Earl Richmond and his film crew on location at the Alisal River Course. More often Richmond's jobs are in far away places, or under the ocean.
Earl Richmond with his daughter McKensey "on tour" in Verdi, Nevada with the World of Oceans educational project. Richmond's World of Oceans film reaches around 10,000 youngsters each year in schools around California and Nevada.
From left, Earl, McKensey, Kay and Stephen at home in the Valley where they have lived since 1986.
Focus On Nature
by Shirley Dettmann
Richmond's World of Oceans film reveals marine mammals in their environment and scientific research into their life patterns. Richmond estimates he reaches about 10,000 youngsters each year, closing each visit with a question-and-answer session. He began this project about 12 years ago. The Children's Creative Project schedules his school appearances in Santa Barbara county.
Based in Solvang, Richmond Productions, Inc. takes on a variety of assignments: from oil companies to environmentalists, working worldwide or in his own backyard. "We specialize in creating scientifically based educational programs and documentaries, programs that encourage a respect for life, learning and future generations." he explains.
Richmond is currently filming the remarkable new winery that Richard and Thekla Sanford are building, as it harmoniously rises amid a stand of old Monterey cypress. Constructed with handmade adobe bricks, flagstone from Lompoc, and recycled beams from an old warehouse, the new winery honors both nature and tradition in its design and setting. Richmond's time-lapse on site camera observes and records the structure as it seems to grow from the earth.
More often Richmond is in diver's gear to film the mammals that make the oceans their home&emdash;sea lions, seals, dolphins, manatees and whales. His whole family frequently joins him for these adventures.
Kay, his wife, is a diving partner; and their daughter McKensey, 5, has been in a wet suit since she was 3. Stephen, 11 months, is a newcomer to the scene which sometimes is in a far-away place. Last March they set up their tent camp in the coastal desert of Mexico to film gray whales during their calving season at San Ignacio Lagoon.
Since 1994, Richmond has been part of a research team that studies the blue whale from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico to the Santa Barbara Channel.
This summer scientists had exceptional luck in discovering the blue whale's eating & diving patterns with a National Geographic Television "Crittercam." Richmond talks about his amazing "four successes in one day" in getting a suction-cup device to stick on a blue whale's back as the 80 to 90-foot giants plunged to the depths off San Miguel Island for the krill on which they feed. "There is nothing else like rushing up to an animal that is five times larger than the inflatable boat you are in to suction a camera onto its back," he says.
Richmond explains that timing is everything. "The whale's head clears the surface with a loud blast, as it exhales at over 100 mph from its blowholes. The boat rushes forward from behind the enormous tail, the camera is quickly suctioned onto the back just behind the blowholes, moments before the whale makes its final dive." When the timing isn't split-second perfect, the "Crittercam" does not attach and they have to try again another day. But when it does work, and the "Crittercam" is firmly attached, they film the blue whale's journey with an amazing view shot from the "Crittercam" on the whale's back. Incredibly, the camera capture sound too. "A hydrophone records the audio, the whale's vocalization and the sounds in the sea around it," says Richmond.
The US Navy has even called upon Richmond's expertise&emdash;for a project in Japan that had a strong environmental aspect. He spent some three years filming with sophisticated cameras, documenting the high-level pollution generated and illegally handled by an industrial incinerator located adjacent to a joint US/Japan naval base. The health of the personnel there was at risk, but the local government was reluctant to act against influential owners.
With helicopters and classified night-vision equipment at his disposal, Richmond gathered enough evidence to help the US Navy win a court decision that eventually closed down the incinerators.
Richmond's current project is an educational film under production for Venoco, Inc. The film's purpose is to educate employees about the laws protecting marine mammals, and to also show ways they might interact with ocean mammals as they work along the coast and offshore.
Richmond finds particular pleasure in his work with Jean-Michel Cousteau on marine conservation and education projects, since it was the films of his father, the famed naturalist Jacques Cousteau, which inspired Richmond at an early age to explore the oceans. As a Boy Scout, Richmond made his first dive wearing a hardhat off Catalina Island, some 30 years ago.
At Humboldt State University Richmond earned a bachelors degree in Oceanography. It was while working on a research vessel in the Arctic that he developed a love for documenting nature and wildlife. Learning photography on his own, he created a portfolio of outdoor images, which sold at galleries and art shows.
Encouragement came from Ansel Adams, another "self-taught" photographer, who saw a natural artistry in Richmond's work. The young Oceanographer decided to expand his knowledge by enrolling at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara where he received a degree in 1986. At Brooks he uncovered a love of filmmaking that came to dominate his taste for still life photography.
It was in Santa Barbara that he again met up with Kay, who was working as Director of Therapeutic Recreation at the Rehabilitation Institute at Santa Barbara, after earning her degrees at Chico State and the University of Oregon. The two had known each other years before as next door neighbors in Calabasas. After they discovered the Valley, Solvang became their family setting in 1986. Here, away from the oceans where he spends so much of his life, he enjoys a "true picture view" from the windows of their family home overlooking the rolling hillsides along the Santa Ynez River.
Kay balances childrearing in their home with travel, accompanying her husband on far away journeys all the while keeping her focus on gratitude. "God is the source of all these wonders to which we gratefully give thanks," she says.
Richmond also serves the marine environment by volunteering with the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, an organization dedicated to rescue and care of injured mammals to facilitate their rehabilitation and release. He and his production team have created educational programs in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, which includes rescue-training programs for people in Japan and Mexico.
Balancing the variety of assignments at Richmond Productions are its employees. "Part of what it takes in any business is to have good people to work with, and we have a great team," he says. "Christine Knowles was hired over three years ago as production assistant, but now spends most of her time as our very talented editor; Anne Guynn, a long-time valley resident, came on board this year as office manager, but spends just as much time working on the production side, from location assistant to editing".
Last year the Richmond family spent four months traveling on various projects and assignments, but Richmond says their homebase is in the right place. "It always feels good to come home to the Santa Ynez Valley."
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