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Sand Blasted!

posted: 05/15/12
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Justin Maguire has also filmed penguins, hippos and foxes.
Courtesy Justin Maguire

Justin Maguire drove the entire length of the Namib Desert's Skeleton Coast, some 250 miles, and walked 12 miles a day, often in sand-pelting 50-mph winds, carrying about 77 pounds of camera equipment to film Survival of the Sand Creatures.

"The terrain was very intense," Maguire, a filmmaker for eight years, says.

Brutal may be a more accurate term to describe his five months of filming in the Namib Desert just off the coast of Namibia, a place with possibly the highest wind speeds in Africa.

"Our equipment was totally sand blasted," Maguire says. "We had to be covered totally because the blasting sand was so painful. I have never experienced anything like that anywhere."

Maguire recalls his camera engineer saying, about two-thirds of the way through filming, that they'd collected enough sand to build a small Zen garden.

Because vehicles were restricted along much of the desert, they needed to walk to get good shots of the dunes and the animals that live around them. They often had to make four journeys back and forth to their vehicle to get different equipment for various shots.

"It was quite a challenge to work in those conditions," Maguire notes. "Changing film and lenses, the simplest of tasks, was not easy."

As it turns out, the sand and wind weren't the only challenges Maguire faced. Finding animals in this remote locale proved to be just as difficult. In fact, several creatures never made it into the program at all.

Scorpions were too elusive, only appearing at night and eluding ultraviolet cameras. The filmmakers ran out of time before capturing the dune nests of lappet-faced vultures. And while the show's producer was desperate to film a mimic spider, Maguire and crew never saw one during their travels. Finally, an attempt to film desert crocs at the Angolan border resulted in a run-in with Angolan police and no croc footage.

But Maguire was able to film the animals they did find in some amazing ways. He found that the thermal camera was perfect for filming the foot-shifting Namaqua chameleon, and infrared was the only way to capture the nighttime wanderings of the sightless Grant's golden mole.

"Under normal lighting you could see the difference in behavior," Maguire says of the reclusive mole. "People shy away from black-and-white infrared images, but we had happier animals and better images."

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