A Hollywood success story gives back to its hometown

Hamilton-based tech firm PV Labs used its Pictorvision Eclipse, an Oscar-winning aerial camera system, to shoot footage for the Dundas EcoPark campaign.

Oscar-winning technology used in the making of Hamilton environmental doc

Overhead views of the Niagara Escarpment appear in a new documentary for the Dundas EcoPark campaign. The Pictorvision Eclipse, a made-in-Hamilton aerial filming technology, was used in the making of the video. (YouTube)

The new Superman movie and a YouTube video showcasing the Hamilton area's natural beauty have at least two things in common.

Both were released in the past month and both boast soaring, panoramic aerial photography filmed using sophisticated Oscar -winning, made-in-Hamilton technology.

Hamilton-based PV Labs put its Pictorvision Eclipse — an Oscar-winning aerial camera system that allows filmmakers to capture more dramatic and intricate fly-over shots — at the service of a Hamilton environmental group  trying to raise funds to create a 2,000 hectare natural sanctuary stretching from Dundas to Burlington, from Lake Ontario to the Niagara Escarpment.
PV Labs CEO Mark Chamberlain works in his office at McMaster Innovation Park in June 2012. On his desk is the technical Oscar his company won for developing the Pictorvision Eclipse. (Jessica Young/CBC)

It donated the footage documenting the city's forests, waterfalls and rivers from above to the Dundas EcoPark campaign, thanks to a connection between  PV Labs and the group.

Much of the area is already protected, but the team is raising money through the Hamilton Conservation Foundation to buy and ultimately return the adjoining private lands to a more natural state.

Mark Chamberlain, a Hamilton-based investor and CEO of PV Labs, said he wanted to use the Eclipse to properly showcase the land the EcoPark group is trying to protect.

"From the air, you get a sense of the beauty and the enormity of it," said Chamberlain, who is involved in the campaign. "It really speaks to the richness of the entire area we were trying to protect."

Introduced in the summer of 2008, the Eclipsed has earned PV Labs and its parent company Pictorvision a technical Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The gadget has been used in the making of big-budget Hollywood films such as The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man III.

"It's a Canadian invention that's being utilized for some high-profile stuff," said Chamberlain. "But it's also nice to use it for work here in Hamilton."

Creating a contiguous EcoPark, he said, will improve the health of Hamiltonians and also attract nature-lovers to live in the area.

"It touches everything about who we are as a city in terms of creating a place where we can live, breathe, work and play."

'Came in handy'

Brian Baetz, a McMaster engineering professor who has lived in Dundas for 25 years, spearheaded the documentary. He said PV Labs' contributions "came in very handy" in the video's production.

The overhead shots, he said, were filmed in October 2011. A PV Labs technician flew along in a helicopter that had been fitted with the Eclipse and shot the desired terrain.

"When you get up and you the land it in its entirety and how it's connected, it's stunning," Baetz said of the footage.

He enlisted two McMaster graduate students, Glen Provost and Wade Genders, to collect interviews and on-the-ground footage and environmental advocate Julia Kollek to narrate.

With the material they gathered, the team produced several versions of the video, culminating in the 43-minute documentary that was unveiled in May. Shorter edits were released in the past couple of weeks.

Baetz said he hopes the film will be shown to school groups and community organizations to help raise awareness about the EcoPark project.

Enticing prospective donors is also a big motivating factor. The EcoPark team, Baetz said, is looking to raise $5 million for land acquisition. So far, they've raised about 40 per cent of their goal.

"We're looking for small-cheque and large-cheque investors for what will be a really significant legacy program for the city of Hamilton."