Andrew Chastney: One Year, One Stunning Documentary
Documentary director and editor reveals magical world in his latest film, Iceland: Land of Ice and Fire, created with Adobe Creative Cloud
Documentary Film Editor and Director Andrew Chastney’s passion for natural history is clear in the work he’s done for the BBC, Disney Nature, Animal Planet, and National Geographic. Most recently, he explored the magical secrets of Iceland for the BBC documentary, Iceland: Land of Ice and Fire, which tells the story of the animals, people, and land that make up this wild island. Andy used Adobe Creative Cloud to help create the ambitious documentary, which aired on the BBC in May 2015.
Adobe: How did you get your start?
Chastney: I began working in film as a runner. I worked my way up to editor doing commercials, promos, and corporate videos. Then I moved to Bristol and began working on a range of broadcast documentaries. Planet Earth and Frozen Planet were landmark shows I worked on where you see animals behaving in incredible ways. Great Bear Stakeout followed brown bears in Alaska and took a narrative storytelling approach. That project was my first time using Adobe Premiere Pro, largely because of its integration with Adobe After Effects.
Adobe: What inspired you to create Iceland: Land of Ice and Fire?
Chastney: The population of Iceland is only about 300,000 people, mostly hardy and delightful proper Vikings. It is a harsh environment where the people have a strong connection to the land and make their living with the help of animals. Iceland is overwhelmingly stunning. It’s a photographic dream with some fabulous wildlife.
Adobe: Can you tell us more about the film?
Chastney: The documentary follows three animal stories and the people attached to them. One is about a mother rearing her brood of adorable Arctic fox pups. Another showcases an eider duck farmer who rears hundreds of ducklings and gathers the valuable eider down from their nests. The last story is about farmers who use wild Icelandic horses to round up sheep in the Icelandic highlands. We follow them through the course of a year, seeing their highs and lows as they live their daily lives in this harsh but beautiful landscape.
Adobe: What was the best part of filming?
Chastney: All of it! I guess the bit that stuck in my mind most was the last bit of the film, which is very much centered on the volcanology of Iceland. It is located where the North American and European plates meet, so there is lots of volcanic activity. While we were there, the largest eruption of lava in 200 years occurred, at Holuhraun in the Central Highlands.
The volcanoes in Iceland are not all conical, some are giant fissures in the earth. The eruption at Holuhraun was essentially a 1.5km crack in the ground, like a giant cut in the earth’s crust. There were fountains of lava shooting 100 meters in the air and rivers of lava flowing across the plateau. The Lava flow ultimately covered 88 square kilometers—well over the size of Manhattan Island. The noise was deafening and the heat was overwhelming. On the order of 20,000 earthquakes happened over a three to four week period. The entire experience was so surreal. It was such a once in a lifetime event and I kept thinking, “I’m so lucky I get to do this job!”
Adobe: How did you use Adobe Creative Cloud to help tell these amazing stories?
Chastney: As director, I started scripting and planning in Adobe Story CC Plus. Documentaries have so many characters and multiple scripts and storyboards so having them in one place was tremendously useful. When I was in the UK I could update the Story file and the cameraman and assistant cameraman in Iceland could immediately see the changes. The same was true when I was in Iceland and needed to show my boss what we were planning.
Adobe: What other components of Creative Cloud came into play?
Chastney: We used Adobe Prelude CC on location for all of our transcoding. We shot on everything from Sony F55 CineAlta to Canon EOS C300s and tons of GoPros. We also used timelapse kits. With Adobe Prelude CC, we combined and digitized everything in the field. This turned out to be incredibly powerful because we were able to take one Pegasus RAID storage array with our digital assets straight through from the offline to Big Bang, a post house in Bristol, for the online for finishing.
Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Adobe SpeedGrade CC were both central to the project. I did all of the offline editing in Premiere Pro, then the finishing was done with a combination of After Effects CC and Premiere Pro CC. I’m not a color grader, but the guys at Big Bang were really happy to use SpeedGrade and I was impressed with its performance and the results.
We did some experimenting, with the grader at Big Bang doing test grades for me and mailing a LUT, which I’d then apply to the footage in the offline. It was a really fluid way of working and something I can see being really useful on future projects. All of the music track layup was done in Adobe Audition CC. Big Bang also did the online in Premiere Pro, SpeedGrade, and After Effects and the results are really stunning.
Adobe: How have you seen Adobe desktop apps evolve over the past few years?
Chastney: In just a few short years we’ve gone from testing Adobe video apps on the Great Bear Stakeout project to using Creative Cloud to take a project from start to finish, from scripting through to final posting. Overall, I am so comfortable with how the apps all works so well together. Creative Cloud makes sense from a cost point of view, because you don’t have to cobble together a lot of different pieces of software that may not integrate well.
Adobe: How would you summarize the importance of Adobe Creative Cloud?
Chastney: Everyone in filmmaking is under tremendous pressure to create higher quality work cost effectively. Creative Cloud is the secret to making that happen. A daily hire cost is measured in terms of the cost of the actual kit, which is lower with Creative Cloud. The other side of cost savings is realized by streamlining the workflow and spending less time waiting for stages, such as the conform from offline to online. Previously, that could take a week but with Creative Cloud we can just pick up the drive and move it immediately, which is massively valuable.
I’ll be using it again on my next projects: a film about the effects of climate change on Polar bears and other wildlife, and on the graphics-heavy BBC TV show Skyworld.
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