When Passion Passport videographer Zach Fackrell spotted this drone video shot over Antarctica, he was intrigued. We decided to catch up with the man who shot the stunning footage to see what inspired him to try it, what it was like to visit the frozen continent, and what he hopes to accomplish with the video. Kalle Ljung is a director of creative technology at Ottoboni, a digital communications agency in Sweden. He is 38 years old.
What inspired you to make this video?
My dad is out solo sailing around the world for 3-4 years. He left Sweden in May 2014, at 73 years old, to finally live out his big dream. My first idea was that during our short sailing together we’d try to document his experiences and film the challenges that we encountered on our trip to Antarctica. But as a crew of three men we were not able to devote enough time to the shooting that was needed. So along the way, I changed direction and focused more on the environment as we sailed in.
Sailing to Antarctica sounds intense. How did you prepare for the trip?
Most of the preparation was about getting the right equipment – survival suit, the right clothes, and of course equipment for film and photography. My dad was already off so it was not so much preparation on the boat, other than bringing spare parts with me. For me the challenge was to catch as many flying hours on my drone as possible, but I bought it only two months before departure and in November and December there are not many hours of daylight in Sweden.
Once you started, how did it go?
We didn’t really know what we could expect sailing from Cape Horn to the Antarctic, so we were a little nervous. Drake Passage is after all one of the most mythical areas when it comes to sailing. The crossing went without problems even though we could have wished for a little more wind – during one day, Drake Passage was completely blank around us.
Although I like sailing I become seasick quite easily. This meant that the first two days were tough right before you got used to it, especially on the way home in the strong wind, the work on the boat gets a little harder when you do not feel great.
After five days of sailing we finally saw land. It was a fantastic feeling when we saw the first large iceberg. During the trip home from Antarctica there was more wind, between 20-28ms (38-55 knots) and waves up to 5 meters. The wind directions were perfect for us.
What was it like once you arrived?
My image of Antarctica has changed a lot. I did not understand that it was so large and the mountain was as high as it is, the barrenness and aloneness. Now that I have a personal connection to Antarctica, I feel it’s even more obvious that we need to preserve this unique continent.
I hope the film makes an impression on the viewers and Antarctica will be made visible so everyone understands that it exists in reality, even if it is very far away for many of us. It is a unique place on Earth that slowly will disappear and melt down due to global warming.
Drones are becoming a popular way to explore remote areas. Do you think they’ll have a big impact?
When I came down to Antarctica, I quickly realized that a drone is perfect for capturing overview images. Using a drone means that with a limited budget you can capture high-quality footage suitable for TV broadcasts. It is also advantageous when it comes to the environment, because it eliminates the pollution caused by helicopters.
One can make use of drone technology for monitoring and research, bases can send up drones to monitor ice conditions, it allows for simpler counting of animals such as penguins, etc. With new technology comes a responsibility, it is important to examine how it can affect the environment and the animals, as well as to have a plan if a drone crashes so you can find it so it does not affect the environment.
Were there any challenges to using the drone in that environment?
I was worried about the accuracy of GPS but it was no problem, we were so far from the pole and I did not notice any difference than when I fly it back home in Sweden.
However, I did almost lose the drone during one flight. I wanted to make a nice shot where the drone was a few meters behind and above the boat when we would cross an area with plenty of growlers, suddenly the drone did not run towards me but went every other direction. Although I rotated the drone and tried to fly reverse against me, it didn’t work. We had to turn the boat around and hunt the drone, luckily it kept its position and I could take it down to the boat.
It was kind of bad weather that day with wind and some snow in the air. I don’t know if it was that or if it was a problem with the compass. In these areas the compass can show faults of 15-20 degrees. I was worried that something had happened with the drone, but after recharging the battery and a restart it flew as normal.
How many hours of filming did you have to edit?
Approximately 250 minutes.
What was the highlight of the trip?
Leaving Cape Horn behind, that in itself is fantastic to have sailed around, over several days sailing across a mythical crossing to a continent that is so far away from civilization, a continent which is still very unspoiled and the animals do not bother to be afraid of humans. A constant peacefulness of and magnificent beauty along with the knowledge that one is extradited to yourself makes the whole experience.
Which was the hardest part?
Obviously you have to be talented and experienced to fly drones when conditions are extreme, it does not make it easier that you must take off and land on a boat in motion. But the hardest thing I have to say, was the color correction in the editing process, the environment with all the white snow and white ice in contrast to the dark water was a big challenge.
What do you think about the impact your video has had?
I could not dream that the film would have such an impact, I understood that I captured amazing pictures of a landscape that very few have seen in the real world but was honestly surprised that I managed to convey a lot of emotion that we experienced down there.
I hope that the film continues to be spread and more people are becoming aware of the Antarctic and its unique environment and wildlife, unless we do something about our climate behavior, Antarctica will look very different relatively soon.
For more of Ljung’s work, follow him on Vimeo, Instagram, and Twitter.