Recording War Elephants

Faced with rugged terrain and extreme climate when filming a National Geographic documentary in Mozambique, sound engineer David Ruddick brought a Sound Devices' 552 production mixer along for the ride.
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Republic of Mozambique (April 27, 2012)—Faced with rugged terrain and extreme climate when filming a National Geographic documentary in Mozambique, sound engineer David Ruddick brought a Sound Devices' 552 production mixer along for the ride.

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In order to record audio for War Elephants, which aired this month, Ruddick joined Dr. Joyce Poole, an elephant behavior expert, and her brother Bob Poole, a wildlife cameraman for National Geographic, to help re-establish safe tourism in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park now that the country's civil war has ended and ivory poaching has been recently abated. For the documentary, Bob Poole rebuilt a Land Rover and made an "elephant-proof roll cage" to help prove he and his sister's theory—that the elephants could learn that not all humans in vehicles visiting the park are bad.

"The film presented many obstacles for recording great dialog," says Ridduck, who rode in a vehicle following the Land Rover. "When we were filming elephants, we had to position the sound vehicle in just the right place to have good wireless range and be out of the shot, and leaving an escape route for the vehicle just in case we met a rogue elephant who wanted to smash the sound vehicle. I had a lot going on, but having the 552 riding shotgun next to me made mixing and recording second nature. The 552 is built like a tank, sounds great and is always reliable in demanding situations, it didn't miss a take."

Another challenge Ruddick faced was Mozambique's extreme temperatures and terrain. "This was one of those jobs where sound equipment took a beating," adds Ruddick. "We drove over 1500 kilometers on incredibly bumpy 4X4 roads, as well as driving down elephant paths, so anything that was not well made—including cars—fell apart. Temperatures were hot and dust was always a problem. The one piece of gear I could always count on was the 552. It never flinched."

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