How They Made Planet Earth

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The Planet Earth series has revolutionized the way audiences see nature documentaries. Not only did they innovate in the way in which they film, but they have changed the game in so many ways. Never before had audiences seen most of these animals in such high definition. Sir David Attenborough brought us all on a journey we will never forget and has shows us parts of the Earth that we certainly will not have seen otherwise. The series was so successful it needed a sequel, and, thankfully, it got one.

Snow Leopard

The team that was used to film the snow leopard consisted of 20 trackers and eight members of the Planet Earth crew. Because there are only between 3,000 to 7,000 snow leopards in the wild, they are notoriously difficult to capture on camera. After three months in India, they only came away with an hour of footage of the leopard sleeping. They were forced to abandon their search for years until returning to the Afghanistan Pakistan border region. Here, during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the crew was lucky enough to capture dramatic footage of the leopard hunting just before they gave up and headed home.

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Penguin Struggle

Planet Earth sent two crew members, Frederique Olivier and Wade Fairley, to capture footage of the Emperor penguins. In order to reach the colony of 20,000 penguins, the team had to drag all their equipment approximately two miles. The only issue was that the two mile hike featured 100 mile-per-hour winds and temperatures beyond -100°. The only way the team could move forward was on their knees. Once they reached the penguins, they found that they would huddle together and individuals would rotate in and out to block out the conditions.

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Humpback

The crew was able to track down a massive humpback whale and her calf. However, once they began to film her, they realized that male humpback whales were trying to mate with her. This created many close calls with the massive creatures that could have ended in disaster. The crew says that whales knew what was happening and would just barely miss any collisions while actively trying to keep the crew in safety. The producer went on to say, “They may approach you right on the side and look at you with their little piggy eyes, but they’re gentle giants.”

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Bird of Paradise

The bird of paradise is a very rare bird to encounter especially with regard to their mating ritual. In order to capture this event, one crew member was sent to New Guinea where he was forced to hide himself in a tiny enclosed space with only a small window to film from. He explains that he would wake up every day at 3:45 in the morning and would film straight for 9 hours a day hoping the bird would appear in the right spot. After filming for 300 hours, he was lucky enough to capture the mating ritual.

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Gelada Baboons

It took approximately six weeks in order to capture all the necessary footage of the Gelada Baboons. This allowed for the team to really start to learn the the personalities of the different baboons. In fact, the baboons made it difficult for the team to follow their main rule of not disturbing the animals in their natural habitat. For example, if the baboons have a fight, then one will come sit next to the crew in order to make it appear as though they were allied with the humans.

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Sharks

When it came time to capture some high quality footage of the great white shark, the team was forced to innovate their filming techniques.  They arrived off the coast of Seal Island knowing that what they wanted to capture would be difficult. They created a system similar to the ones used in high speed auto collision research wherein a trigger was attached to the camera that would allow the recording to be taken from one second prior to the press of the trigger. In addition, it allowed one second of real life action to be slowed to a 40 second slow-mo with extremely high quality resulting in, what some would call, the coolest shark footage ever taken.

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Lion Hunt

The crew had a hard time when it came time to film the lions hunting baby elephants. In order to capture good footage, they team needed to set up specialized infrared lights, which is invisible to humans and animals alike, in addition to specialized cameras. The crew remained in their vehicle the rest of the time in an effort to maximize their safety. As one of the camerawoman explained in an interview with Huffington Post, “There’s a funny thing — when you’re in the vehicle, they don’t seem to see you as a human being. But one step out of that vehicle, and that would have been it,”

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Helicopters

Iconic shots are what Planet Earth is all about. In fact, some of the most memorable shots relied heavily on the use of helicopters. It is easy to think a drone was used, but that is simply not the case. The team used a system originally developed for the military. The system allowed them to significantly zoom in while flying high above and not disturbing the natural movement and behaviors of the animals. Although this method produced incredible results, it was difficult due to the fact it relied heavily on the weather and location of the animals themselves.

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Hot Air Balloons

In addition to the aforementioned helicopters, the team also relied on the use of hot air balloons to capture moments from above the forests without disturbing leaves and branches. Interestingly, they located a Frenchman named Dany who was the inventor of a contraption he named the cinebulle. Essentially, this contraption was a hot air balloon that had a camera mounted to it. Although it was highly effective and extremely useful, they did run into some issues when they crashed it into a tree in Madagascar.

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Special Permission

The Planet Earth crew was looking to film polar bears that were located on a remote island in the Norwegian Arctic. However, there is a ban in place that prevents humans from going to the protected region. In order for the crew to gain access to the region, they needed to ask for permission. Luckily, in the end, they received the permission necessary and they became the first people to visit the remote island in more than 25 years.

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Budget

Planet Earth is an incredibly ambitions production. It was a massive undertaking to produce the entirety of the series, and the planning behind it was incredibly detailed as there were so many “moving parts”. The series was given a huge budget of $25 million. To capture all the footage, a team of 40 cameramen was put together and positioned across a staggering 200 different locations. Of course, some of those shooting locations were much easier to get to than others. Moreover, varying amounts of time were needed depending on what was being filmed.

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Flamingos

One of the most beautiful aspects of Planet Earth is the fact that one can learn so many interesting things about animals they thought they knew. A prime example of this is when the crew captured a group of flamingos. Instead of the expected scene of the flamingos flying away from the lake as it begins to freeze, viewers got a chance to see what happens when flamingos get stuck. As the ice froze and trapped them, they were forced to spend the night in the same position. The flamingos had to wait for the sun to come up and free them, and luckily flamingos do not get sunburns.

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Swimming Sloth

Sloths are adorable creatures that are best known for their hanging around on tree branches and moving really slowly wherever they are headed. However, it is quite rare to spot one swimming around in the water, but that is exactly the sight viewers got to see on the episode about islands. A sloth was swimming to make an encounter with a female sloth. Unfortunately, the female sloth was not looking to mate as it already had a young sloth to tend to.

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Legend

Not too many people have voices that have become instantly recognizable. Yet, with shows like Planet Earth and other similar series, Sir David Attenborough has achieved a legendary status. His voice is inextricably linked to BBC’s nature documentary shows. Even at the age of 90, Attenborough has gone out into the freezing weather and filmed while on board a hot air balloon. This, of course, is no easy task as he had to keep himself from shivering too much on camera.

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The Chase

Planet Earth has given us some of the most incredible chase scenes ever caught on camera. Nothing is quite like seeing the chase between an apex predator and its prey. However, not every chase is what you would expect it to be, and sometimes even the creatures in the chase are not creatures you would have thought to see chasing each other. A prime example of this is the scene in which iguanas are being chased by snakes which appear seemingly out of the blue, and giving the audience a true race for survival.

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Cleaning Up

A lot of interesting things about many different species have been detailed by the Planet Earth series. In fact, some of the hardest to film bird rituals were caught on camera for the very first time. One of these interesting birds that the audience got some insight into is the Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. It is a very brightly colored bird that makes sure to clean up the area in which it is making its display. By rearranging the surrounding leaves, it is able to ensure that its feathers will stand out to any mates.

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Giraffe

Lions are fierce. There is certainly no doubt about that. However, a giraffe does in fact have the capability to hold off a lion attack, but the lions are sometimes quite desperate. When they are hungry enough, they will go for anything and everything in their sight. Luckily, Planet Earth was on location to capture one of the most interesting giraffe techniques for evading hungry lions. In this particular scene, the giraffe decided it would evade lion teeth by hiding up a tree and kicking the lion away with each of its attempts.

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Damage

Bears, although very adorable, can be very dangerous. The crew of Planet Earth was very well aware of that. In fact, when the team was out filming the episode focused on grasslands for the second season of the show, they knew they had to be careful with their equipment. They took extra precautions by covering their recording equipment in camouflage, but somehow the bears were still able to find it. Not only did they find it, but they surely satisfied their curiosity when they destroyed it.

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Monkey Trouble

The infamous monkeys roaming through the cities of India are very well known for their shenanigans and thievery. In Jaipur, Planet Earth crews were able to track down the rhesus macaque monkeys who terrorize the city. They have become experts at navigating the city and traffic and getting away with any loot they are able to snatch up along the way. In fact, Sir David Attenborough has go so far as to call what the monkeys do “daylight robbery”.

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Time Lapse

As previously mentioned, Planet Earth has given us some of the most incredible visuals of nature ever presented on TV. It goes further than simply seeing the animals in high definition, we see their surroundings and environment. In addition, we get to see how that environment shifts and changes from so many angles. For example, the change that takes place in Africa from desert to lush greenlands filled with animals of all sizes. We even see a quite desert become enveloped in a massive sandstorm.

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Attenborough’s Thoughts

There is no doubt that Sir David Attenborough is a crucial part of the Planet Earth experience. He knows just how important the work he is doing really is. Not only is it entertaining, but it is also educational in more than one way. As he puts it, “I seriously think that wildlife programming and film-making is of crucial importance to the future of the world… If the natural world is in peril, we are in peril. People should be aware of the way the natural world works to understand when they’re damaging it”.

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Discovery

Planet Earth had explorers and adventurers traversing the world in search of some of the rarest and secluded species of animals known to man. Crews were sent all over from freezing in Antarctica, snowing in the Gobi desert, traversing the cliffs in Pakistan, to diving deep under the ocean surface. There was no doubt that the crews would at some point discover a new species of animal. Luckily, in Thailand, they found their first new species. It turned out to be a blind cave fish.

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Lion Mating

Although it has already been mentioned how intensely the lions can be when it comes to their hunting tactics and strategy, the same can be said about their mating styles. Lots of times, we see lions laying around not doing much. On the other hand, they are full of raw energy when they are hungry and going for a kill. However, when it comes to mating it is hard to tell where they exert more energy. During their mating season, a lion can have sex 20 to 40 times a day.

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Teeth

Sir David Attenborough has spent quite some time at the BBC. He became a full time employee off the BBC in 1952 after his CV attracted some attention. However, he was not initially brought on as a broadcaster, but rather as a producer. In fact, the reason that he was not used on camera for a very long time was because one of the more senior employees thought that his teeth were far too big for him to be a main interviewer for their programs.

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Score

The team behind Planet Earth was composed of some truly incredible and talented individuals. Not only because of the participation of great people like Sir David Attenborough, but even when it comes to the music, Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer composed the score for the series. If he does not sound familiar right away, he is the man responsible for composing the scores of movies like The Lion King, 12 Years a Slave, Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar and Gladiator

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Planet Earth II

The entire production of Planet Earth II took an entire six years to put together from beginning to end. Forty-two cameramen were shooting with with ultra high definition 4k cameras; this was the first production by the BBC to be shot with 4k cameras. In all, the space required to store the footage was enough to fill 82,000 DVDs which is also equivalent to 400 terabytes of data. To gather all this film, 2,089 days were spent out on location.

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Surprise

The locations that were visited by the crew of Planet Earth were all over the place at every corner of the globe. Sometimes crew members were forced to sleep out in the snow, other times they were able to sleep in the comfort of a nice room with appropriate shelter from the elements. However, when the team was in Indonesia, a crew member came back to find a massive surprise in his room. Upon opening the bathroom, he saw a Komodo dragon on the floor.

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Locust

In order for the Planet Earth team to track down the huge swarms of locusts, the BBC needed to work hand in hand with the UN. This is due to the fact that they had to navigate through Madagascar blindly as most of the roads were blocked as a result of massive flooding. In the end, they were able to record one of the largest swarms ever caught on camera with approximately a billion locusts in a single swarm.

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Snapchat

Snapchat has been adding to its already growing collection of TV shows that they feature on their platform. Now, Planet Earth has joined the list. Although the show has already aired in both the UK and US, this the first time Planet Earth will be featured on the platform. In addition, the 6 episodes will not be narrated by Attenborough. Instead, it will be actress Sophie Okonedo providing the voice overs. Audiences are surely looking forward too seeing the high quality nature images on their phones at their convenience.

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Animal Lover…Not

One would expect Sir David Attenborough to be a huge animal lover after watching both seasons of Planet Earth. Not only was he involved in the series, but he also participated in countless other nature documentaries. However, he does not define himself as an animal lover in particular. In fact, he clarifies by explaining, “I’m not an animal lover. Animal lover means sentiment; a cloying, anthropomorphising sentiment. I don’t love earth worms or spiders. They’re rivetingly interesting and they give me huge intellectual pleasure. And aesthetic pleasure, I suppose. But that’s a different thing altogether.”

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Zavodovski

One of the hardest places to film for the Planet Earth crew was Zavodovski Island. On the island itself is an active volcano, and let alone the fact the very few humans have ever actually made it to the island. In order to actually successfully film on the island, it was necessary for the team to plan a year in advance. Moreover, it took a week to get to the island due to the fact that they could only travel by ship.

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Cow

As previously mentioned, filming in India became a bit of a challenge as the monkeys were working hard to evade the team. The crew was extra focused on the monkeys because they had an incredibly good idea of the layout of the area. Unfortunately for the cameraman, they did not know the area well enough to keep their full attention on the monkeys. As a result, a cameraman was charged at by a cow while trying to follow a monkey. The cow got him right in the groin.

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Warning

While filming in the grasslands, safety was a main priority. The crew had every tool at their disposal to ensure that they would be protected should anything turn for the worst. The wild grasslands are a very dangerous place as many herds make their way through the area. In fact, when filming the episode which featured wild buffalo, they had a specialist travel with them with a warning gun that would be used in the event that any buffalos charge at the crew.

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Injury

As previously mentioned, Planet Earth is an incredibly ambitious project. With so many cameramen traveling around so many dangerous parts of the world, many things could have gone wrong. It is incredibly lucky that the series only suffered one injury. That injury, as it turns out, was sustained by a cameraman who was stung by a stingray. Luckily, the sting was not something that was going to leave a lasting injury. The cameraman was able to come back and make a full recovery.

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Blessing

India was quite a complicated location for the Planet Earth crew to film in. They had to evade the cows while giving chase to the monkeys all while ensuring that they had enough of the right footage. Moreover, they needed to navigate through the incredibly complicated traffic situation in the country while all sorts of festivals are taking place. In fact, during a special Hindu ceremony called Puja, all of the crew’s cars and equipment were blessed.

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Brazil

When the Planet Earth crew traveled to Brazil, they quickly found out they were not going to be very comfortable. In fact, the entire crew ended up sharing a single room. If that was not problematic enough, the room was filled with thousands of spiders. The producer described the situation, “Every time we picked up clothes there were spiders in them, they even got inside the mosquito nets. And there were rats which I don’t mind, but they did eat through my underwear, so that was fun!”

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Terrain Problems

As previously mentioned, the snow leopards were extremely difficult to film. The crew was struggling to get good quality film of the legendary animals; the fact that they were filming in terrain like that, makes it impossible to have any advantage against the leopard. They needed to make sure if they got a snow leopard in front of a camera, that it would record. Thus, some of the team members would pretend to be leopards in order to test the 20 camera traps that they set up.

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Rainforest Dolphins

It took nearly a week for the Planet Earth crew that was on location in the rainforest to capture any glimpse of dolphins. It is incredibly rare to even see a dolphin in the middle of the rainforest. However, they spotted them and deployed a drone to get a better view of the dolphin. Once the dolphin was in sight, the crew noticed that it was not alone. The drone shot showed a group of five dolphins traveling through the rainforest.

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Caves


In order to capture everything they needed for the cave episode, the team ended up living in the caves of Borneo for a month. It would take them about an hour just to get into the positions due to all the contorting, squeezing and sliding that they needed to do. What’s more, the team needed to cover themselves in bodysuits to keep the bugs out, but even that did not work. Snakes were dropping from the roof, and what the group thought to be drops of water falling from the ceiling actually turned out to be bat pee.

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Guano

The filmmakers wanted to capture incredible footage of the ecosystem that lives within the cave around the world’s largest pile of guano. However, they quickly realized that there was no way that they could simply walk up the pile of guano to get the appropriate footage without sinking into it. Thus, they devised a rigging system in which they had a cable passing the camera just above the surface of the pile but following along the slope. Thus, the footage resembles the helicopter footage the series often features.

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