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The crew of “America the Beautiful” used fighters to capture the diverse terrain of the continent.

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Cinematographer Greg Wilson has participated in several major projects over the past few years, including the award-winning documentary Zion and Netflix film amateurs. More recently, he flew as an aerial cinematographer for the National Geographic series, featuring America the Beautiful, a six-part documentary series currently streamed on Disney +.

The documentary series takes viewers on a spectacular journey across the most spectacular regions of North America, witnessing the breathtaking landscapes of the most diverse lands on the planet, while observing many of their unique creatures. to introduce. The purpose of the documentary is to entertain the viewer and inspire them to protect the precious habitats and inhabitants of our backyard.

Wilson captures the diverse and fascinating landscapes of North America from thousands of feet high, giving viewers an unprecedented view of the continent’s vast ecosystems, flora and fauna. Narrated by Creed and Black Panther’s fame Michael B. Jordan, the documentary series unfolds just in time for Independence Day, with all six episodes streamable on July 4.

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America The Beautiful is the first natural history series to equip a fighter jet with a cinema-grade camera, taking viewers to some of the most striking landscapes on the planet in astonishing rides, unique to the continent. Reveals the rich and textured world of. Jet-mounted cameras show how landscapes of the Americas are combined and shaped together. In one shot, you can see how the Sierra Nevada Mountains carved out the Mojave Desert or the Colorado River the Grand Canyon. The same aerial system proved a revelation for filming stormy weather and enabled supercell and tornado footage from close range. In this series, National Geographic receives carbon credits from projects that support biodiversity to reduce emissions, benefit the community, and supplement production emissions, including the emissions of aircraft used for filming. I bought it.

Innovation & Tech Today, with Wilson prior to the release of Beautifuls, discusses a novel approach to creating documentaries and how it felt like capturing the natural beauty of North American landscapes from several different aircraft. talked.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Innovation and Technology Today: So, tell us a little bit about your experience with the documentary series.

Greg Wilson: I’ve been a cinematographer for about 14 years, shooting all kinds of commercials, documentaries and feature films. And, as you know, my roots come from bringing high-speed photography into the realm of natural history for natural history, still images, and tracking storms in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The historical sphere in which the Wild Star Films team is around us, and the trust they have given us to explore the jet platform, innovation and coordination, and teamwork that has entered this series, is a whole new perspective. Offers new placement capabilities Cameras in places they have never been to. So when Mark Linfield and Vanessa Berlovitz first approached and participated in this series, we couldn’t get any more excited.

I & T Today: As long as this documentary is done on a jet, is it a fairly new concept? I know that drones and helicopters are popular. So what are the benefits of using a jet for this?

GW: So I got a fair amount of stability. Drones have been in use for quite some time. Helicopters have long been used in natural history. In other words, when you return to the planet Earth, you will gain new perspectives and abilities, a little further away from the predation that occurs in wolves and caribou. But when it comes to long-range stability and altitude transitions from 500 feet to 40,000 feet in a single shot, there’s nothing like a jet that can bring a whole new perspective. With a brand new lens and paint brush, you can use it as a cinematographer.

I & T today: Do you have a lot of experience flying in jets, or is this your first time doing cinematography on an airplane?

GW: I have a lot of history in helicopters and I work in helicopters, but for most of my career I’ve been mostly cinematographers on the ground. In 2019, I embarked on a business partner and a few other V Speeds. My company is V Speed, which manufactures jets primarily for air-to-air opportunities for shooting high-speed planes. And as soon as we started building, what we could do with this in the field of natural history began to change. Because we all love the weather, so to speak, evangelists. So we love the practicality of aircraft. The majority of us are pilots, it’s a beautiful thing on Earth, you can look down on it, and when you take off and the world collapses, it’s a pretty special place. But as a camera vehicle, there is no such thing.

Today’s I & T: What jet did you use to shoot?

GW: The first aircraft we built was the L39. It is a twin-seat fighter. It fits the profile of the GI system we use perfectly with a rating of 350 knots and 3G. Now the aircraft can run at a slightly higher level than the GI, but overall it fits the envelope of most of the work to be done. In most areas where we work, it’s me and the frontline pilots. In most cases, you will be a former fighter pilot. That’s why we work with both F Four Phantom and F16 Air Force fighter pilots. And our other main pilots are Navy aviators, Top Guns, graduates, and Top Gun’s enemy pilots, John Flanigan. ..

That was L39. We also used the Phenom 300 Business Jet. It has a command station in the air that can take all the staff and basically have two pilots. One is system management and the other is flight management. And you can also carry a meteorologist. You can hire an aerial coordinator, Mike. Then you can operate up to two cameras at the same time. One is on the nose and the other is on the tail. In addition, you can move technicians on board the aircraft to dodge technical skills. Glitch that you may encounter during flight.

I & T today: So did you feel that much safer?

GW: Yeah. In short, aviation is self-selecting for fairly special people, and we have basically put a lot of effort into carefully selecting the best ones that have hone their skills throughout their lives. And now we’re in this kind of interdisciplinary team, working on all the skills we’ve learned over the last decade, two, three, or four years and applying them to film and natural history. .. ..

Today’s I & T: So what makes this documentary different from other nature documentaries?

GW: Obviously, I think the animal and wildlife footage and how they handle those scenes goes far beyond what we’ve seen in other series. But I think we’ll talk about my contributions and the contributions of our team, set the scope and scale, and actually explain how things are combined and how mountain ranges are essential. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are shields that block all moisture from the fertile valleys of western California. And on the east side is Death Valley. From an ecology point of view, you can actually see how everything is combined. So I think it’s a big range and scale. And I think jets bring energy to the unprecedented natural world.

Today’s I & T: Yeah. I could feel it. So how long did it take for the entire series to be filmed?

GW: It was brought in a little later than when it actually started. I think we were the last addition to the show. Initially I was contacted in June 2019 and did not make a test flight until December 2019. There, he flew in Arizona for two and a half days, performing a series of dynamic maneuvers and highly accurate ground orbits and paths. Through Monument Valley. And it was in May 2020 that we actually officially turned green and started shooting, which was exactly related to the closure of the national park.

Was it a great impetus for the escape at COVID, shooting 7 national parks in 10 days, or surprised 10 national parks in 7 days? Yes, it was 10 national parks in 7 days.

Then it propelled us through the rest of the season and we rapped in December 2021.

Today’s I & T: Okay. Amazing. I’m always fascinated by nature documentaries about how close these cinematographers and photographers can be to animals. How can a photographer get so close to these predators without biting or disturbing them?

GW: I think there is a build of mutual trust, spending a lot of time with animals and just making sure they know you are not a threat. There are many very long lenses used. There are several new technologies that use small robotic vehicles with stable camera systems and more. Therefore, this can be used to build a perceptual sensation of being very close to the animal, or trust, or of the actual physical proximity that can be obtained by actually physically acquiring it using the system and trap camera. There are different ways and tools to create one near the animal.

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