©Tateyuki Adachi

Understanding How Creators CreateThe Mission of Design,
as Seen in a
Tsuyoshi Takashiro-Directed
Wildlife Photography
Trip to Africa

It is the summer of 2023 in Tanzania. A group of people, equipped with state-of-the-art drones
and other robotics equipment, as well as Sony's α1 interchangeable lens camera, has just succeeded
in getting close-up footage of lions at night—something that has never been done before.

The film crew, headed by filmmaker Tsuyoshi Takashiro and photographer Tateyuki Adachi, was accompanied by two members of the Sony Creative Center.
The aim was for the designers to experience and understand the creative process of these creators,
so that they could identify new clues for future product and service design.
The goal of the trip itself was to capture footage of lions in the darkness of the savanna, not using a telephoto lens, but astoundingly close.
Here, we reflect on this valuable experience, and the design possibilities that are opened up when we work to truly understand how creators create.

From left to right: Yoshihiro Shimizu, Shoji Imamura (Designers who joined the project)

Using Creative Ideas and the Latest Equipment to
Get Close to Wild Animals

Tsuyoshi Takashiro is a filmmaker that engages in a wide variety of creative efforts involving cutting-edge technologies. Meanwhile, Tateyuki Adachi's role as head of the bean-to-bar chocolate brand, "green bean to bar CHOCOLATE," has him hunting for cacao beans throughout the world, all the while also working as a nature photographer. In recent years, these two have devoted their energies to photography/videography projects that utilize the latest technologies in the great outdoors—capturing footage, for instance, of the myriad creatures that reside in the ocean’s coral reefs, or gnus migrating across the African savanna in herds as large as one million.

And now, 2023. For their fourth project, they set out to Serengeti National Park, a World Heritage Site located in northern Tanzania. Their goal was to use state-of-the-art robotics technologies like drones and radio-controlled cameras, as well as Sony's α1 interchangeable lens camera, to capture up-close footage of lions in the savanna at night.
Accompanying them on this enormous endeavor were two Sony designers. What were they seeking, what did they experience, and what kind of things did they learn? Here, we present their journey and their thoughts on future designs, interspersed with comments from Tsuyoshi Takashiro, who served as the creative director for this project.

Tell us how you, as designers, came to accompany Tsuyoshi Takashiro and Tateyuki Adachi and their film crew.

ImamuraTsuyoshi Takashiro shot Days of a Rooster and Sedatives (2022), a film he wrote, directed, and shot, not with a conventional cinema camera, but with Sony's α1 Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera. Our first point of contact with him was when we asked him to give a lecture for Sony designers, explaining the methodology and ways of thinking that went into that film. We also spoke to him about whether he'd be interested in working with us on a project. That was when he asked if we would like to accompany him on a wildlife photography trip to Tanzania, just out of the blue.

ShimizuMr. Takashiro is someone who actually buys the filming equipment he’s interested in—all of them, so that he can compare them all despite the manufacturer. Having done that, he said that the α1 came the closest to cinema cameras in terms of image quality, even for videography. Because the α1 is also quite small, he's able to use multiple α1s to shoot video or frame images in a way that goes beyond conventional ways of thinking. I thought this would be a great opportunity to gain all kinds of insights, so I volunteered to accompany him. But there was a lot of mental prep work I had to do personally, considering this would be my first time going to Africa, and on a wildlife photography/videography shoot at that.

Mr. Imamura, you work on the UIs for various camera-related apps, and Mr. Shimizu, you work as a video content creator, and in communication design for sensors, cameras, and other technologies. But you're saying that this experience was still entirely new for both of you.

ImamuraMr. Takashiro took charge of all aspects of this project, from the overall production to travel arrangements, the shooting methods, the planning for how to turn it into art… He also chose the shooting assistant, drone pilot, art director for the photo book—all of the staff involved—through his own personal connections, and I was just astounded by their bond as a team, how good everyone was at their jobs.

ShimizuI was also surprised by how he chose the equipment and customized them. With the radio-controlled car, for instance, he worked with the manufacturer to adjust the specifications to make it more stable on the ground, while also making it easy to disassemble and pack in his carry-on. He also handmade a crane for filming, called the "Tanzania Arm," that's made of many short carbon pipes connected together, so that he can adjust its length.

ImamuraSome of the staff involved in the preparation stage included people with experience working with special equipment at TV stations. There was just so much ingenuity involved that we as designers became very, very interested in how the shooting would actually work.

Lions as Captured from
Unprecedented Angles

This shoot was the first attempt to get up close to wild animals at night, using drones equipped with special LED lights, and other technologies. Were there any moments that left an impression on you?

ShimizuThe whole experience was incredibly intense. You first choose the lion pack you want to target, then start following them when the sun goes down. Even with the moonlight, after sunset it gets pitch dark, and all you can see is the lion pack and our line of cars. If you lose sight of the pack, you fly a drone with an infrared camera out to find them. And the whole time, all of us are trying to get a good shot from inside of the car.

ImamuraNormally, this type of wildlife photography is done from far away, with a telephoto lens. But this time around, we used the "Tanzania Arm" from inside of a safari car to get shots of the lions from very close up. We were only about a meter away from the lions, max. At one point, a lion even came over, scratched the camera, and tore the cable. We're also shooting in the pitch dark while holding the pole steady with their arms, which with typical shooting methods would cause the image to be blurred. So we shot still photos with slow shutter speeds and high sensitivity, while also shooting video at the same time.


ShimizuIt was, without question, an attempt to capture images of lions from an angle no one has ever seen before. Mr. Takashiro told us to shoot the footage at 30 fps (30 frames per second) to capture as much of the lions' facial expressions as possible, and that we'd then extract the non-blurry images from the footage. It showed us he had chosen the α1 because he knew he would have to extract these high-resolution still images.

I feel like you usually see technicians on shoots like this—rarely designers.

ImamuraOf course, we supported the shoot in different ways, helping with lighting or shooting with hand-held cameras. The fact that this shoot only involved eight people—not including the local drivers and guides—was something incredible to begin with, considering TV stations have had dozens of people working on shoots like this in the past. When the lion pack came together on the rocks, we knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and we all snapped photos wildly.

ShimizuEach of us optimized our camera settings and used different focal lengths for our lenses, desperate to get as expressive a shot as possible. The result was that there were quite a few photos where it was hard to tell who actually took them. Mr Takashiro was so kind as to mention us as "Additional photographers" in the photo book, which was a real honor.

LION NIGHT photo book published in November 2023 by NEXTRAVELER BOOKS.
A photo exhibition was also held at Spiral Garden in the Omotesando area of Tokyo in January 2024.

The Design Possibilities That Come Out of
"Understanding How Creators Create"

We received a comment from Mr. Takashiro, reflecting on this shoot. Here it is.

Comment from Mr. Takashiro

To be able to get good footage for nighttime safari photography, we needed a sensor that was high-sensitivity and high-resolution. We'd had the idea for the shoot for a while, but had to wait for a camera that would give us the image quality we wanted. This time around, we finally got the opportunity to do it.
With this shoot, we were able to capture photos and video with high-sensitivity sensors that would've been unthinkable even just a few years ago. We were also able to export a lot of still images from 8K videos, which has let us capture the moment-to-moment expressions of the animals.
I think these sorts of methods will become established as new techniques in the next generation of photography.

I’ve also been using Sony cameras for about 10 years, ever since the release of the full-frame α series, and have amassed a collection of wonderful Sony lenses over the past few years. I personally love the 24 mm "G Master" lens, and use it for almost everything, from films to portraits. I used it often in this shoot as well.
While the cameras have gotten more comfortable to hold with each new model, the one thing I do want, if I were to be completely honest, is that I wish both the camera and the lens were smaller. I think this will help me bring new ideas to life that as of now just might not be feasible. I'm excited to see what’s next!

When you’re on an African safari for nearly two weeks with people who are involved in the hardware side of camera development on one side, and the content creation side on the other, you spend a lot of time brainstorming about new kinds of hardware or content that haven't been done before, even outside of the shoot.
It’s my hope that in a couple of years, we'll see ideas brought to life that were inspired by this journey.

ImamuraIn response to Mr Takashiro's comment, I suppose the question is how we can package the features and level of quality he needs into a smaller package, while still facilitating extraordinary photos. I believe pretty strongly that when you're talking about some of the world's top creators, image quality and the ability to take extraordinary photos are bare minimum requirements—that there need to be additional things that enhance the experience, whether it be design or ease of use.

ShimizuEach manufacturer has come out with their own distinct identity in terms of the ability to take extraordinary photos. I myself have used a lot of different cameras as a photographer. Through these experiences, I feel that the emphasis is on recording information in a "pure," faithful manner, and on maximizing the creativity of creators. I think this may be part of the reason why Mr. Takashiro thinks so highly of the α1.

Preparing for the shoot on-site.

Was there anything you learned or noticed looking back on the process, from preparing for production to shooting on-site, the photo book, and the photo exhibition?

ImamuraLooking through the completed photo book, I was stunned by the quality of the photos of course, but also the unexpected composition of some of the photos, some of which had been cropped boldly in a way I never would have expected from the shoot itself. Being able to see how a product I've actually helped design is actually used on-site, and the output and feedback it has led to, was such an incredibly meaningful experience for me.

ShimizuWhat I found very interesting was how well Mr. Takashiro understands his own community of fans, and how they'll react when he disseminates information in certain ways. The members of his film crew are also a part of this community, which I think helps create a great sense of unity both on the creator and consumer side.

How do you think this experience, of being able to see how creators create, will affect design possibilities in the future?

ImamuraA former boss once told me that the mission of a designer is to hand creators the best possible technology, that has been turned into the best possible tool. And then on top of that is how you can turn the "best possible technology" into something easy to use, the "best possible tool," and further enhance the creativity of creators. This is the role of the designer, and the great potential in the act of design itself.

ShimizuVarious people, from engineers to product planners to sales representatives, are needed across various different areas to turn Sony products and services into a reality. What we need to do is to engage in dialogues with these various representatives, and with management as needed, and "tune" the entire system so that those in each area are able to perform to the best of their abilities. I think that is our role as designers. Another thing is that I want there to be more opportunities for us to work on productions with creators on-site. I think doing so will allow us to create products and services that are truly aligned with the needs of creators. Those are my thoughts.

January 10, 2024 / Conducted at Creative Center