The IMAX 3D documentary A Beautiful Planet shows the earth as a very fragile, beautiful place that is more or less a spaceship that is travelling around the galaxy. The film was shot by astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) who received filming instructions from American DoP James L. Neihouse who is an expert for underwater shots and filmining in space since forty years.
While the very fragile, beautiful earth is travelling around the galax, the space station is a spaceship traveling around the earth. "So we draw that analogy", points out James L. Neihouse. "It has taken years and years and billions of dollars to build a spaceship that will handle six people, to keep them in orbit alive and we always have to sent stuff up to them. Here we are on a planet that is basically the same type of spaceship except we got six, seven billion people and we don’t get resupply missions, we are on our own." The film also shows the impact of humans: "The air pollution above China and other parts of the world, deforestation in South America, we talk about the water crisis in the Western U.S., the glacier melt in Greenland. We look at this and say there are ways that we can fix this but we all have to work together. We have to be crew members of this space ship rather than passengers. We all gotta work together."
For a sequence in A Beautiful Planet that shows Mars, the production used one of the very first IMAX aerial shots that were ever made. "It is a fine shot over a lake and over an island and as we are flying over the island, we convert planet earth to look like Mars. It is what happened if we lost our water on earth. Here is when we turn into Mars and then we look at Mars. In the last part, we are looking out there what else is in this galaxy what might be suitable for habitation. And one of the planets we are looking at is Kepler 168 F which is an earth-size planet around a star called Kepler 168. It is in the right place in its orbit to have liquid water. That is one of the big signs they use for possible life elsewhere. We kind of do a flight out to Kepler 168 and pose the question: ‘Could that be another earth?’ But it is 500 light years away, so we could never get there."
For A Beautifiul Planet, the astronauts shot over a quarter million of still images. "It was about 11,5 terabytes of data we shot for the film. The original plan was that the 4k data would fly down on Space X which is the only cargo vehicle that returns. We got a couple of flights back with those drives on it but in the summer of 2015 SpaceX had a launch failure and blew up about a minute in the flight. So they quit launching it about nine months. We had to figure out how to get the data out of this into a computer and down."
"We worked with codecs in a system that they had never intended the system to be used, we basically plugged the codecs recorder into a computer via an ethernet cable and frame at a time got the files off the hard drive. It took about a second a frame to bring them down to make that transfer. Eventually, we brought 1.5 terabyte of 4K data down that way. It took six weeks to do it." If the crew hadn’t done that, the production wouldn’t have got the 4K data back to do the editing on time since SpaceX didn’t fly anymore. This was one of this moments where the astronauts were saying: "Houston, we do have a problem here.”
Photos: © IMAX