“The beauty in the apocalypse” – Christiaan Welzel films Chernobyl with the Canon C300

Guest post by Lori Burwash, Writer at Dissolve:

Shooting in a nuclear fallout zone presented unique and dangerous challenges for filmmaker Christiaan Welzel.

Christiaan and his wife, Kseniya, travelled to Chernobyl in April 2013, after deciding they wanted to focus their travels on the unexplored and unattainable. As every day spent in the Exclusion Zone increased the health risks, they stayed only two days.

On the first day, when they simply scouted the grounds, Christiaan and Kseniya didn’t have any trouble. However, when they returned the next day with their equipment, “everything changed,” says Christiaan. They were redirected to a military checkpoint, where they underwent heavy questioning by armed guards and had to do some serious negotiating to gain access.

Once through the gates, the pressure was on. They had to shoot quickly but carefully. They couldn’t cause dust to rise and had to avoid the irradiated water that was everywhere, dripping from the ceilings and lying in puddles: “Overall, it’s not an ideal environment for the technical side of video production,” says Christiaan.

On-the-spot rigging of equipment was a constant challenge. Their knees, hands, and equipment couldn’t touch any surfaces. Gear had to be carefully placed on garbage bags, which could be used only once per shot. That’s a lot of garbage bags. They kept their backpacks on them at all times.

“No shoot has ever left my feet and back so sore,” remembers Christiaan. “Basically, it was two full days without breaks, sitting, or resting — and the constant fear of radiation.”

Shoot specs
Christiaan shot primarily with the Canon C300 in 1080P at 50 mbps set at 180-degree shutter for a more cinematic look. Though natural lighting was poor in most buildings, he tried to keep the ISO lower than 8000 to avoid unwanted noise. F&V Z96 LED lights were used to fill areas. (Reflectors and diffusers were used otherwise.) Because he had to shoot fast and remain nimble, he shot in Canon C-Log with the intent of salvaging some highlights and shadow information.

Christiaan did the initial edit in Adobe Premiere, using 3-Way Color Corrector to balance the whites and black, grading in Colorista then polishing with FilmConvert. Sound design was a combination of actual water dripping and other environmental sounds caught on mic. For extra depth, ambient drone SFX were added as an underbed.

George Georgeadis of Dissolve was the editor of Beautiful Ghost. In creating it, he wanted to convey Christiaan and Kseniya’s discovery of, in Christiaan’s words, “the beauty in the apocalypse”. So he started by showing the grim details of this environment – abandoned, wet, and threatening to fall apart. He then bridged that intro into a lighter, inspiring conclusion. He layered on sound effects to enhance that transition and used portions of his interview with Christiaan and Kseniya to tell their story.

“Their own discovery of the beauty in that apocalypse became the perfect way to lead the viewer through the journey from the dark introduction to the positive ending,” he says.

Read more about the shoot on Dissolve’s blog. Christiaan’s clips can also licensed from Dissolve.

Gear list:
Canon C300 EF (with 3 batteries and 6 32 GB CF cards and matte box)
Canon 5D III
iPhone 5 (mounted on Steadicam Smoothee)
Canon 24-70 f/4 IS
Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
7″ SmallHD AC7
Sennheiser MKE 600
Rode VideoMic Pro
Polarizer filter
ND filters
Kessler Stealth slider (with parallax)
Kessler Pocket Jib Traveler
Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod
Sirui Carbon Fibre Monopod
Z96 LED lights
Collapsable reflector
Plenty of garbage bags

About Dissolve:
Dissolve provides high-quality stock footage for today’s visual storytellers. Video editors, filmmakers, web designers and content creators use Dissolve’s stock video clips in advertising, corporate videos, editorial and documentary settings, interactive web sites, video games, and mobile applications. To find out more, visit dissolve.com.

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