BBC: And then we strapped a helicopter rig to an elephant

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Think about being a part of the BBC’s pure historical past unit, touring the world to create a few of the world’s most beautiful documentaries. Seems like a dream job, proper? I sat down with Huw Cordey, the producer on a ton of the Beeb’s best-beloved exhibits, to discover out extra concerning the know-how and devices the workforce deploys to seize the beasties in action.

"I'm sorry, sir, your hand luggage must fit into this gauge."

“I’m sorry, sir, your hand baggage should match into this gauge.”

“Individuals are all the time creating new gear,” Cordey says, half grinning, half sighing, as I think about him waving at an monumental pile of Peli instances stacked within the nook of his little question stacked-to-the-rafters workplace, “which is ideal for us. If you consider it, wildlife hasn’t actually modified what they've been doing since we began filming nature documentaries. As an alternative, we have to provide you with new methods of telling their tales.”

Arising with progressive issues is sort of his factor. For the newest present Cordey labored on — BBC’s The Hunt, which is at present displaying on a BBC channel close to you — the idea was to attempt to seize how animals hunt within the wild. Which isn’t that tough in the event you’re making an attempt to movie a spider rolling up a fly into a little ball, maybe, however it’s a very totally different kettle of orcas when you’re speaking about giant animals careening alongside the savannah at 55 mph.

Is that a Cineflex on the side of your Landcruiser, or are you just happy to see me?

Is that a Cineflex on the aspect of your Land Cruiser, or are you simply comfortable to see me?

“My favourite piece of kit we used on this collection have been the Cineflex gyroscopic mounts,” Cordey says, referring to the tremendous-stabilized, basketball-sized, 85-pound mounts often hooked up to helicopters.

Sure, helicopters. If that sounds a little bit James Bond, and also you’re getting all types of action sequence feelings tingling your spidey senses, take a look at the video under. It’s fairly epic.

In fact, the workforce did use the Cineflex mounts as meant — strapped to the aspect of a helicopter — however additionally they used the camera extensively in different conditions.

Well polar bears don't film themselves, you know!

Nicely polar bears don’t movie themselves, you already know!

“We have been in a position to mount the camera on a truck and comply with the animals as they have been searching,” says Cordey. He explains that the staff did have to be a bit extra cautious than standard; altogether, the gear they tied to the truck prices round half a million dollars.

All of the hours playing on the PlayStation lastly paid off.

— Jamie McPherson

He provides, soberly; “It was a utterly new approach of following wildlife; all of the bounces have been taken out of the footage by the know-how, creating a clean shot from starting to finish. We will comply with the chase as quick as we are in a position to drive, but when we’d hit a porcupine borough alongside the best way, we’d have been buggered.”

Filming on this method additionally meant that the staff was in a position to movie a full hunt “for actual,” relatively than doing it the best way it had been carried out prior to now. Which… used to work out just about precisely the best way you’d think about. In some nature documentaries, you may discover that the animal that's caught in the long run seems barely totally different or is a bit greater or smaller than the animal initially of the sequence. In fact, that's as a result of they filmed totally different hunts, typically on utterly totally different days and in several places.

Because why wouldn't you attach a stabilization mount designed for helicopters to the biggest land animal in the world.

As a result of why wouldn’t you connect a stabilization mount designed for helicopters to the most important land animal on the earth?

One innovation was to construct a mount enabling the group to movie… from an elephant. Which is each bit as bonkers because it sounds, nevertheless it isn’t utterly “simply because we can” — it seems that it’s the right means to movie tigers, as a result of in contrast to drones, helicopters and juicy camera-males, tigers principally ignore elephants.

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Within the above video, the group explains how they got here up with the thought of making an elephant-mounted camera. 

“Having the ability to movie constantly via the hunt is a full recreation-changer for us,” Cordey admits, with extra than simply a little little bit of awe in his voice. This, I can inform, is bloody thrilling, even for the 20-yr veteran of nature documentaries.

“We had an superb camera man, Jamie McPherson. He’s actually taken to all the tech, and I had to snicker one night time after a shoot, when he identified that all the hours playing on his PlayStation lastly paid off,” Cordey says, however wanting into the tech extra intently makes it clear that he’s solely partially joking. Working a Cineflex is an terrible lot like playing a online game. As an alternative of throwing a camera on your shoulder, you've gotten a screen and a distant management, which means a barely totally different talent set is required to function the new package.

An awful lot like playing Playstation... If your Playstation cost half a million dollars.

An terrible lot like playing PlayStation… in case your PlayStation value half a million dollars.

Deliver on the drones

New know-how is a key facet of the collection, enabling entire new points of storytelling.

Elephants run a mile instantly when a drone comes close to.

— Huw Cordey

“I love drones; we use them on a regular basis,” Cordey explains, mentioning that the the Panasonic GH4 is a specific favourite. It weighs little or no, however the quality is good enough for use in broadcast, which suggests it's good for sending up with a drone.

“We do have to be very cautious, although; drones sound like a swarm of indignant bees, which scares some animals, so we can’t get too shut,” Corey says, explaining that the staff makes use of drones particularly for overview photographs and panorama photographs. “Elephants run a mile instantly when a drone comes close to.”

Regardless of their shortcomings, drones are a favourite and the workforce typically carries drones, launching them each time they’re wanted, relatively than getting out a jib arm or calling in a helicopter.

Shopper-grade gear, broadcast high quality footage

The opposite massive change during the last 20 years is how good prosumer gear has develop into. Prior to now, you wanted specialised gear so as to shoot in high def for tv. The group does clearly nonetheless use high-finish gear a lot of the time, however commercially out there gear makes it a lot simpler and cheaper to shoot exhibits as we speak.

“For The Hunt, we used Camblock and Kessler sliders a lot of the time. For the time-lapse sequences we typically shoot with Canon 5D MK III cameras and for low-mild, Sony’s α7S has unbelievable talents at night time,” says Cordey. “We additionally use the tiny Flare cameras a lot; they have been invaluable for capturing time-lapse sequences of military Sony A7s" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen="">

In the event you haven’t seen what Sony’s α7s can do in low mild, take a look at the above brief movie, shot solely by moonlight. If that’s not spectacular to you, maybe it’s time to go for a stroll, you’ve been on the web for too lengthy. 

“Finally, you possibly can’t say that a $2,000 camera delivers the identical high quality as a $50,000 camera, nevertheless it’s horses for programs. If we can use extra reasonably priced cameras, that’s incredible,” Cordey explains.

One other massive benefit is the supply of camera traps — very similar to those provided commercially by Camptraptions, the place the group has constructed its personal gear, powered by a financial institution of batteries.

“Having the ability to depart a camera out for months at a time makes it attainable to seize scenes that we wouldn’t have been in a position to in any other case. For very uncommon animals like leopards, it’s the best approach,” says Cordey. Is sensible; leaving a $50,000 camera and a very costly camera man within the forest for a few months will get very costly in a short time, however it’s value taking the danger with a couple of grand’s value of kit on the off-probability that you simply seize a shot worthy of utilizing within the collection.

Big leaps in know-how

The previous 20 years have seen a big leap of know-how and the pure historical past unit veteran displays on what has modified.

You possibly can’t use white mild on most animals.

— Huw Cordey

“Twenty years in the past, you couldn’t movie at night time with out lights and helicopters wanted to get inside 50 meters of the animals,” Cordey explains. That’s a drawback: nocturnal animals draw back from mild and you may think about what occurs in the event you’re casually grazing alongside, minding your personal enterprise when all of a sudden a 10,000-pound inferno of sound, wind and scary begins following you round.
Loads of the best new tech has come from each business outfit and army purposes.

There have got to be easier ways of taking a selfie.

There have acquired to be simpler methods of taking a selfie.

“Infra purple, thermal cameras and low-mild tech all got here from the army,” Cordey lists. “They've deep pockets and on a regular basis on the planet. The place potential, we take what they’ve achieved and adapt it for ergonomics so we can deliver it to the place we want it to be to seize the animals”

Security applied sciences have come in useful greater than as soon as, too.

“You possibly can’t use white mild on most animals,” Cordey says. “However filming in IR provides a fairly good really feel. Better of all, a lot of wildlife don’t see the IR mild sources, so we can movie them as a lot as we like. The draw back is that it’ll all be in black and white. For some sequences, we’re now fascinated with utilizing the subsequent-era Sony A7 for shoots late within the night or early within the morning.”

Nonetheless some methods to go

Cineflex? More like Eleflex.

Cineflex? Extra like Eleflex.

Not each drawback has been absolutely solved. Digital camera gear producers, in case you’re paying consideration, right here’s how to make your subsequent era of gross sales.

“Yearly, drones get higher,” Cordey says, however provides that he does have a want record for enhancements. “With a helicopter, we can fly for a couple of hours. For drones, we have to convey them again inside six to seven minutes, which isn’t sufficient. I additionally want they have been quieter, so I can convey them nearer to the animals, and I’d love higher stabilization and zoom lenses.”

Different tech the place the BBC is butting towards the sides of what’s technically potential is filming at night time. A whole lot of nocturnal animals haven’t been correctly documented and I received the very distinct sense that Huw Cordey and his staff would love to do a entire collection focusing solely on people who solely come out at night time.

“Give me a gyro-stabilized lengthy-lens camera on a silent drone and also you’ve hit the jackpot,” Cordey laughs.

If you need to see The Hunt in full, tune in to BBC America, Sundays at 9/8c.

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