How One Strange Rock Made Our World A Bit More Otherworldly

“Strange” is a hard adjective to earn in 2018.

Whatever the content, the safe bet is that audiences have seen stranger. This poses a special challenge for nature documentaries, whose charter has often been illuminating the world in new, exciting ways. Via the magic of telephoto lenses, viewers have vicariously ridden fiber optic cables into ant colonies. They've bobbed on surfboards in shark-infested waters. They've bounced from leaf to leaf, tracking dew down to the rainforest floor. No matter the biome, the species, the awe-inspiring meteorological experience, people have been there, done that.

So as producers approached what would eventually become One Strange Rock, the 10-part NatGeo series that begins tonight, they struggled to find a fresh vehicle for their vision—especially Jane Root, founder of TV-documentary studio Nutopia. Following her success with Planet Earth, Root had been mulling a project that would encompass natural history and Earth science, while taking the viewer to the most extreme locations on the planet. Director Darren Aronofsky was on board, but something was missing. What the project needed was a narrative element that would get audiences to see the raw materials in a new light.

Then one morning, Root got a call from Vanessa Berlowitz, whom she had worked with on Planet Earth. “The only people who can understand the true uniqueness of Earth in this way are astronauts," Berlowitz told her. "You have to go outside the Earth in order to understand. Astronauts.”

It was the oft-referenced, but rarely experienced, lightbulb moment. After getting off the phone, Root and her Nutopia team immediately rushed into Aronofsky’s office with the eureka: “Astronauts!”

Aronofsky, along with his fellow producer and longtime colleague Ari Handel, fell in love with the idea. The documentary would render Earth as an object of study, but it would do so from a perspective of authentic human experience. What resulted was a combination of scientific and emotional insight, with the 10-part series centering on the stories of astronauts like Chris Hadfield. After all, who better to testify to the planet's grandeur than someone who saw it from the International Space Station?

“You’re working and living in a laboratory,” Hadfield says. “But you pull yourself down into the cupola window, and the feeling inside me is the same as when I would go into Notre-Dame or St. Paul’s or the Sistine Chapel or something … Now, suddenly, you are in this great, vaulting, magnificent, beautiful place, and you feel a sense of awe and honor and a combination of significance and insignificance.”

Hadfield—whose rendition of “Space Oddity” aboard the ISS was “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created,” according to David Bowie himself)—opens the series with a harrowing story of how he once had to release oxygen from his suit while on a space walk after being blinded by his own tears.

The incident sparks a discussion of Earth’s own air supply—how it works, where it comes from—taking us from the toxic springs of Dallol, Ethiopia to the flying river of the Amazon as we learn how the world breathes, with commentary from Hadfield and Will Smith.

“Even if you were in space for eight days or 600 days," Aronofsky says, "this thing happens to them—an across-the-board similar and almost spiritual awakening where, suddenly, they can look back at the planet as a single home or a single spaceship where all the systems are interconnected. How all of those different systems work together to create the possibility for life to exist is something that's very moving.”

This mindset is exemplified by American astronaut Peggy Whitson, who logged an incredible NASA record of 665 days in space. According to episode director Alice Jones, who worked with Whitson before and after she returned from her most recent trip, the astronaut’s time in orbit imbued her with a new sense of belonging:

“I managed to speak to her before she went," Jones says. "I said, ‘As an astronaut who's left the planet, who has this strong bond to Iowa, what is home to you?’ And she said, ‘I'm always that farm girl from Iowa, but having left the planet, my idea of home has expanded. So now when I think of home, I think of the planet. And when I come home from space, it doesn't matter where I land on Earth; I'm home.’"

Aronofsky and Nutopia worked to find a visual style that could distill an astronaut’s conception of Earth. What followed was a dance between distance and intimacy, with wide shots of the planet from space vis-à-vis microscopic cyanobacteria covered in snail mucus (more on that later). Such superlatives of scale required Aronofsky and Root to create a set of rules for how to use imagery, so that the 10 episodes would be aesthetically coherent, despite the breadth of their subject matter.

“You'll see a lot of drone shots and aerial shots and actually full frame camera shots where the camera's spinning or turning, and this is something that you see a lot of in Darren's films anyway,” says executive producer Arif Nurmohamed. “He's always loved the spiral, and we had a really strong justification for that particular visual. For astronauts, there is no up or down. What they see is something that's constantly turning beneath them, and we wanted to reflect that.”

The need for a versatile cinematic language that could cover everything from bacteria to volcanoes also translated to a lot of legwork. One Strange Rock’s crews traveled more than 900,000 miles over the course of production, with nearly 140 shoots across the globe—often in remote locations like La Rinconada, Peru, a hazardous mining community set at an elevation of 16,732 feet.

These visual demands also required significant creativity from the series’ photographers, as when they were trying to capture the tiny oxygen bubbles produced by green algae. “To actually film the bubbles being produced—that, as far as I know, had never been done before, and one of the challenges was that the bubbles were just so small that they didn't hold their shape for long enough or big enough for us to see, even with the very best cameras,” Nurmohamed says. The algae was on a rock; Tim Shepherd, a camera operator who specializes in macro photography, thought to let snails crawl over the rock, which coated them with a layer of mucus. When the rock went back into the water, that covering of slime kept the bubbles intact just long enough to be captured.

How it plays on TV—at least with a larger audience—remains to be seen. But to hear it from the astronauts, the show is already a massive success. Astronaut Nicole Stott, for one, can’t wait. “It’s stunning," says Nicole Stott, who served two stints on the ISS before retiring in 2015. "Even watching it on a computer screen, you get immersed in it in a way that just isn’t normal for TV."

In other words, it's strange.

More WIRED Culture

More From this publisher : HERE ; This post was curated using : TrendingTraffic

  • SyndLab 2.0 Booster Page 1 Rankings For BOTH Video and Niche Sites Made EASY With Automatic Syndication!
  • P1 Profits + SyndLab 25k - qt Page 1 Rankings For BOTH Video and Niche Sites Made EASY With Automatic Syndication!
  • Best Quality PLR 2017 Blowout Best Quality PLR 2017 Blowout - 65 high quality exclusive Private Label Rights products worth $77 each, in one year-end blowout package.
  • Converzly We know that EVERY BUSINESS needs a website… so yes this is a page builder, but it’s far superior than any other out there.. What if you could fill out a form or a questionnaire about you,, your business, your customers and the type of result you wanted.