Ikuo Nakamura

Ikuo Nakamura specializes in 3D moving images. He was born in Japan but now lives in New York City. (Ikuo Nakamura/Twitter)

An award-winning Japanese filmmaker says he's the first artist to shoot the aurora borealis in three dimensions.

Ikuo Nakamura did it in the Northwest Territories.

"It's coming out from the screen," he says. "You feel like you can touch it."

A blog post from the artist describes the process of capturing the images despite freezing temperatures.

"It was really challenging when I had to work over a frozen lake under -30 C," Nakamura writes.

"I made a lot of mistakes especially during the first week. There were unexpected malfunctions due to cold temperatures (including malfunctions of my motor skills and brain). There were numerous trials and errors. 

"Frostbite was a serious danger," he writes. "I was not supposed to touch anything with my bare hands as everything including cameras and tripods were all frozen."

Nakamura says he was drawn to shooting aurora borealis in 3D because it's the largest light show on earth.

'Frostbite was a serious danger': Film captures northern light...

Picture this... in 3D. Full story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/3d-northern-lights-captured-by-japanese-filmmaker-1.3065894

Posted by CBC North on Friday, May 8, 2015

'I believed it was possible'

Nakamura says the cold wasn't the only challenge to capturing the aurora in 3D. He says large objects like the moon tend to appear flat to human eyes and he sought a way to counteract this optic illusion.

Whereas human eyes are about eight centimetres apart, Nakamura expanded the distance between his cameras to between five and ten kilometres. 

"Everybody including my wife said it was impossible: Don't do that," he says. "But I believed it was possible."

Nakamura used stars as reference points to blend the two videos together.

The result is a stereoscopic film which is viewed with 3D glasses. 

The 10-minute film has already been shown in Germany and New York and Nakamura has plans to screen it in Japan.

Film to be screened in Yellowknife

Film poster

Nakamura's film has already been screened at international art film festivals in Oberhausen Germany and New York. (Ikuo Nakamura / hololab.com)

NWT Tourism will be screening the film in Yellowknife this weekend, at the Chamber of Commerce's annual Spring Trade Show. The Northwest Territories' government helped pay for some of Nakamura's travel. 

Nakamura first approached the territory's tourism department in 2013 with stills and an explanation of the concept. 

About a third of the territory's tourist dollars come from people visiting to see the aurora. The department says that segment is growing. 

The department has ordered 3D glasses that feature the NWT tourism logo.