How the BBC makes wildlife films that look like Hollywood movies

You all must have heard about the Wildlife Documentary, ‘Planet Earth’ that features the awesome natural world that exists on our planet-Earth, from the lands to oceans to the deserts to the polar ice caps. The Planet Earth I released in the year of 2006 and was produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. It was the most expensive documentary of nature by BBC which took 5 years to make and is also the first one to be filmed in High definition.

But then BBC released another series, Planet Earth II in the year of 2016 that is after a decade of the previous one with improved technology which has made it possible to capture more and more details, from rarely seen animal behaviours to earlier obscure remote landscapes. This time the resolution has been upscaled from HD to Ultra-HD and the Cameras aren’t stable anymore, they capture dynamic shots with the movement of the animals to bring out another depth in the film, it makes us more connected with the wild. This is basically adapted from the always-changing filming styles of cinemas where the cameras are never static and are always in motion, it’s always flying. And this is why Planet Earth II is BBC’s most Cinematic wildlife film yet.

BBC has been producing wildlife films for around 60 years. And with time we have had an evolution in technologies. It all first began with the lightweight 16mm film cameras which were portable and lightweight. As of now, after more than 50 years filming animals means moving the cameras around then and showing their journey such that it makes us feel we are currently with them. And this amazing ability was achieved during the year of 2002 when BBC switched from Film to Digital HD Cameras for this series. It gave them access to - The Cineflex Heligimbal, a stabilization system for a helicopter-mounted camera.

This made capturing smooth scenic shots of various animals without alerting them from a kilometre up in the sky and follow them easily. It made scenes like hunting way easier to get continuous shots of the chase and drama and that becomes cinematic to watch. This system used Zoom lens mounted inside gimbals and has special gyroscope system and the camera operator can control the lenses and zoom into the animals without losing the details and stability.

This is what makers of Planet Earth II needed the most, push the proximity, getting close to the animals into their habitat and how they interpret the world through their eyes. The handheld shots for land, aerial drone shots for air made sure to keep us interested in the show. Also, the use of Steadicam systems was reflected from cinemas in some of the sequences contain animals like Wild Cats and Komodo Dragons although it was expensive and difficult to use in most of the wild areas.

Due to this, they relied on smaller handheld stabilizers that had gyroscopes and hence produce clear shots without any loss in stabilization and replaced several types of equipment like cranes and sliders. It made easier as for such a huge environment of the wild, having the authority to move their hands quite freely. Moving the cameras from the eye level of the animals to the eye level of a human and above made the footages realistic and were useful for the show.

And even though handheld stabilizers are for those animals who can be captured closely. For the others like bears, tigers, elephants were captured by the regular Tripods and Drones with movements that will never stop BBC to replace them since they also add up in making the series as a Hollywood super hit movie. What makes it more interesting is not just the pictures but the act of storytelling that binds with the footages and the outstanding narration by the one and only, Sir David Attenborough who is also the person who created the first Nature Documentary with BBC in the year 1967 and has continued with BBC ever after.

The style of BBC’s filming has changed over time from more educational to more cinematic but hasn’t forgotten that as it’s the footage that catches the attention of a person but without the art of storytelling it becomes pale and no technology ever can take over the beautiful story that grasps and connects with the audience emotionally.