1.12.11

Brilliant Bioluminescence

This is a repost from earlier this year but now we have this Youtube clip from Ammonite's latest film Hunt For The Giant Squid it seems like a good idea to remind you of that magical filming expedition.




We are in Belize filming bioluminescent marine creatures. The bit of Belize where we are doing this is an hour’s bumpy ride on a boat from Dangriga to South Water Caye, an island which measures about the size of a cruise ship. The lodge where we are staying and working is also a marine biology study centre. Professor Jim Morin is working with us and has set up a laboratory there so we can film the work that he is doing with bioluminescent animals.

One especially astonishing creature that he is studying is a bioluminescent Ostracod, an animal the size of a sesame seed which has the capacity to set itself ablaze in blue light in order to attract a girlfriend.

Every night after a full moon an extraordinary spectacle takes place; one night Jim took us to the marine mating grounds where we waited in the boat until sunset, then we slipped into the water and waited for the light show.

The beautiful prelude to ostracod action is the dance of the female marine worms who rise to the water’s surface spraying out their eggs in a mass of green light attracting hundreds of males who rush over to fertilise them, the water fizzes with action, it's like watching hundreds of tiny catherine wheels going off all over the water.

Ten minutes after the worms have got going, the ostracods start swimming upwards, slowly at first, we just see the odd line of vertical lights coming up among the corals and seaweeds, moving gently in the current. Each male ostracod gives off four dots to signal their presence to any females who might be around, then the lights become more and more until the water is pulsating with wavy lines of vertical blue dots all moving upwards.

Just when the water seems already full of light, the horizontal swimmers start, their trails of blue light spots fan out laterally, soon the ocean becomes an intense trippy matrix, it's mesmerising. Finally the lights fade away and we come up out of the water to make our way home, the night sky is indigo and massed with stars, we sit quietly in the boat on the way home because we can’t quite believe what we saw.

If you click on the Facebook button on the right you'll find an album of photos from Belize.

5.10.11

Ammonite Celebrates Squid Delivery



Rob Morgan who worked at Ammonite across the Night Stalkers series and The Hunt For The Giant Squid shares his donuts with Alf the fox.


The Ammonite crew are elated and exhausted, FIVE films have been delivered to National Geographic this year, on Monday our incredible Giant Squid film arrived in its final state on the Nat Geo desk and we can now start celebrating our achievements.

The celebrations are tinged with sadness however, because we are saying farewell to some wonderful people who have worked with us over the last months; Alice Marlow, Rob Morgan and John Ruthven have now gone on to other projects - we have no doubts we'll be seeing more of them at Ammonite in the future

More photos can be found on our Facebook page

12.9.11

Giant Squid In Post

Ammonite's film about the Giant Squid is now in the last stages of post-production and will be delivered to National Geographic in time to be show as part of Expedition Week this autumn.

Check our Facebook page and Twitter feeds for updates and get ready for an updated website later this year.

23.8.11

Ammonite Gets a Double First In Japan

Ammonite has won the Technical Achievement Award at the Japan Wildlife Film Festival TWICE!!

Night of the Lion tied for fist place with City of Ants (the film formally titled Antzilla which won the prize at Missoula for best Scientific Content)

The sound of champagne corks popping continues in Ammonite HQ

13.7.11

Meeting With A Mola Mola


The open ocean is blue and clear. It is vast. Rick Rosenthal has spent most of his life trying to discover its secrets and it was amazing to free dive with him into the abyss. As part of the ‘squid team’ in the Azores Rick was charged with filming sperm whales. They are the ‘witness’ in our story because they, unlike humans, have seen giant squid in their natural habitat. In the Azores about an 1/8th of the sperm whale diet by mass is estimated to be giant squid. In the days of whaling, before 1986, cut up sperm whales revealed their stomach contents and sometimes had giant squid inside. Rick set out to learn what the sperm whales knew.

Every day on the sea is different. As Rick has often told me, 'the sea has a switch and sometimes it is on, and sometimes it is off'. Days, costly days, can be spent finding nothing, 'you have to pay your dues,' says Rick. He did. In just a few days the weather cleared and we had series of amazing encounters.

One evening, about 25 miles out, we were just about to go back. Rick suggested I should use his kayak and go and see what we could find. Mario, Rick’s Azorean teammate, propelled the amazing craft, by a bicycle-like mechanism, which flaps rowing blades below. Soon we were jetting over the sea, a slight swell raising and lowering our vision of a whale as we silently (and most importantly without distress for the animal) came closer. But at over a hundred yards away we saw its tail (the 'fluke’) raise into the air – the sign that the game was up – it had dived and disappeared, perhaps a mile below. It was then that we saw the gigantic fin above the surface. Could it be a shark ? This was probably not the time to remember that the world record for the king of all sharks, a 41.2 foot great white, comes from exactly this spot.

Tentatively I held the camera over the side of the kayak – a good compromise between getting the shot and not getting eaten. Then there were shouts from Rick on the main boat that I didn’t understand at first, 'John, John, it’s a mola mola, get in, get in!' A mola mola or sunfish is an entirely peaceful creature and is found in all the world’s seas. It is a gigantic ocean traveler and often comes to the surface where it rolls around for a while in the sun, I presume. Time slowed down, now I was in the water inches away from one of the largest fishes in the sea, perhaps even the largest bony fish on Earth. This was a beautiful monster, weighing over a ton, quite a bit longer than me, and the world record is about 9 feet. It seemed to blink as its eye swiveled to spot me going past. I blinked back; who wouldn’t at meeting such a giant?

Rick, nearly twenty years my senior and twenty times as fit had dived off the boat and was beside me. He swam for a while by the gentle giant and filmed it as it quietly turned and plummeted into the dark below, to go who knows where?

Now we know we are in the right place, an ocean crossroads where the giants come. And we are paying our dues to see a giant squid.

This film will be showing during Expedition Week on National Geographic Channel in November this year watch it to see what other amazing encounters the crew have in the Azores

John Ruthven producer for the giant squid-hunting film, pictured above in our Azorean production office

11.7.11

Rick Rosenthal Filming For Ammonite




Rick Rosenthal has just gone back to the US, he was with us in the Azores for two weeks and the experience was incredible.

Rick is an oceanographer and a legendary cinematogragrapher. Enthusiasm radiates from him as he talks about the life he has witnessed in the ocean. It is clear that the more he sees the more incredible and mysterious this underwater world is. Ammonite is concerned with filming the natural, uninhibited behaviour of animals and Rick has developed a way of filming that gets closer to marine life than most other people.

Using a motor boat to get far out to sea, Nounou the skipper lets down a microphone on a long underwater cable to listen in to the activity going on all around us, Nounou differentiates between the dolphins and whales and then works out how fast the whales are moving and in which direction. We are looking for large groups of whales including full grown males, these are the ones that will dive deep and swallow massive amounts of whatever is living down there – including quantities of giant squid.

The boat stops a considerable distance from some whales that are close to the ocean’s surface. Rick then lowers an inflatable kayak into the water and paddles over towards the animals, they see the kayak but the approach is quiet and non-threatening and the animal usually stays around, unbothered. When he is very close, if Rick feels that his presence is of no concern, he will get in the water, the animal might choose to swim away but often it simply continues to do whatever it was doing.

The footage from these trips is magical, we’ve seen a lot of whales but we’ve seen plenty of other interesting things too. At one point our producer John Ruthven was scared out of his skin when a large fin sticking out of the water looking remarkably like a large shark came very close to the kayak. On investigation this turned out to be the biggest Mola Mola (ocean sunfish) anybody had ever seen, these are deep sea creatures and comparatively rare. Rick and John got in the water and shot some fantastic footage of the strange animal as it swam around surveying them.

We’ve also discovered quite a lot of debris that has floated up from the depths, the remains of a whale’s dinner that has come to the surface, giving us a tantalising glimpse of what we might find when the Giant Cable is lowered down to 500 metres tonight.

6.7.11

The Guppster: More Modifications


After the first dip in the water we realised that a wooden cradle that could hold the Guppster out of the water would make life a lot easier than trying to get it in and out of the boat.

We also realised that we had made this beast far too strong, it was pulling the boat down when in the water. So we have clipped it's wings, making it lighter and less powerful. The latest test went really well, now all we have to do is sort out the camera electronics.

More pics of the Guppster and crew are on Ammonite Film's Facebook page

Guppster Gets A Tattoo



Luis Roque is an Azorean diver, boatman and an artist, he is working with Ammonite on our giant squid challenge and has given the Guppster a proper ocean-going tattoo.

2.7.11

The Guppster Gets Wet


The Guppster has been through several incarnations, this is MK5 going into the water for the first time we needed to know several things;

would it stay upright?

could it withstand the current?

is the winding mechanism on the boat strong enough to support it?


The only problem we encountered was with the last question, the winding mechanism needed another day in the workshop and the whole system has been modified.

Tomorrow we will try the test again...

Photos of our first week in the Azores have been published on our Facebook page if you want to see more

1.7.11

The Giant Cable Arrives ...

... and then what?

After several nail-biting days when the Giant Cable* appeared to be lost in transit, a lorry turned up and dumped it on our driveway.

The next problem was how to shift it somewhere useful, here's how we managed it.



*The Giant Cable is the lynchpin of our efforts to find the Giant Squid - without it we might as well go home.

29.6.11

Where Are We?



We are in the Atlantic Ocean, on a volcanic pinnacle rising 3000 metres out of the Atlantic Ridge.

Apparently we are a long away, but it doesn't feel so, it's the sort of place that feels very familiar. Here on Faial potatoes, bananas and pineapples thrive,blue hydrangeas bloom abundantly in hedgerows and every sort of weather is a daily occurrence. Strange - but in a good way

28.6.11

Ammonite's Night Shift


This was the scene at 4am last Friday morning at Heathrow airport.

We have now arrived in the Azores, the 500 metre cable that got lost has finally been delivered and we are in the process of adapting our boat, the Maikira.

News Flashes and photos are posted on our Facebook page.

24.6.11

This is the big one




Dual colour camera sees dolphins on a dark night, lit only by their bioluminescent wakes


Now we’re off to find a giant squid. We’ve been planning and building for almost a year, dreaming for a decade. Are we ready?

Gupster 5 has been designed on the basis of the shortcomings of the previous 4. The cameras have been evolving for years, and the new dual colour system has proved it’s worth in Belize and Mexico - to film things no one has ever filmed before. Now we want it to show us things no one has seen before.

The underwater housings have been depth tested, the deep sea cable communicates with the recording computers. Our boat, the Makaira is waiting in the harbour for us to start rigging the cable support system. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.

23.6.11

How Many Filmmakers Fit In A Cupboard?



Last week the Southampton Oceanographic Centre appeared to be trying to enter the record books for the amount of people it could squeeze into one of it's small research labs; apart from all the tanks and microscopes in the cupboard-sized space, there were three camera people and a producer plus Charlotte Marcinko (pictured above) and Martha Valiadi who are working on aspects of bioluminescence in plankton at the Oceanographic Centre.

Charlotte and Martha have been extremely patient and helpful over the last few months while we have been trying to set this shoot up. Cultivating the plankton (Pyrocystis fusiformis)is a skilled feat, these animals are difficult to cultivate in the quantities that we need for filming.

We got the light show and an important sequence in our story of how important bioluminescence is to a marine ecosystem.

We will now make a giant step to the next phase of filming as we head for the Azores in our grand quest to find and film a giant squid.

20.6.11

Ammonite - An Endless Tea Party?


James Wright is a budding cameraman(he's the one holding all the mugs in the photo); he offered his services to Ammonite for a few weeks in order to get some relevant work experience before setting off on an awfully big adventure. Before he leaves us at the end of this week, we thought we'd find out what he thinks are the worst things about working at Ammonite.

1 Making endless teas and coffees everyone wants something different.
2 Soldering after a few hours you’ll have a headache and hand cramp.
3 The walk to the post office
4 The commute in to Ammonite from Bath it can sometimes take an hour and a half.
5 Being on the outskirts of the action knowing you are involved but wishing you could be more so.

'Despite all of the above, I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve been asked to do in the last 3 weeks and I wish the crew every bit of luck in the Azores.'

(Good luck to you too James, happy travels - ed.)

12.6.11

Why Are We So Interested In Bioluminescence?

When Martin Dohrn first observed Bioluminescence he knew that he wanted to record and explore this amazing natural phenomenon. Thus began the story of Ammonite's incredible Starlight Cameras.

Early results were impressive but commissioners were far more interested in capturing the night life of land animals - until last year Ammonite's low-light camera stayed in the dry.

Last year National Geographic Channel laid down the challenge for us to find the Giant Squid, it was the opportunity we have been waiting for and we leapt at it.

To date, most of the deep sea exploration has been made using trawlers dragging nets or using noisy ROV's these haven't really yielded great results.

We knew that Ammonite's cameras could be the secret weapon in this search for the animal that has eluded all other expeditions. There have been so many difficulties; we have had to work out how to overcome the logistical problems of getting our camera deep enough into the ocean, how to keep it steady in the water and we needed to understand where and how to look for the giant squid. We have had enormous help from many scientists who have already spent their working lifetime trying to enrich our knowledge of life in the ocean, one of these scientific giants is Edie Widder, her TED talk is a great introduction to the wonders of bioluminescence and gives some idea of what we are trying to build on:

1.6.11

The Giant Cable




The cable we took to Mexico last month was a baby compared to the one going to the Azores, this super-hi-tech beast weighs more than a pair of beefy men.

In order for this monster to travel safely Florian Bailhache made a special box on a pallet. The Giant Cable started it's journey to the Azores today where we will be lowering it into the deep ocean to help us look for the Giant Squid

31.5.11

Lynch For Lunch


We have nearly finished another two films in our 'Nightstalkers' series.

John Lynch has arrived to record the narration, he whizzed in from London in time for lunch at Ammonite HQ - he is the one wearing a hat. Sitting next to John is Charlie who is spending the week doing work experience with us and Nisha who has joined us as an intern as part of her MA at Imperial College London.

That chap in the white t-shirt is Will, one of our digital maestros. The man behind Will (the one with eyebrows impressive enough to compete with John's) is Robbie, our editor on the bioluminescent film

24.5.11

From Oceans to Droplets


The crew arrived back from Mexico, exhausted and thrilled by the sight of dolphin pods 'lit up like fireworks as they surfed through the bioluminescent ocean'.

We are now preparing to go to the other extreme, the mighty Sinclair Stammers is in our workshop putting together a combination of macro kit and the ammonite red/blue camera system to see if we can work out an effective way to film bioluminescent dinoflagellates in a south coast university next month.

11.5.11

Is No News Good News?

Our Mexican shoot was a difficult one to get off, lots of last-minute engineering and wrestling with cables. Packing took a whole week went on until four hours before setting off to the airport.

There will always be issues with US customs, in Detroit the crew had several hours interrogation resulting in missing the onward connection. Just to make sure we weren't hiding Bin Laden (or his body) the big cable was all pulled out and the cable ties cut so an untidy mass greeted the crew in Mexico, on top of the delayed flight we had to take a day to test the cable and make sure nothing had been damaged.

The crew are now happy settled in Cap'n Ron's boat, filming in the Sea of Cortez. Now they're afloat we have no communications available so we'll have to wait until the crew return before we can post any more about this one.

We have heard that the visibility hasn't been great, reports of dolphins swimming through the luminescent water sound amazing. There should be Humboldt Squid and Lantern Fish which we are hoping we can film using the new equipment.

2.5.11

Meet The Guppster



This is the mechanism that we are using in the ocean to carry our cameras as steadily as possible while we try and film underwater at depth. Many prototypes have been made and tested. You might remember this post when John Ruthven made a model from a children's construction kit. Since then there has been a half-sized aluminium version which we tested in Belize and now we have our full size steel Guppycam or 'The Guppster' as it has become affectionately known.

The Guppster will be tried out in Mexico over the next few days where we hope to find some Lantern fish and then we hope any final modifications will be made to enable it to be used in the Atlantic over the summer.

28.4.11

Weight Loss



A single piece of baggage, airline weight restriction = 30kg.

A specially commissioned cable full of fibre optics has just arrived.

On it's wooden spool it weighs 38kg.

John has been trying to lose some weight.

23.4.11

Caught Catnapping


The man who wins this weeks prize for Most-All-Round-Brilliant-Person currently working at Ammonite is Howard Bourne who discovered this snoozing puma yesterday afternoon while trying out one of his latest camera-on-a-dolly combinations

15.4.11

The Dome Has Landed


Excuse us swerving away from Costa Rica so suddenly but we are very excited about the latest arrival in our workshop.


This is a device that will help us find bioluminescent marine animals. It doesn't look very dom-ey but the dome at the end of this glass housing is so highly polished it has become vitually invisible. This item has been specially made for us and will contain a camera and withstand being put deep down into the ocean.

11.4.11

More Pumas

Great news from the field in Costa Rica - the cable is now working really well and among the fantastic material that we are getting from our night cameras is more from the puma. We'll try to get more stills to show you soon.

31.3.11

Traps and Remotes


Luckily, we have a plethora of cameras at our disposal, so while the repair work is being done on the cable dolly we are busy with trap cameras and remote-controlled cameras as well as using the starlight and thermal cameras in a more conventional way.

The trap cameras have given us some great results, and we've seen a huge variety of animals,agoutis are particularly star-struck and spend a lot of time in front of the cameras but the puma pictured here likes to strut her stuff in front of the lens too.

27.3.11

Everything Was Going So Well ...




... then disaster struck.

After two nights of everything working smoothly, night cameras gliding above the forest on the cables, maybe we relaxed a little.

At 4am this morning the night crew came back to base needing help to rescue the starlight camera, the electronics had ceased working and the whole camera/dolly caboodle were stuck in a tree at the far end of the cable. We had to get to it and turn it off before dawn or the intensifiers would be damaged.

The turning off was achieved but untangling the mess of wires and machinery was a whole other business involving 6 hours. The pieces have been brought back for fixing and a post-mortem.

25.3.11

Drying Out


Temperatures are climbing, the forest is drying out and the leaves are falling from the trees giving us a clear view down to the forest floor. Finally we have got the camera operating on the cable dolly

Here is Jim Campbell-Spickler, a rope and climbing specialist from California, checking our cables before the launch.

Howard Finds Fans


Our electronics problems have been partially due to overheating. Today, the amazing Howard Bourne* cannibalised some redundant computers that he found in the Santa Rosa National Park Offices (they really didn't need them any more did they? - ed) and re-installing the ex-computer fans in the camera casing.


*Howard is powered by pineapple, he ate his way through 10 while solving the fan problem

22.3.11

Good News And Bad News



The good news is that Justine Evans has arrived* she has been out setting camera traps with the jaguar researcher Luis Fonseca Lopez who is working in the National Park.

The less good news is that we are encountering a lot of problems. Initially it was mainly mechanical problems with the remote-controlled cameras that we were working to overcome, but then catastrophe struck; you may remember that two crews came out in January and February to stretch a pair of cables high over the forest canopy so we could send dollies along them. It is very windy in the park and we had not accounted for the amount of loosening that would happening. Two days ago one of our cables collapsed and then the other one followed suit. We have spent the last two days pulling the cables back up and reinforcing our systems.

Despite the fact that filming has been hindered we have still got some very exciting footage of pumas and some extremely charming shots of tapirs.

We're hoping to send the overhead cameras out for a proper run tonight - cross your fingers for us please!


*camera woman par excellence.

20.3.11

Happy Birthday Santa Rosa


This is Ammonite's 6th project in the Santa Rosa National Park of Costa Rica. Our first visit here was in 1994.

Today Santa Rosa celebrates 40 years of existence, the park was established on the same date as a battle fought in 1856 - an epic battle that lasted all of fifteen minutes when troops of filibusters sent by William Walker, were surprised and repelled by the strength and bravery of the Tico troops. The historic value of this battle led directly to the establishment of Santa Rosa as a protected area.

Today's celebrations included two bands, lots of schoolchildren, dancing, speeches, some great music and a historical re-enactment of the famous battle.


* William Walker had at this point set himself up as President of Nicaragua, conducted fraudulent elections and launched Americanization programs which involved making every one speak English and reinstating slavery. Follow this link for more on this charming man

18.3.11

The Glamour Never Stops


As usual the Ammonite crew is located in sumptuous accommodation;

Our luxury kitchen benefits from flow-thru air conditioning and a resident teasmaid - this one even has an en suite bathroom


All rooms are multi-functional, here is a combined sleep/work space - this lucky occupant has a free room mate included in his special deal*


* snoring room mates an optional extra, please ask the sales team for availability


Laundry facilities provided in every room

17.3.11

Setting Up Home In The Tree House



Earlier in the year a crew were in Costa Rica rigging up cables over the forest canopy. At one end of the cables we have built a sort of tree house, an operations centre where we will control the remote cameras that will zip along these cables.

Crews will be working shifts in this tree house which will be full of monitors, computers - and our specially made detection devices. Before they start we have to kit it out with a worktop and chairs so they can make themselves comfy for the duration.

This is harder than one might imagine, furniture is quite expensive in Costa Rica, there are no secondhand stores near us and what furniture is available is not ideally suited to being hauled up through a gap in the floor.

We are going to make what we need ourselves, the photo shows Nick loading his atv with timber ready to assemble his workstation in situ.

13.3.11

Packed For Costa Rica


We've lost count of how many cases are going this time ... a lot.

The crew set off for Costa Rica in a few hours - will we see jaguars?

Fire Fighting At Ammonite

Three Ways Fire Prevention Services came to teach us how to be fire wardens, the extinguisher training was tackled with gusto:



Will - he's fighting the Dark Forces



Tom - getting in a lather




Laura - business-like as usual

6.3.11

Ostracod Spotting


We are in Belize filming bioluminescent marine creatures. The bit of Belize where we are doing this is an hour’s bumpy ride on a boat from Dangriga to South Water Caye, an island which measures about the size of a cruise ship. The lodge where we are staying and working is also a marine biology study centre. Professor Jim Morin is working with us and has set up a laboratory there so we can film the work that he is doing with bioluminescent animals.

One especially astonishing creature that he is studying is a bioluminescent Ostracod, an animal the size of a sesame seed which has the capacity to set itself ablaze in blue light in order to attract a girlfriend.

Every night after a full moon an extraordinary spectacle takes place; one night Jim took us to the marine mating grounds where we waited in the boat until sunset, then we slipped into the water and waited for the light show.

The beautiful prelude to ostracod action is the dance of the female marine worms who rise to the water’s surface spraying out their eggs in a mass of green light attracting hundreds of males who rush over to fertilise them, the water fizzes with action, it's like watching hundreds of tiny catherine wheels going off all over the water.

Ten minutes after the worms have got going, the ostracods start swimming upwards, slowly at first, we just see the odd line of vertical lights coming up among the corals and seaweeds, moving gently in the current. Each male ostracod gives off four dots to signal their presence to any females who might be around, then the lights become more and more until the water is pulsating with wavy lines of vertical blue dots all moving upwards.

Just when the water seems already full of light, the horizontal swimmers start, their trails of blue light spots fan out laterally, soon the ocean becomes an intense trippy matrix, it's mesmerising. Finally the lights fade away and we come up out of the water to make our way home, the night sky is indigo and massed with stars, we sit quietly in the boat on the way home because we can’t quite believe what we saw.

If you click on the Facebook button on the right you'll find an album of photos from Belize.

23.2.11

Emergency Supplies

I think there's a law that says 'if something can go wrong it will' - some crucial bits of metal got left behind in the packing room and are now heading with a personal courier to deliver them as fast as possible. The route to the island off Belize is long and once the two main plane journeys are completed there is a long bus ride and then a boat journey, it's a two-dayer.

Once there, there is no internet and very little electricity - paradise for those on holiday but when trying to arrange delivery of spare parts it gets problematic.



The good news is that this place is perfect for our filming, while waiting for the parts to arrive the crew have been filming in the ocean at night and our cameras and the sea life are behaving perfectly.

We are working in Belize with a scientist (more about him later) and the next phase of filming will involve a bit of work in a laboratory.

No more news from here for about a week, but hopefully there will soon be some pictures to show you.

15.2.11

Testing, Testing Squidcam

The Amazing Bioluminescence Film has been in pre-production for months. First we had to try and anticipate conditions that might occur at sea, then we constructed scaled-down models of the kit that we intended to make. The last phase is trying the models out in our testing tanks where we recreated an ocean in miniature.

One of the creatures that we are hoping to encounter on this odyssey is a giant squid and we have worked out a system for lowering a camera into the ocean from the deck of a boat. The camera will be connected to a computer back on deck and this gives us more problems to overcome along with issues of drag, turbulance and the possibility that the squid might appear but not exactly in the right spot.

Here is John Ruthven demonstrating a prototype model made of parts supplied by his children


video

The sound on this is not very clear so here’s a rough transcript:

John: We’ve got this attached to a computer - and once it’s attached to a computer, the bit that’s turning can’t be let in and out because it goes round and round and would turn the whole computer and it’s assembly would be going round and round as well.

So given that we can’t do that, we’ll have to put some slack on deck and carefully play it out.

And the thought is, that as we can see the image, say there was a squid here, that was slightly too high we could pull it up so we could see the squid (device spins) - hopefully it won’t rotate like that either, the fins should stabilise it.

What you can get in the water is jogging like that so we’ve got to stop that too.

The other issues is that most sea captains are not terribly happy when they’ve got 500 metres of cable dangling off the back of their ships and they’re near rocks and they need to manouvre

9.2.11

The Amazing Bioluminescence Film Begins


The Ammonite Testing Team has just returned from making the first mini-test-shoot for a brand new project and Ammonite’s 8th version of the starlight camera is producing some very extraordinary images.

Vieques, a small Island off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean has the perfect place - a lagoon that is so packed with tiny bioluminescent creatures that just touching the water makes it flash brightly. For fish trying to keep a low profile, it’s a nightmare - but it's magical for humans. The light is too dim for normal cameras, but Ammonite’s latest starlight camera can capture the spectacle in colour.

This unique place is surely one of the 7 wonders of the Earth - but not for much longer unless the Puerto Ricans tackle light pollution and excessive human traffic

7.2.11

Good News From The Camera Boy


Hey Guys!

2 cables are up and the tower is built like a brick shithouse - I can't make it wobble any more (which is good!). Caught an ocelot on trapcam last night, about 50 metres from dormitories :-) I've attached a pic of cables as requested


Cheers,
Howard

4.2.11

Notes From Our Very Own Superhero

For the last week a crack team has been working away in a very bitey-insect-infested part of Costa Rica to finish building the filming tower and rigging the dolly-sliding cables across the forest. The project has been fraught with problems, as you may already know from previous posts, the first attempt did not go well.

We have been getting regular progress reports about this latest activity from our Superhero-in-Chief Max Mackay:


01/02/2011
To: Ammonite HQ
Subject: Re: Costa Rica Tower

Hi Everyone,

Re cables. We have to take them up to full tension over the tower now. Failure to do that will mean finding those problems during filming time. Also the noise would be disruptive to the critters and that was really the point of getting out here to do it early. On the good side we saw deer and peccary today.

So the pressure is on and it's big damn hero time for us all tomorrow. Basically if we have a great day we get to strut around in tight fitting costumes with our underwear outside our trousers. If we don't,......., well, with that incentive we just can't fail.

Buenos noches.
Max



02/02/2011
To: Ammonite HQ
Subject: Re: Costa Rica Tower


Hi Everyone,

The wobble factor of the tower is down from a massive sway scaring everone who goes on it to a significant small wobble but I have high hopes that it will improve still further with tomorrows bracing.

So there you go. Not so much leaping tall buildings in a single bound as stepping over small obstacles in a dainty yet manly fashion.

Kind regards
Duncan (Max) McKay


03/02/2011
To: Ammonite HQ
Subject: Re: Costa Rica Tower

Greetings once again from the land of many stars. The story of the day goes like this :-

Tower wobble stopped. Stop.

First 9mm cable secured over valley and on tower. Stop.

Second cable anticipated installed tomorrow. Stop.

Much dancing in underwear. Must stop.

Yours very sincerely
Duncan (Max) McKay



04/02/2011
To: Ammonite HQ
Subject: Lines and lines and lines

Dear all,

Having a positively spiffing time. Weather here top notch and the insects are delectably bitey.

Both lines are in, tensioned up and high as we can go. The tower is complete and not moving. Woohoo!

Cable 1 run sucks as it sits on trees over the entire bottom end but cable 2 is a real winner, sailing clear over the canopy.

We will be clearing out local branches tomorrow as best we can in advance of the dolly.

Hero pants firmly ensconced.

Sweet dreams
Duncan (Max) McKay

30.1.11

Cables Vs Trees


We knew this wasn’t going to be easy - so we shouldn’t be surprised that our first attempt at getting the cables across the forest wasn’t entirely successful. The problem is simple; cables, string and forests don’t mix. But then if it was easy, everyone would be doing it (or so we keep telling ourselves).

After two weeks of struggling we had to leave the cabling unfinished because we had booked another trip to go and test some new cameras in the bioluminescent waters of the Caribbean (more about that project to come). A second crew is on it's way to Costa Rica to pick up where we left off, strengthening the cable platform and finish threading the cables - and then the forest can return to normal before the filming starts in March.

25.1.11

Cascavel


Costa Rica is well known for having a rich variety of venomous snakes. Among the most famous / infamous is the rattle-less rattlesnake, the cascavel

Apparently common in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, this much feared snake is hardly ever actually seen. To find a beautiful specimen next to the cable platform we are building was a pleasant surprise - er - but a bit of a worry for the night watchman.

Using a couple of long sticks, we gently tried to persuade the snake to move on. The snake was calm and at first reluctant to move. Eventually we escorted it 50 metres down the hill, during which time, it didn’t strike once.

The next morning, the night watchman told us that as soon as we had gone, the snake simply returned to where we had first found it. Interesting

20.1.11

Meet Kathy Lee


This is Kathy Lee: photo by Fernando Campos


20 years ago I made my first film in Santa Rosa, Costa Rica, it was about Coatis but while making this film with Joel Seanz of the University of Heredia, I also met some dedicated scientists studying the resident monkey population - the Monkey People. At that time they were Linda Fedigan, Katie Mackinnon and Lisa Rose. The Monkey People told me about their study of various groups of white-faced capuchins in Santa Rosa and described fascinating stories of the forest.

To help describe the different monkeys, they give them all names - one little female, born in 1989 was called Kathy Lee


Six years later I returned to make my second film here
, Lisa Rose was still there, trudging the forest trails and that's when I was introduced to Kathy Lee, just entering adulthood she was notable for her maleness and would often go squirrel-hunting with the boys. Her first attempts at sex play would result in her mounting a (confused) male.

Another two years went by and I was back to make my third film, this one about monkeys*, I was helped immeasurably by the Monkey People; Lisa Rose, Kathy Jack and Barbara Welker.

I was happy to see that Kathy Lee was now a mother.

Last week, I was back in Santa Rosa, the Monkey People have changed again, this time Claire Sheller and Mackenzie Bergstrom took me to meet the monkeys.

Guess who was the first monkey that I saw? Yup! it was Kathy Lee, now the alpha female and having a massive argument with the only mature male of the group, Cayenne.

Mackenzie had been the one watching the monkeys and had noticed that Cayenne had been having a bad day for a monkey: Firstly, at dawn, he failed to notice a puma under the sleeping tree. The puma followed the monkeys as they set off to forage.

If you're a male white-faced capuchin, your job is to look out for predators and warn the group. Cayenne failed badly. Perhaps that’s why Kathy Lee was so upset with him. He also later stole a grasshopper from her by biting her hand, and now Kathy Lee was really mad, gathering the whole group to threaten and shout at Cayenne. Not a proud moment in his career as an alpha male, but for me it was really nice to see Kathy Lee, now a grandmother - still feisty after all these years.

I suspect Cayenne’s tenure as alpha male is nearly over.

Martin Dohrn
*3 monkeys(BBC Natural World / Discovery)

16.1.11

Ticks and Vampires

Ticks. Yuck. Among the most unpleasant of all the bloodsuckers - they make mosquitos look like angels.

We are being plastered in ticks as we stumble through thick viney forest looking for the thin yellow lines left by the crossbow arrows. Eventually these lines will all be joined and we’ll be able to start the long process of pulling the big cable across the valley. If the ticks don’t suck all our blood before we can finish the job.

The presence of so many ticks isn’t as bad as it seems. It means there are plenty of animals around - which means that there will be predators such as the dry forest cats; jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis - one of the crew even saw a puma yesterday.

On the other hand, the vampire bats are missing. In a place where a year ago we filmed vampires sneaking up on deer with the thermal camera, now there are none. An evening’s wait revealed no more than a mouse and two rabbits (which of course in their own way are just as interesting.)

11.1.11

How To Fling Something Far: Plan B



The Crossbow Method:
The crew have arrived and discovered most things ready to go. There is a slight problem in that the trees are still leafy. We expected the dry season to be well under way by now but we are hoping that by the time we start filming the leaves will have detached themselves to give the camera a clear view through the trees to the ground below ... if we can get the cable up...

Some time was spent on catapult-making but that idea didn't really work out.

Luckily, We also took some crossbows with us to Costa Rica, one of the crew had the idea that we could shoot thinnish line across the trees and use that to draw a heavier cable through - this method is showing promise.

7.1.11

Night of the Hunt showing in USA

If you haven't already caught it, Night of the Hunt is showing on the National Geographic Channel in the US at the moment - next airing on Sunday.

How To Fling Something Far: Plan A


We have been racking our brains on the subject of how to get a very long cable across the top of the forest.

Plan A involves putting a camera boy attached to one end of the cable in the flinging bit of a big catapult

2.1.11

Bracing Ourselves

Ammonite has been busy preparing for the next trip to Costa Rica where among other things we are hoping to film jaguars. We have discussed many cunning plans for this project, jaguars are notoriously good at hiding. One of our schemes is to thread an immensely long cable through the forest and hoist it up above the canopy between two points so that various bits of kit can be set up to glide above the trees (a sort of death-slide for cameras), giving us a monkey’s eye view of the action taking place on the forest floor.

How will we achieve this very difficult task?

We're not quite sure yet - but we have sketched out some ideas that we will be telling you about, meanwhile if you have any brainwaves please let us know.