Oceana had a chance to talk to Greg and Shaun MacGillivray, the producers of To the Arctic, an IMAX 3D film that explores the changing landscape of the Arctic and the animals that call it home. Here's what they had to say about survivng the cold and falling in love with a family of polar bears.
Q: Without revealing any spoilers, what is To the Arctic going to show us that we’ve never seen before?
To The Arctic is the first 3D IMAX film ever shot in the Arctic, and because of the immersive, experiential quality of 3D IMAX footage shown on screens 80 feet tall, audiences will feel like they have been transported to this incredibly wild and pristine place without even having to put a parka on. We were extremely lucky while shooting in Norway to find a mother polar bear and her two cubs willing to let us follow and film them at close range for five days straight, which is unprecedented. Polar bears are usually skittish around humans and will avoid them. But this mother was completely comfortable with us and even seemed to like having us nearby. The result is that we were able to capture extremely rare, close-up footage showing the daily lives of a polar bear family in a changing Arctic, and the incredible lengths to which this mother went to protect and nurture her cubs. We saw her fend off four different attacks by hungry male polar bears in five days, and we have it all on film.
Q: What were some of the challenges filming in Arctic conditions?
In the Arctic we were primarily filming wildlife, which is hard enough in normal conditions. But the extreme cold and wind and remoteness of our locations made it even more difficult than usual. When you’re filming wildlife, there is a lot of waiting and searching for the animals, and then you want to try to capture a variety of animal behaviors, so you have to give yourself lots of time. We were in the field much longer for To The Arctic than for any of our other films—about 8 months over four years—and we were never really comfortable. On one trip, during our three-week stay aboard an icebreaker in Norway, the showers weren’t working, so we didn’t bathe for 21 days straight! For the underwater crew filming under the ice cap, the conditions were even more challenging. They were filming in water that was 29 degrees Fahrenheit, literally “liquid ice.” Only the salt content in the water kept it from freezing. It was so cold that their longest dive was only 45 minutes. Any longer and their hands would have become completely frozen.
Q: How different was diving in the Arctic compared to California?
Well, for one thing, we were filming polar bears underwater, which you don’t find too often in California. To get the shots, we relied on Bob Cranston, a brave underwater cinematographer who has photographed alligators, great white sharks, venomous snakes, and now, the fiercest predator of all--polar bears. They are eating machines, so we sent in Bob. He invented a way to film them by diving down below them, then waiting for the bear’s natural curiosity to cause them to investigate our cameras. If the bears got too close for comfort, Bob would sink down out of range. Polar bears don’t like to dive too deep—the deepest we saw them dive was about 20 feet—so as long as Bob picked spots where the water was deeper than that, he felt relatively safe.