Werner Herzog invented a new type of 3D camera to film his latest documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which focuses on 30,000-year-old artwork in a cave in Southern France.
Herzog is in the vanguard of a boom in the production of 3D docos, which mirrors the rampant growth of 3D movies. Among the non-fiction projects being filmed in the third dimension are an expose about the mass extinction of wildlife from the producers of the Oscar winning The Cove; Wim Wenders' profile of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch; and a re-enactment of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition.
One of the first 3D productions shot in Australia, Mark Lewis' Cane Toads: The Conquest (pictured), screened at the Melbourne and Sydney film festivals after its world premiere last January at the Sundance fest.
And last week veteran Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy formed a co-venture with The Wildest Dream director Anthony Geffen to originate high-end docus exploring ancient empires, the Holy Land, Africa and other topics, most in 3D. Their first effort will focus on explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led an expedition to the South Pole which left him and his crew of 27 stranded after ice crushed their ship in 1915.
The Wildest Dream, which opens in Australia on September 9 in an exclusive season at IMAX Darling Harbour, tracks climber Conrad Anker as he discovers the body of a British climber, George Mallory, who disappeared in 1924 as he attempted to become the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest.
“The idea is to tell true stories with a large scope. We're betting that people will want to see big-scale 3D renderings of places they'll never go but want to experience,” said Medavoy, who is venturing into the non-fiction realm for the first time after producing or executive producing several hundred movies including Shutter Island, Zodiac, Miss Potter, Stealth, Holes and Vertical Limit.
Separately, Geffen is working with David Attenborough on the 3D docu Flying Monsters, which investigates giant aerial dinosaurs that ruled the skies 150 million years ago.
Herzog shot his docu in the Chauvet cave which was discovered in 1994 but is closed to the public. It contains paintings which depict lions, panthers, bears, owls, rhinos and hyenas, very different fauna to that of modern France.
“It's still tough to bring equipment down,” Herzog said in his blog, describing the logistical difficulties. “You are not allowed to touch the wall or the floor or anything. I can have only three people with me, and I can use only lights which must not create temperature. For each shot, because the technology is not really advanced, we had to build own camera from zero using a specific configuration of lenses and mirrors. We are doing something nobody has done with 3D.”
The Singing Planet, the latest work from The Cove's director Louie Psihoyos, will examine endangered species, filmed in many regions including the Pacific, Europe and the Gulf. “We're shooting a 3D film about the mass extinction of wildlife caused by humanity – I think it's the biggest story out there right now,” he told Momentum.
Cane Toads: The Conquest, a follow-up to Lewis' 1988 short film Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, mixes deadpan interviews, re-enactments and vivid nature footage in its attempt to give the creatures some respect. Lewis even employed the services of a “toad whisperer,” according to the Los Angeles Times. I loved his description of the docu: “Just like Avatar, except with toads."