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Adventure Filmmaking: Climber-Artist Renan Ozturk (Part I)

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It used to be, if you wanted to see the most extreme places on Earth, you'd have to wait for folks like Jacques Cousteau to head out with film crews, big cameras, reels of tape, and limited power. Then they'd hit the editing room and emerge, months later, with a final product. Then, you'd have to wait for it to air on TV. Those days, like the Calypso, are a thing of the past.

Now, with compact hi-def cameras, powerful laptops, satellite modems, and alternative power sources, expeditions of any size can cut together films from the field, in near real time. This flexibility hinges on access to affordable, professional editing software, such as Apple's new Final Cut Studio, an upgrade to the preferred Final Cut Pro that's just $1,000. This fall we joined the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Everest team, led by mountaineers Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker, send in daily video dispatches on a climb of the world's tallest mountain. The remotest corners of the planet are opening up for the rest of us to see, sans down jacket.

We decided to survey our own National Geographic explorers to see how they are using improved technology to bring the world their stories like never before. First up, a climber-artist Renan Ozturk. At just 29, this North Face athlete-artist has made his unique films that combine video with illustrations from the Czech Republic's sandstone towers, the Himalaya's Tapovan Base Camp (14,000 feet), and Borneo's Mount Kinabalu (13,000 feet), as well as Argentine Patagonia and Yosemite National Park. Here, he tells us how he does it.—Mary Anne Potts

National Geographic ADVENTURE: How have you seen video editing and publishing change over the last few years? How has your expedition video equipment changed?

Renan Ozturk: Technology has changed the game completely. With solar and satellite modems, you can literally publish your story as it is happening. You can share the adventure in real time without the months of post production filtering the story. For me, as an artist, instead of bringing my art supplies and a canvas, I have a whole new quiver of electronics including a laptop, solar panels, and satellite modem. It's kinda a junk show but its really worth it when you look at how many people you can share a rare and remote experience with.

Do you edit video while you are in the field?

Yeah, I think editing on the fly and in the field is a really unique way to work as a filmmaker. In a remote Himalaya base camp with no electricity and limited sun for solar power, it forces an on-the-spot creativity that, for me, is really similar to painting a large canvas. You are always racing to edit your piece with the battery you have left. Its really powerful to produce a finished product the same day the action happens while it is fresh in your mind, working directly with your talent and feeling fully inspired by being in the elements. Not in some bleak office space.

Do you post video online from the field?

Yeah, it can be pretty epic. I do the compression in the field and send it with a satellite modem. The files can be kind of large. It is unreal to create an Internet connection in a remote location that is almost as fast as a DSL connection back home.

What video editing software do you use? Why do you use it?

I use the Final Cut Studio editing software. With limited battery power, I can edit the footage professionally, add art animation, and do the compression all in an integrated set of programs.

What challenges does your environment present to the filmmaking process? 

Altitude can crash your hard drives. Big storms can crush your hopes of running your solar set-up. Snow and rain added to cameras and computers can mean scary loss potential.
Satellite modem issues. If base camp is not in "line of sight" of the satellite, you have to hike to get your signal.

Once, for or example, on Meru's Shark's Fin, we had cameras constantly going down in a big Himalayan snowstorm. We had to use some of the fuel from our stove to de-ice the electronics. Also, on the editing front, in order to get some of dispatches finished with limited battery we had to cover a small tent completely in sleeping bags to create a "dark room" environment so I could turn the laptop screen almost fully down and save some juice.

Photograph courtesy of Renan Ozturk

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