Sunday, 14 February 2016

Falling in love with the Heart Tree - #EarthsGreatestSpectacles #BBC2

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'New England' - episode 1 of Earth's Greatest Spectacles
Original broadcast date - Feb 5th 2016. On BBC iPlayer.

In this film we reveal the magic of the New England forest and how this is the stage for the most incredible colour change on Earth - when the vivid greens of summer give way to the golds and reds of the fall. This film revels in the full glory of the spectacle, and reveals how this vibrant fiesta is created by the battles between the trees and the forests inhabitants.  Moose, chipmunks, rattlesnakes and a bizarre mixture of caterpillars all play a crucial role; but surprisingly the forest itself was made to be so colourful, thanks to a combination of hard work by beavers, ants and humans.

A love affair with New England 

New England, is made up of 6 states in the North Eastern corner of America. Stretching from Maine in the North to Connecticut in the South. It's a place that I have had a love affair with for many years. Upon leaving University I spent a few years living in the New England forest, where I taught people of all ages about the rich ecosystem and fascinating wildlife. It was a wonderful time of discovery for me, and one that very much led to me working in the BBC Natural History Unit when I returned to the UK. I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity to produce a film about this magical corner of America, and visit a place that I had fallen in love with 15 years earlier.


The Heart Tree

To illustrate how the forest changes with the seasons I searched for spectacular forest locations that I could visit several times through the year to create seasonal timelapse shots. My first trip, in March 2015, was to the White Mountains, New Hampshire, when the forest was still in the grip of winter. Driving along the Kancamagus Highway I was excited to discover this heart shaped maple tree. In the winter the trees barren branches looked just like the arteries and veins running through a human heart. To me it was the perfect symbol of just how beautiful this forest is, and how the trees are the lifeblood of this corner of America. New England is 80% covered in trees, more than anywhere else on the continent and its autumnal display draws millions of people to these forests every year. I was sure that in the autumn the heart tree would turn bright red and orange - and 8 months later it did! 



I visited the tree 5 times through the year in order to take a series of timelapses showing it in it’s
different seasonal foliage. One night I slept by the tree in freezing conditions as my cameras captured timelapses of the stars moving overhead, which took 5 hours to complete. I would often have 3 timelapse cameras and a video camera running at once, to capture the tree in different ways and from different perspectives.



Every time I visited I had a frame from my previous shot loaded on my camera, a simple camera hack (magic lantern) allowed me to load this onto the LCD screen of my 5D MarkIII camera as a semi-transparent ghost image, and this allowed me to line up the tree in exactly the same position as last time. For the realtime camera I printed a frame from the previous shot onto a sheet of acetate, which was the same size as the screen of the monitor I was using. Back in the UK I combined these shots to create a seasonal timelapse showing the tree as it changes through the year, and on my last visit I was able to film it as the red leaves started to fall. Through the year I fell in love with this maple tree and it is the first shot of the film.