Case Study: Welcome To Earth

Production company(s): Nutopia, Protozoa Pictures, Westbrook Sudios

Welcome to Earth is the hotly anticipated follow-on to award-winning space and science documentary series One Strange Rock. Being Executive Produced by Academy Award-nominated Darren Aronofsky (Protozoa Pictures), Jane Root’s Nutopia and Westbrook Studios, and hosted by Will Smith, from Disney+. It was destined to push the boundaries of what is possible to capture with a camera on this planet, providing ground-breaking, breath-taking images from a world often hidden from sight. 

After working with Nutopia on One Strange Rock, Pro Motion were proud and excited to be appointed main kit supplier for Welcome to Earth (WTE) and relished in the opportunity to push their services and expertise to new heights. Shoots travelling worldwide with multiple crews, over a 2-year period with, in some cases up to 10 RED cameras, ranging from 1 – 4 weeks in length are rare. Pro Motion supplies equipment for a wide range of natural history and expedition productions, but none came close to the requirements of WTE. ‘Which is exactly why we love it’ – Jess Lolliot Commercial Director, Pro Motion, ‘challenging, yes but it’s also endlessly engaging and a pleasure to work with such an outstanding production team and crew.’  

Pro Motion worked closely with Nutopia’s Production and Crew, testing and demonstrating a whole range of supporting equipment; as the main equipment supplier for the series, they were keen to be involved from the offset. It was once again a pleasure for them to work with series DOP Brendan McGinty, (16oz Studios) who as a RED Gemini owner, is incredibly familiar with the RED camera systems.  

We began testing long before shooting on Welcome to Earth, and slowly came to an ambitious approach towards cameras, lenses, grip and our cinematic point of view. This leaned heavily towards the two camera systems I knew and loved, Red’s DSMC2 sensors in both the S35 Gemini and Vista Vision Monstro. These sensors were then met with a selection of Angenieux zooms, Sigma Cine Primes and a host of specialised optics… macros, extreme tele photos, borescopes…

And throughout this prep Pro Motion took this unique approach and scaled it up. They allowed us to move from the more boutique approach of our test tools… to the logistical rigours of a multimillion-pound, multi-unit and location international production. We regularly ran up to 10 camera bodies on our set pieces with Will Smith… and Pro Motion’s facilitating and support throughout this was immaculate. 

At no point did we ask and not receive with what was regularly another camera, lens, lighting or grip innovation.

Brendan McGinty – DOP, 16ozStudios

Pro Motion knew from the outset that the team wanted to deliver visually stunning images and were focused on showing the world in a new way. As such they provided a variety of unique kit, investing in probe lenses, Infra-Red Optical Low Pass Filters (IR OLPFs), and various grip setups. The RED Gemini was the obvious choice as the main camera with the RED Monstro for all the host shoots, in this case Will Smith. The Gemini provided dual ISO with its low light mode, not to mention 16.5+ stops of dynamic range and lower data rates, both essential for the requirements of the shoot. It then stepped up to the Monstro for its 8K resolution and full frame format- the perfect pairing. 

Photo credit – Brendan McGinty

This is where strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers come in to play.

Jess Lolliot – Commercial Director, Pro Motion

Not only did the REDs provide a small form factor, which production needed for travelling the globe and the crew required for the locations and style of shooting, but they also offered interchangeable lens mounts, OLPFs and various modules, so it was truly the most versatile camera for the job.  

Lens-wise, Nutopia and Brendan went with the Sigma Full Frame High Speed Cine Primes and Angenieux EZ Zooms as the main options throughout the shoot as they are both lightweight and incredibly versatile. The Laowa 24mm Probe lens with its small lightweight size and macro capabilities provided unique angles alongside a whole host of other Laowa, Canon and Nikon lenses to name a few. 

From the beginning of the series Nutopia had a clear vision and Pro Motion had a dedicated team available to offer technical support or get involved in technical research as needed. ‘This is where strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers come in to play’ – Jess, Pro Motion ‘being able to lean on RED, CVP, Defy and Sigma, to name a few, enabled us to pull together last-minute tests, see what would and wouldn’t work, and adapt the kit as needed for each specific shoot.’  

Initially this involved focusing on grip, looking at all types of sliders, cable cams, and gimbals so they could create movement in various forms throughout the series. Pro Motion invested in several new pieces of kit, most notably the Movcam Roll Rig and the Defy Cadance cable cam. The Roll Rig, if powered using a Cmotion Motor, can spin the carriage whilst the camera sits inside, creating a 360-spin with a central image. Simple and complex at the same time, it is a useful tool. The Defy Cadence was a more complex set up with the Ronin 2 to create a versatile, and crucially, portable system, which managed to trek to the jungles in Nepal. The Defy can take a fully loaded Ronin 2, and create controllable, repeatable shots at up to 30mph.  

Photo credit – Disney/NGC

Everyone at Pro Motion works to support large scale projects like WTE, one of the many faces busily working behind the scenes is their engineer, Lee Follett. When you are pairing a lot of different manufacturers to create unique set ups, having their own in-house engineer to fabricate parts, plates and bespoke cables is a vital lifeline for them. 

Being able to react to crew in house prepping to go to far flung locations who need a longer cable or a different adaptor has been incredibly valuable. We’ve even had Lee fabricating housing and adapting our roll rig.

Alain Lolliot – Technical Director, Pro Motion

What might seem a small yet crucial element that production asked for with the hindsight and experience from OSR was an easier and more practical monitoring solution. As they were often filming in remote situations, they needed the flexibility to be able to both run and gun, and then put the monitor down when needed to get hands on. Pro Motion’s technical supervisor, Ollie Wesley, worked closely with KT Systems to custom design monitor cases to accommodate the SmallHD 703 Bolt and additional Teradek 500/1000 RXs with Bebob 98wh VMicro batteries, in a compact and comfortable manner, with waterproof material and padding so that everything was always protected.  

We’re always learning from our clients and crews.

Ollie Wesley – Technical Supervisor, Pro Motion

Pro Motion also hosted a variety of test shoots at their premises throughout the series, including low light with the Canon ME-20, macro test of live insects, IR and UV tests with our modified RED Gemini and Sony A7Sii. Pushing limits and developing technical boundaries on this project has been an absolute pleasure for Pro Motion, their team has learnt so much collaborating alongside the guys from Nutopia – incredible facts about animals and UV lights to name a few, but you will have to watch the series to learn more! ‘We’re always learning from our clients and crews.  Not everyone’s needs are the same and certainly not when it came to this series when setups haven’t even been accomplished before.  This allows us to learn and pass this knowledge on to help with future projects’ – Ollie, Pro Motion.

Technical equipment, vision, and tests are all crucial to any documentary series, but for one of this scale, logistics and practicalities are just as important. Everything needs to run smoothly and Production and Crew need to be able to rely on their Camera and Lighting Rental House to deliver across the board. 

Pro Motion and Nutopia formed a great working relationship on One Strange Rock, this was  something we were keen to continue on this series.  Jess and her team have met all our demands in technical expertise, guidance, reliability and effort. With the sheer volume of shoots for a series of this magnitude, the requirements cannot be understated and they were with us throughout every step of the principal photography period. 

Eddie Sears, Production Manager, Welcome To Earth

Photo credit – Disney/NGC

Pro Motion worked closely with the crew to ensure they could pack the equipment down in a way that would work for them, both to easily access and shoot, but also to carry through remote and extreme locations. They utilised F-Stop rucksacks, Peli Air cases, and invested in the new Flowtech legs from Sachtler. To make sure everything could be kept as light as possible, Pro Motion technicians worked closely with the AC’s on the prep days in their offices so they understood their preferences and could have as much ready to go as possible.  

With fast paced turnarounds and multiple shoots out concurrently, it was important that Pro Motion had the equipment prepped and tested with a holistic approach to how the kit would be used, and in which extreme environments. The crews needed to be confident that the kit, accessories, and spares could operate in these remote environments. Plus, with minimal time to come in, prep, and then pack down such large multicamera packages, it was crucial that the Pro Motion team we’re available to assist. ‘We have an experienced technical team that would have the kit, prepped, and semi packed then laid out in one of our test areas to run through. We would also have our technician on hand to provide spares, extras and assist with any questions they may have.’ – Ollie   

Pro Motion prides itself on its passion for technology and the filmmaking industry, working across ground-breaking shows that challenge them, but it is often the logistics and administration which happen behind the scenes that make the difference to production. Creating carnets for last minute projects and being able to support early deadlines for complex country entry requirements give a level of support and confidence to a production that rely on you as a part of the team.

All these worldwide shoots require a lot of logistics and support. Pro Motion’s small part of this is to deliver and collect from the airport when needed, and be available on the phone no matter what mountain the crew are shooting on, or what time zone they are in.  

Carnets are always a challenge, but with One Strange Rock and Welcome To Earth we have produced 100s of carnets and can confidently say not only do we understand how vital it is but we have worked hard to create a reliable and practical system that we’ve had the luxury of testing time and time again thanks to these shows.

Jess Lolliot – Commercial Director, Pro Motion

Photo credit – Disney/NGC

Pro Motion worked on over 40 shoots all over the world, often with last minute time frames reacting to natural events in the world. This meant they needed to be able to respond quickly with equipment and carnets. At the start of the project, they had some difficulties with batteries travelling world-wide, as everyone in the industry will know the restrictions are tight. But more than that the airline staff are often unsure of what type of battery is what. Pro Motion had ‘travel safe’ stickers made up to be able to cover all the elements on the batteries and supply in large print the battery info for airport attendants. 

Every Camera and Lighting Rental house can provide a camera kit, but it’s the passion, care, and attention to even the smallest detail that Pro Motion provide which allows a fast-paced shoot like WTE to have seamless equipment and support.  

View Pro Motion’s other projects here.