The Extreme Filmmaking Behind "Chasing Ice"

The crew risked their lives traversing the frozen reaches of the planet to capture melting icebergs in real time.

Walking barefoot through a frozen sea and repelling down an ice cliff to snap a picture—just another day at the office. Those are but two examples of the lengths that the team behind the documentary film Chasing Ice went to in order to record Earth’s disappearing ice formations. “There are probably five or six different incidents where we could have died,” says director Jeff Orlowski.

Orlowski offered Fast Company a glimpse at how the breathtaking images in the film were captured. His team, led by National Geographic photographer and founder of the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) James Balog, positioned time-lapse cameras throughout the frozen reaches of the planet, sometimes leaving the devices unattended for years. The resulting images condense seasons into seconds and capture the largest iceberg crumbling ever captured on film.

After suffering multiple camera malfunctions, the crew teamed with National Geographic and redesigned the entire time-lapse system, including a custom computer and intuitive light sensors.

“These landscapes are so huge and they’re changing in ways that are unparalleled in human history,” says Orlowski. “It hits you in the heart when you see these giant landscapes that are changing and they probably will never come back, certainly not in our lifetimes.”

[Images: James Balog/Chasing Ice]

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