FH: Who are you and what do you do?
DK: My name is Dustin Kukuk and I'm a director of photography currently living in Los Angeles, CA. I specialize in motion-control timelapse cinematography & I'm fascinated by the blending of time, motion, light, and space. What excites me the most is finding unique & powerful ways to capture views of the world that we are unable to see with our own eyes. I've spent the last 10 years pushing the boundaries of what's possible with timelapse for a mixture of commercials, feature films, and natural history documentaries across the planet.
FH: Are there any particular influences or artists that have inspired you?
DK: I tend to draw inspiration from many different aspects of life, art, & the natural world on a regular basis. Some specific influences that have had a major impact on me are the experimental nonverbal films "Koyaanisqatsi" by Godfrey Reggio, "Baraka" & "Samsara" both by Ron Fricke & Mark Magidson. These films & filmmakers are major pioneers in the timelapse world of visual storytelling from a God's eye view. These works really electrified my creativity while in college pursuing my degree in photography. Being blown away by what they were capturing using modified film cameras, I then started seeking out more inspiration from newer projects shot digitally like the legendary BBC Planet Earth series.
FH: Do you have any recent projects we should check out?
DK: 2020 has been a really strange year to say the least & a few major projects I worked on for many, many months didn't end up getting released this year as I had originally hoped for.
One of my favorite recent projects that did make it out before the pandemic hit is a timelapse heavy piece I collaborated on called "World Way: The City of LAX" which was produced for the LA County tourism board & Los Angeles International Airport featuring extremely rare access to many different areas throughout the entire LAX complex including tarmacs, runways, cargo loading areas, etc.
Another newer documentary film I'm incredibly proud to have worked on is "CUBA" filmed exclusively for IMAX and produced by BBC Earth & Giant Screen Films. I spent almost a month traveling all across the country filming motion-control timelapse sequences in 8K & 12K resolutions.
One last project that's still unreleased, but very near & dear to my heart is called "Awaken", it's an experimental feature-length film shot over the course of 5 years in 30 different countries around the world. I was a crucial part of the main timelapse unit that helped develop & utilize many new custom-built motion-control systems including a telescoping timelapse crane & an autonomous robot somewhat similar to the Mars rover designed for long-distance tracking timelapse shots.
FH: What's in your go-to kit?
DK: Although it varies from job to job, my current go-to kit always consists of my trusty Sigma 14mm f1.8 ART lens & usually either a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom or 24-70mm mid-range zoom that can be used for many different types of shots on the fly. Sony's a7RIV and a7SIII for their stunning sensor technology and low light capability for astrophotography, & more recently also the Fujifilm GFX100 & Phase One IQ4 systems to capture some medium-format 12K & 16K resolution timelapse sequences. My full set of Formatt Hitech Firecrest NDs & circular polarizer + filter holders for different lenses. I also always try to carry a few intervalometers for each of the cameras I'll be using, even though some have them built in these days. Sensor swabs for dust spots, lens blower & tissue wipes, lens warmer to keep the front element from fogging over during the night, and tons of extra batteries & media cards to keep multiple shots rolling as needed. Also, various pieces of Kessler Crane motion-control gear depending on the job, but my workhorse is the Second Shooter TLS combo.
FH: How do you use filters and how do they help you tell your story?
DK: Filters help me tell my story by giving me creative freedom to use long exposures as needed for a variety of different shots. A few examples are timelapsing a crowd of people during the middle of a bright day with a 10 stop ND producing ghosted trails behind them as they walk during a 2 or 3 second long exposure, or turning chaotic fast-moving water into a more smooth and dreamy looking scene with ND + polarization for combatting reflections. Having more control over the look of the elements like water or clouds with long exposures allows me to obscure the movement in a surreal and interesting way while showing extensive periods of time passing by.
FH: How has your choice of equipment changed over time?
DK: In the beginning, I was more inclined to stick with one ecosystem so all of my cameras, lenses, & accessories would be totally uniform, but over the years it became less about that and more about the adaptability to multiple systems so that different types of gear could be used together if needed. Now I am more into mixing and matching lenses & cameras based on what is going to get me the results needed for a specific look, feeling, etc. Being able to utilize the most cutting-edge sensor tech with lenses that were designed before I was born is really exciting and fun to experiment with. Sometimes the camera brand you need to use for a job doesn't always make the lens you might need for a specific shot, so finding ways to adapt different lenses to get the shot you need is really paramount. Becoming brand-agnostic has allowed me to explore more creative solutions for a variety of challenging shot ideas.
FH: Why do you choose Formatt Hitech filters?
DK: After consulting with many fellow cinematographers and photographers throughout the industry & doing my own personal testing, I found that the Formatt Hitech Firecrest NDs have the most purely neutral look with no color cast or fringing, no image quality loss, & no loss of sharpness. These filters easily checked all the boxes needed for my work and they have now become an integral piece of my kit that I never leave home without.
FH: What projects are you working on now and what is your dream project?
DK: Currently working on a new social/environmental documentary with directors Taylor Rees & Renan Ozturk titled "Sal Y Cielo" (Salt and Sky). Based in the Atacama Desert of Chile and Argentina, it examines how lithium mining is now jeopardizing the way of life for the indigenous people of that region.
I'm also currently shooting a wide range of material for a secret long-term NDA project that will be featuring some new revolutionary technologies across the board creating a larger-than-life immersive experience like no other that's set to be finished in 2022 or 2023. Can't say much more on this for now.
A dream project for me would consist of working with NASA or Elon Musk & SpaceX to create something next level for out in the cosmos. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of nights under the stars looking up and capturing it all from here on Earth, but having the opportunity to collaborate on something for outer space would be all-time epic and definitely a dream come true for me!
FH: Where can people see more of your work or follow you online?
DK: My website is http://dustinkukuk.com and it showcases many different timelapse projects I've worked on over the years, a gallery of some of my photography, as well as my contact information.
You can also follow me via my social media accounts for some more insight into my work and behind the scenes shots from various projects.