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Süntelbuchen (Dwarf Beeches)

SHOT BYMike Coenen

DIRECTORMike Coenen

CATEGORYExperimental

DESCRIPTION

The film shows the beauty of the last Dwarf Beeches.

‘Süntel-Buche’ is the german name for ‘Dwarf Beech’. It’s a kind of European Beech, indigenous to the Süntel massif in Germany, but almost extinct now. Because the trees refuse to grow straight, their wood has no industrial or economic value and so huge forests of them were cleared about 200 years ago. Only about 100 (current estimate, if I remember correctly) genetically pure trees survived the purge until today. All of them are now at the end of their lifespan and start dying.

Inspired by the music of Brian Tyler (“Partition”, thanks again for letting me use the music), I started ‘Süntelbuchen’ as my first time lapse project and thought “how hard can it be?”.
Well, it took five years (2010-2015). First of all I needed cloudless skies or the light patches would flicker, then I needed totally calm air or the leaves and twigs would jitter annoyingly. I also needed to learn how fast and in which direction to move the camera and where the sun moves and when (e.g. if you move the camera faster than the patches of light the effect is gone). Of course I also needed days when there were no people around that could end up in the frame – which wasn’t easy because people tend to go outside when it’s calm and cloudless.
All in all I only got about three or four days of perfect conditions each year because the location is quite exposed and always windy. So I had to be well prepared to make the most of the limited time but despite all preparation I still messed up a lot. This was a more difficult process than I expected. The setup time for an improvised time lapse crane can easily exceed two hours and carting 100kg of equipment (counterweights!) through the forest isn’t fun either. I have missed my share of sunrises or sunsets because I wasn’t quick enough to set up or move the gear and subsequently program the camera movement. Here is some Behind The Scenes material: https://youtu.be/JPhRmd0y7Fo

Unfortunately they started felling many trees, leaving gaping holes in the crowns, and built houses nearby that cast shadows. Almost all of the live action shots are test shots that I wasn’t able to redo properly because the prominently featured trees were simply gone or no longer lit interestingly. Fortunately the material I had cut well and came out quite watchable. Now, just imagine square kilometers of these trees. That must have been really impressive…

Some technical info for gearheads:
I shot entirely with a Canon 5D Mark II – before Magic Lantern Raw was available. All motion control equipment, cranes, dollies and sliders were Kessler gear. During daylight I used ND filters to keep exposure times at about 20 seconds (at ISO 100-400) in order to have motion blur make moving leaves look less aggressive. I took a picture every 25 to 40 seconds. Each shot in the film equals between 1.5 and 3 hours of real time. F-stops for the time lapse shots were between f/11 and f/32, whereas live action was shot wide open. I always shot in aperture priority and during sunrise or sunset I removed/added ND filters and/or changed the ISO manually in the gaps between the camera taking photos. Except for a primary color correction the shots are untreated. No VFX were used, not even deflickering. The swirly bokeh is from a Zeiss Biotar 75mm @ f/1.5.

About the name:
I know it’s actually written ‘Süntel-Buche’ and not ‘Süntelbuche’. But I found the latter to be much more visually pleasing in the context of the film and deliberately took some artistic license.

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