‘Soul of Storm’ was shot by a storm chaser on Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K and Pocket Cinema Camera 4K cameras, with a full post process completed with DaVinci Resolve Studio.

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‘Soul of Storm’ is a short nature documentary that captures intense meteorological phenomena, including typhoons and severe convective weather such as thunderstorms, from the singular perspective of a storm chaser. The film has achieved recognition, winning the Best Short Documentary award at the Roma Short Film Festival and selected in many other film festivals.

The director and producer of the film is Dike Su, both a storm chaser and a graduate student at Communication University of China. He is a well known content creator on Bilibili, one of China’s main video sharing and streaming platforms. His Bilibili channel ‘Fengyujiang-SDK’, dedicated to sharing weather knowledge and insights into his storm chasing adventures, has earned a substantial following of more than 300,000 subscribers and 30 million views.

A Passion for Storms

Severe convective weather phenomena have captivated Su since childhood. His passion has led him to explore the myths surrounding them. When he entered Communication University of China in 2019, he took the opportunity to pursue photography and cinematography.

To follow the intricacies of weather patterns and capture firsthand video footage and data, Su and his partners set out to track down every typhoon landing on China, which would involve covering vast distances and navigating through the eye of a storm multiple times. They do the filming and collect the data on the ground, at times augmenting the information gathered by meteorological authorities. The data can serve as a valuable reference for subsequent scientific research and help investigate the causes of a typhoon.

In 2018, he began making plans to produce a documentary film showcasing rarely seen storms. “I chose the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K for this project for its compact, portable design and image quality. Because it doesn’t require too many accessories, its a good choice for handheld shooting,” he said.

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In 2022, Su added the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K to his kit. “Although it was a new camera, the familiar operating system it shares with my Pocket Cinema Camera 4K allowed me to adapt quickly and make the most of its capabilities,” he said.

The Right Camera with the Right Codec

Regarding his choice of the URSA Mini Pro 12K for this project, he remarked that while resolution wasn’t his primary concern, he aimed to capture rare weather phenomena at the highest possible quality, especially those that might not occur again in his own lifetime.

“For those unfamiliar with the URSA Mini Pro 12K, it might sound like a storage intensive monster. However, the Blackmagic RAW codec is efficient and visually lossless, with various options, resulting in footage that needs even less space than the 4K footage I recorded with other codecs. This allowed me to shoot in 12K 8:1 without concern,” Su said. “For regular scenes, I would opt for 8K 8:1 or 12:1.

“I’m pleased to have captured the most impressive shots in 12K. Although the resolution of my display is just 4K, who knows what larger resolution TVs or monitors will be available to viewers and content creators in the future? Furthermore, 12K is not only for display but also holds more valuable information for meteorological scientists.”

Expecting the Unexpected

Looking back on the shoots during the four years of production, Su talked about the challenges and special moments that defined the project’s journey.

“We had to be highly manoeuvrable due to the unexpected movement of storms. We often needed to adjust our routes and race against time, meaning there were a lot of unplanned turns at intersections. It would have been challenging to coordinate a crew across many cars,” he said. Therefore, at most, they always kept a small crew of three people in one car, with Su occasionally taking on the roles of both driver and cinematographer.

The project was filled with unexpected events. “We had to be on standby for any rare natural phenomena, like a shifting cloud, a sudden gust of wind or hail. When these occurrences caught us off guard, we needed to grab our cameras and start shooting immediately,” said Su. “The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and URSA Mini Pro 12K’s extremely fast startups saved us from waiting extra minutes for the cameras to perform the usual self checks and load up.”

Absolute Beginners

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Among the crew members, only Su had prior experience with professional digital film cameras. Because the other members were specialists in meteorological data analysis and route planning, the need for an easy to use camera was crucial.

“We frequently encountered something that had to be captured while I was driving when pulling over wasn’t an option. I would ask one of them to take the shot and say, ‘See, there’s a power switch. Turn it on and use the touch screen. Tap the number 3200 and change it to 400. Twist the ring on the lens until the brightness of the image is correct’,” he said.

“Having worked together for three years, these partners can now operate the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and set it up on a tripod. Many of the remarkable shots in ‘Soul of Storm’ were actually captured by someone with no previous knowledge of cinematography. In short, it’s a camera that everyone can use.”

Creating the Look

‘Soul of Storm’ was entirely produced in DaVinci Resolve Studio, including editing, colour grading and audio mixing, with ACES colour management. Su commented, “Whether using the ACES or DaVinci Wide Gamut workflow in DaVinci Resolve, the result is future proofed. Content created in these expansive colour spaces can adapt to displays with larger colour gamuts while retaining the widest dynamic range and preserving fine detail.”

All footage was shot in Blackmagic RAW. In DaVinci Resolve Studio, each shot underwent colour balancing, and specific adjustments were applied to achieve the desired stylised looks. “When refining the image aesthetics, I aimed for vibrant saturation to emulate the on ground experience with emotional impact. However, it was crucial not to over process and to maintain a natural appearance. We used the Contrast Pop from Resolve FX frequently to heighten contrast and bring back details in the sky,” he said.

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Storm Finish

Many sounds in the documentary were recorded with the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K’s built-in microphones. Su created HDR and Dolby Atmos versions using DaVinci Resolve Studio, which can be seen on his Bilibili channel. He noted that ‘Stories of Typhoons’, one of the most popular series on the channel that shows the evolution of each typhoon from the perspective of satellites, was also produced completely in 4K and Dolby Vision using DaVinci Resolve Studio.

“Over the years of storm chasing, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has travelled with me across China, braving the eye of typhoons, enduring hail stones as large as eggs, experiencing strong winds and heavy rain. It has successfully completed every task I assigned to it and captured every heart stirring moment,” said Su.

Su is now working on another documentary, ‘Stories of Storm Chasers’, which he hopes will become Chinese storm chasers’ own ‘Tornado Alley’. “I have also been using the ATEM Mini Pro switcher when live streaming on Bilibili, another tool I trust,” said Su. “It’s great to see Blackmagic Design announce new products and make progress every year. This is the shared spirit among storm chasers, ‘Never Stop Chasing’, be it embracing new techniques or venturing into creative content.”