All Things at Once

After spending a good part of the fall working and reworking the script for the bowheads film, we’re off and running this spring and launching into pretty much everything at once. The film will be released in about 14 months and the museum production staff will be very busy between this project and our other exhibits, films, and publications in the works. No doubt, we will go down to the wire.

As February 2012 comes to a close, Tamara Martz (UAMN Exhibits and Graphics Designer) has been working up the project logo, while Theresa Bakker (UAMN Media Coordinator) has been poring over the shooting scrip to find narrative weak spots and craft the film’s sound design, contacting likely vocal talent for both the English and Inupiat language versions of the film, and working with partners to acquire ambient and effects audio for the project. Hannah Foss (UAF Student and Project Lead Animator) has been modeling and rigging our primary animal characters – the whales, the krill, and the copepods – and has begun animation on the first character based shots that will go through the mill.

We have already spent an inordinate amount of time testing file types and effective pipelines as we run models and images and animations through the many different pieces of software required for the project. There will be surprises in store, but hopefully we’ve minimized them through the course of our recent pitched battle with supposedly universal file types. See Exhibit A, the plan for the production pipeline. No doubt things will change.


Our initial shot list for the 20+ minute film includes some 140+ distinct shots. That number will only grow from here, but to start some place not at the beginning, we’ve chosen to first tackle several of the more technical shots in order to verify we can make the film we intend to.

Shot 18.1.4. We fired up the fluid dynamics simulation software and imported our initial whale and ice floe models to generate realistic water surfaces and splashes for shots where whales need to break, break ice, and make waves, wakes. and foam and affect the sea ice around them. Here’s one frame.


Everything shown is preliminary from the whale model to the character and quality of the sea surface (no character animation and no splashes yet), but we are glad to report the software is cooperating and the our next rendering will take everything up a notch.

Shot 10.1.1. We worked with project lead scientist and the film’s producer Steve Okkonen to get krill trajectory simulation data into our animation software so we can watch the migration of the krill between April and December as they travel from the Bering Sea northward. The specific current data for the simulation is for 2002, but should meet the film’s needs as an overall current regime.


The frame shown represents a view from about as far away from the Bering Sea as we are likely to want to get. These shots are capable of getting quite close as the image maps used to create the globe have a resolution of about 500m per pixel. Any closer than that and we will be using 250m per pixel daily satellite (MODIS) images of local areas, and then our sea surface simulations. Many things are missing from this shot, most notably the arctic sea ice. That data has been acquired and will be rendered in the next version.

Shot 20.1.3. At one point in the film we will focus on whale vocalizations and the use of hydrophones to record the sounds. Researcher Kate Stafford has provided the project with numerous audio recordings so we can focus both our ears and eyes. Shown is a spectrogram of one such 30 second recording. Time runs on the horizontal axis and audio frequency on the vertical axis.


We’ve started experimenting with ways we might dynamically present the spectrograms in the film, resulting in one idea below where we turn the sound waves into an evolving wave-landscape as the sound plays. Shown is a screen capture from our compositing software, which illustrates where we are also experimenting with the look of this and other shots.


That’s all for now. Happy the blog is created and we have a place to share our work in progress with our partners and everyone else interested in the project and UAMN’s production work. If you have questions, feel free to contact us at the UA Museum of the North, and check out our web and Facebook pages for other goings on at UAMN.


-Roger Topp (Project Director, UAMN Head of Production)

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