Uganda is the setting for Dave McGowan’s “webumentary” on vets who treat ailing wildlife

In August, veteran filmmaker and environmental documentarian David McGowan will travel to war-torn Uganda to come lens-to-face with some of the world’s most dangerous, beautiful and endangered animals.

It’s about veterinarians who specialize in treating ailing and injured wildlife in the African jungle and it’s part of a series called “Envirovet.”

“Think of CSI for forensic veterinarians and you’ll get the idea,” said McGowan, whose Ravenswood Media has produced educational, corporate and training videos for more than 20 years.

But what distinguishes “Envirovet”?and all of McGowan’s nature, wildlife, environment and science docs?is that it’s a “webumentary.”

The webumentary conforms the documentary format into an online non-linear program by posting streaming digital video on the web.

With the webumentary genre he is helping to pioneer, McGowan is “able to play with the format in ways that weren’t possible with traditional filmmaking,” replacing shots and scenes on an ongoing basis to keep a film fresh, and building in audience participation.

He noted that the more people enter this medium, the more they’ll “figure out how” to use it better. “When I began, the best you could do was a herky-jerky image the size of a postage stamp. Now it’s nearly full-screen and flawless. In two years’ time, people will be able to Email videos to each other…”

Into the mid-1990s, McGowan made his films “the old fashioned way,” shot on film and edited on a flatbed. The results were memorable works, like the PBS program “Inventions and Invasions,” and his 1991 Oscar-nominated best documentary short subject, “The Mark of the Maker,” about a couple’s dedication to a handcraft in an era of mass production

But the evolving technology led to a bold decision. He sold his film gear and transitioned Ravenswood Media into a full-service, digital video production facility. He admits the shift wasn’t easy.

“Video wasn’t the profession I knew,” said McGowan. But just as this autodidactic former steelworker carved out a niche in filmmaking, he did so again with video.

McGowan was working in an Indiana steel mill when a friend’s studies at Columbia College got his attention. “I was 18. I wanted a chance.” He moved Chicago and after a year at Columbia he landed his first job as an electrician on “The Blues Brothers” in 1980.

For several years he worked as a grip and assistant camera and when he found himself on a documentary he realized docs were what he wanted to make.

After Oscar-nominated “Maker,” McGowan carved out an exemplary career as a filmmaker. He earned more than a dozen significant awards from the likes of the American Assn. of Museums, Worldfest Houston, the National Educational Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.

As with any worthy venture, McGowan doesn’t do it alone. He works with people he calls “absolutely essential for producing webumentaries.”

He relies on Mike Brockway to keep up with the latest compression tools. “Compression is a critical skill in making the images look good but small enough to conveniently download from the Internet,” he notes.

Editor Lissa Oliver, with whom McGowan has worked for two decades, cuts hours of footage into sharp, concise five-minute programs with the aid of assistant Suzie Crombie. Shooter Jacek Lupina travels with him into caves and swamps, shooting tandem with McGowan in difficult situation

Looking ahead, McGowan still has unfinished business in his sights. IMAX for one, which would mean a return to large format.

Wherever his path leads, he holds to a simple principle. “It’s a profession. Just get good at it, and be proud of what you do.”

Ravenswood Media is located at 4926 N. Wolcott; phone, 773/271-0793. See