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Eye of the Storm:

A Two-Continent Collaboration for National Geographic’s "America the Beautiful"

A new view

When National Geographic contacted UK-based Wildstar Films to create a six-part documentary series for Disney+ focused on the unique ecosystems of the United States, they knew they needed a new tool to depict familiar and iconic places. Enter the V/SPEED team with an Embraer Phenom 300jet and custom camera rig, flown by a TOPGUN pilot and award-winning cinematographer, who captured spectacular unseen footage of a tornado forming in the air.  

The other essential tool for getting the job done? Frame.io Enterprise. Because when you’re flying a jet to shoot a documentary, you need the fastest, most secure way to share high-value, high-quality images with high-powered executives across two continents. 

At a glance 

  • 6 episodes 

  • 6 time zones 

  • 2 years 

  • 2 continents 

  • Priceless footage 

High-level challenges

The producers at Wildstar Films, known for the BBC’s Planet Earth, needed to put a fresh spin on the film grammar of their previous work. When they saw footage captured by aerial cinematography pioneers V/SPEED, they were confident they could deliver.  

However, the COVID pandemic forced them to work with the team from across an ocean and multiple time zones during most of the two-year production. That meant they’d have to find a way to collaborate remotely while ensuring that the images they were viewing were available immediately—and were of a quality high enough for them to critically evaluate what had been captured.  

More importantly, when your client is a studio as large and sophisticated as Disney, the highest-level security is necessary to ensure that images that have literally never been captured before aren’t leaked. 

“We’ve got incredibly valuable content that needs to make its way from point to point safely throughout the production process. The Watermark ID feature let us create unique transcodes for individual users, which meant that even though they had to be passed to a good number of executives because they were so important to the series, the peace of mind it gave us was priceless.” - Mike Knockenhauer, VSPEED CEO and Cofounder. 

High-impact results 

Throughout the lengthy production, V/SPEED captured majestic landscapes from the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley to atmospheric phenomena like the Northern Lights above Denali, Alaska, and the in-air footage of a tornado forming over Lubbock, Texas. Critical to their workflow was being able to quickly share the high-resolution proxy files with their aerial director in Bristol, UK, so that he could determine whether they had the shot “in the can” or needed to make another flight. 

"Being able to screen the footage in England while we’re in the field in the US and seeing the quality that the image was captured at was very important for the comfort level and understanding of what these images really looked like. Between the quality of the proxies that we were able to deliver and the rapid-fire upload speeds, and the ability to talk through timecode-specific moments of a shot, we were able to have a virtual proximity to each other to get the job done.” - Greg Wilson, VSPEED Director of Photography and Cofounder

Wildstar and V/SPEED had been under pressure to deliver the tornado footage to National Geographic but were shooting during a time when tornados were scarce. When the team finally captured their storm, they were able to see, beyond doubt, that they'd achieved something no one else ever had. Not only did using Frame.io make that possible—it also let them celebrate the achievement, together, in the moment.

"I remember dragging through that clip for the first time and thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s going to
make National Geographic very happy'. We sent them a little sneak preview of the twister footage and they were over the moon. They sent back lots of emojis and exclamation marks and that pretty much summarized my feelings about it, as well.”
- Mark Linfield, Wildstar Films co-executive producer. 

There’s nothing more gratifying for us than helping filmmakers take their artistry to new heights to produce images that will amaze and educate viewers worldwide. 

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