MacGillivray Freeman Films

It’s early in Mariposa Grove, in California’s Yosemite National Park. Fog rolls in through the still air and mingles with the morning sun, enveloping a campsite surrounded by 30-foot-wide sequoia trees in a surreal atmosphere. Here, actors playing U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir discuss the need to protect the United States’ wilderness.

It was during their time together that the two men conceived the notion of the U.S. National Parks system. The camping trip portrayed in this scene ultimately led to the stunning array of parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other protected lands that we enjoy today. This critical part of MacGillivray Freeman Films’ film America Wild: National Parks Adventure: Presented by Expedia and Subaru, is brought to you by filmmaking magic.

The MacGillivray Freeman Films crew captured an incredible climbing sequence in Utah’s Arches National Park. See how they did it.

But, producer Shaun MacGillivray noted, that magic wouldn’t be possible without the majesty and mystery Yosemite provides.

These are the steps the MacGillivray Freeman Films crew took to bring such an iconic scene to life:

National Parks Adventure
MacGillivray Freeman Films

The actors who play U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir in the upcoming film America Wild: National Parks Adventure are veteran re-enactors, bringing the characters to back to life on a regular basis.

1. Work with amazing talent.

The scene in Mariposa Grove captures the one of the most important camping trips in U.S. conservation history. During the course of his presidency, Roosevelt signed five such parks into existence, including Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Yosemite National Park in California.

To bring this history to life, MacGillivray Freeman Films turned to actors Joe Wiegand and Lee Stetson. Wiegand is known for his traveling one-man show, in which he portrays President Roosevelt, while Stetson played Muir in the acclaimed series about the U.S. National Parks created by documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns. Both actors are able to stay in character almost full-time, and they embody the roles, right down to Muir’s Scottish accent.

“This is what they do, and they have it down,” MacGillivray said. “On top of that, Muir was known for this iconic beard. Well, we didn’t have to do anything special for Lee Stetson’s beard to make it look like Muir’s. That’s his real beard.”

2. To film it, go big.

When you want to capture towering sequoias — the world’s largest trees — and the scale Yosemite’s natural beauty on film, you want to use the largest format possible.

“IMAX film is still the highest resolution,” MacGillivray noted. “When you want to give viewers the sense that they’re in the scene, there’s no better option. When you want to get that huge, wide-angle view of just how big these trees are, this is how you shoot. We are always looking for the best quality.”

MacGillivray Freeman Films U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir recognized the beauty of the U.S. great outdoors. Like them, the MacGillivray Freeman Films crew was very careful not to disturb the environment when they filmed in Yosemite National Park.

3. Respect the wild.

Muir and Roosevelt had tremendous respect for the wilderness around them. So do the filmmakers creating America Wild: National Parks Adventure.

That means working with a lean film crew and less Hollywood-style equipment. Instead of using big lighting rigs to illuminate scenes, the crew worked with natural light. A fog machine helped add an ambiance of mystery, but the weather provided plenty of fog and mystery on its own.

Out of respect for nature, the film crew also had to create a campfire scene without using actual flames. Luckily, some creative art directors offered a solution.

“You’re not allowed to have any open flames, so we used some special lights that look like a campfire,” MacGillivray explained. “If you’re up close, you can see that it’s just lights — but if you’re far enough away, it looks very real.”

That’s how filmmaking magic helps to preserve the majesty of nature. See the magic for yourself: America Wild: National Parks Adventure will be in theaters around the world in 2016.

See pictures, videos and more from behind the scenes of America Wild: National Parks Adventure.