The concept of Ride the Sky came with the idea of shooting astro time-lapse photography with the camera pointed directly at the North Star and pivoting with the stars around it. This effect would theoretically cause the stars to stay in the same place and the earth to rotate instead.
I already had a Emotimo TB3 motion control time-lapse head so I figured out a way to mount my DSLR to the head pointing straight up so the pan feature would cause a pivot or roll motion instead of a pan. Then the whole camera rig points directly at Polaris and pivots counter-clockwise a little less than 90 degrees in about 4.5 hours. After trying it out for the first time I was surprised at how well it worked and how loose you can be with the calculations, I felt that a little bit of variation in the speed of the rotation and warpage of the lens added a sense of a human interaction to robotic motion.
In addition to the Emotimo head, I also used Dynamic Perception’s Stage Zero motion control slider on many of the shots. This adds another element of disorientation as the camera is not only pivoting with the stars, it’s also moving along a 6 or 12 foot slider in various directions.
The setup for the opening time-lapse sequence of the film was especially complex as I had 2 different controllers doing different things for the same shot. Dynamic Perception’s MX2 was in charge of moving the camera forward on the 12 foot slider and Emotimo’s TB3 ramped up a roll motion about a third of the way into the shot. The controllers were communicating via a split camera signal cable. This was the last shot I got for the film and definitely the most challenging.
The entire project was shot on location on Mount Laguna, about an hour east of San Diego. I fell in love with the location after camping there and felt extremely inspired each time I went. Then I found the tree. A dead, burnt tree perched above a spectacular view of the Anza-Borrego desert. And right above the view, perfectly positioned is Polaris, allowing me to get my North Star pivot shots with the tree nicely centered in the composition. The tree was in the middle of a section of the forest that had burned in a forest fire. So it was surrounded by all sorts of burnt trees, shrub and ash allowing for a very other worldly type look.
This location also inspired the mood of the project including the concept for the narrative element of the film. I wanted to illustrate some of my own experiences camping by myself and wondering off into the Universe by simply looking up. The most mind blowing spectacles I’ve seen have been in the night’s sky.
A good friend and filmmaker Chris Patterson jumped on board and provided an epic setup in the forest including some 240fps camera work and a 15 foot high “goal post” setup where we mounted the TB3 upside down and used the same pivot mount with Chris’s Sony FS700.
And with the otherworldly direction the film was going in, It was only right that talented composer Derrek Domino apply his cerebral, psychedelic and emotional touch to it. Derrek has worked on a couple soundtracks for previous projects, fantastic composer to collaborate with.
Ride the Sky took 9 different camping trips up to the mountain and over 4 months to complete. For me it really is the definition of a passion project, paid for out of pocket and with absolute creative freedom. I look forward to applying a budget to something like this in the future and really seeing what we can do with the art of time-lapse photography.