camera.”
In addition to never having to change film stock, Lickley was also able to have a better understanding of what kind of footage he had while still on set.
“For the first time ever we could just upload all our data to Los Angeles from wherever we were and instead of waiting for up to a week for the results to get back from the lab, 24 hours later we could actually see dailies and rushes and know what kind of footage we had at all times.”
In addition to raising awareness about the work of Doctors Galdikas and Sheldrick, Born to Be Wild 3-D is poised to be a real game changer in the field of IMAX educational documentaries.
“This is the most heavily promoted IMAX educational film by a factor of about ten. I’m honoured and I think this is a great film to do this with.”
Born to Be Wild 3-D is now in theatres. Read Andrew’s review of it here.