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There is a lot to love about America. Armed insurrections to overturn the will of the people and court decisions that reject decades of legal precedent and go against the will of the majority notwithstanding, awe-inspiring beauty and wonders of nature exist across the entire country. A new series from National Geographic, “America The Beautiful” gives you a front-row seat to view the nature of America as few ever have the chance to see on their own.
America The Beautiful
The six-part series from Vanessa Berlowitz and Mark Linfield—the award-winning team behind “Planet Earth” and “Frozen Planet.” The series is narrated by Michael B. Jordan—the actor from “Black Panther” and “Creed.”
The six episodes are:
- Land of Heroes
- Wild West
- Brave New World
A press release for the series explains, “Each episode of “America The Beautiful” showcases smart and brave animal heroes of all sizes — from grizzlies to bald eagles, mountain lions to honeypot ants — whose funny and amazing antics are brought to life with character-led storytelling. To capture elusive and never before seen animal behaviors on the ground, a new generation of remote cameras and gyro-stabilized cameras were used. In the final episode, to celebrate the human conservation heroes of America, producers worked directly with Indigenous tribes such as the Chippewa Cree of Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana to film bison reintroduction and the Gwich’in people of Alaska to document the battle to protect the arctic refuge from oil exploration.”
The Need for Speed
From the perspective of a human lifetime—or even the nearly 250-year history of the nation—it seems like the mountains and rivers of America never change. The reality, though, is that nature is constantly adapting and evolving. The unique geography of America drives the forces of nature to extremes—shaping and reshaping the land over time.
These regions and animals have been captured on film before—especially by National Geographic. However, one thing that makes “America The Beautiful” unique is that it is the first natural history series to place cinema-grade cameras on fighter jets. The series takes viewers on a jaw-dropping ride through some of the most impressive scenery on Earth, revealing rich and textured worlds that are unique to the continent. The jet-mounted cameras show how America’s landscapes fit together and shape one another—revealing how the Sierra mountains made the Mojave Desert or how the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon. The same aerial system also enabled the team to film wild weather, including footage of supercells and tornados from close range.
I spoke with aerial cinematographer Greg Wilson about the cutting-edge aerial photography. He told me that he appreciated working on this project because it allowed him to return to his roots as a natural history still photographer in a way. “But this time implementing very sophisticated technical camera systems mounted on the nose of aircraft, and the shot-making capabilities that we were able to build with these tech tools are unprecedented.”
Wilson told me, “They gave us a lot of freedom and a lot of trust to develop the shot-making abilities and the team to be able to design shots that really have never been done before and those great images that nobody’s ever seen.”
To capture the aerial footage, they used a Shotover F1 Rush. It is a very sophisticated piece of equipment and there are only three in existence. It is a six-axis, stabilized camera system in a jet configuration capable of withstanding up to 350 knots of speed and 3 Gs of force on the gimbal.
“We’ve taken that and pushed in a lot of our own technological developments, both with Shotover and with our technicians to ensure that the system will be tip-top. The demands that we’re putting on it are significantly different than your typical Hollywood movie where you need the camera to be perfect for 15 seconds to get your shot for “Top Gun.” I’m not knocking that type of work, but some of our shots are over 45 minutes to be perfect in sometimes very turbulent environments. So there’s been a tremendous amount of effort to create a one-of-a-kind tool that really performs under the most demanding situations that I think a camera has ever been put in.”
A quick side note: National Geographic recognizes that capturing aerial footage from fighter jets has consequences for the environment. They purchased carbon credits from projects that reduce emissions, benefit communities, and support biodiversity to compensate for production emissions, including the emissions of the aircraft used in filming.
All six episodes of “America The Beautiful” will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ beginning July 4—Independence Day. You should definitely check it out. If you like nature—and democracy, and religious freedom, and human rights—you should also make sure you vote in November.