The second part of ‘Spy in the Wild’ explores mass gatherings among the animal kingdom. The spy-like cameras, fixed in the forests, will give the audience an understanding of what it feels like for animals to be part of the herd, how they cope with the changing seasons and climate, and understand animal behavior. The series is a popular pick on Sony BBC Earth.
The series producers Philip Dalton and Matthew Gordon, chat with Metrolife about their experience of shooting in the wild.
What inspired you to make this show?
Mathew Gordon: The spy brand of wildlife filming actually started about 20 years ago, where our boss John Downer came up with the idea of wanting to film in the heart of the pride of lions. And so he devised this old account, which was a remote control buggy with a camera disguised as a folder. And that allowed us to get it alive.
And once that was proven to be a huge success, we thought what can we do next and so we carried on making sort of anonymous certified cameras and that’s how we had elephants, then we had spiders. And then when we needed to find some penguins, we changed the game a bit and thought, what if we made actually a spy creature that looks like the animals, we were filming.
We made a spy penguin with a camera in it. And that took this whole sort of spy brand to another level and captured the imagination of the audience. We came up with over 30 different spy features which helped us in rebuilding incredible behaviours.
Then we thought we’ve got to do another series, which is coming up now soon — Spy in the Wild II. We looked at the different regions of the world and looked at the polar regions in one program, the tropic for the second, third was a temperate region in the Northern Hemisphere.
What were the challenges involved in fixing the cameras?
Philip Dalton: The challenges for the spy creatures and designing them is basically the camera system, we wanted to be able to show them through the eyes of the spy creatures.
So we have to modify special cameras to fit into the eye sockets of the spy creatures. And that is a big technical challenge because there’s not a lot of space.
Depending on the spy creature, they vary in size from something as large as an elephant seal, which stands at over two meters tall and at least three meters long, and down to the size of a hummingbird which will fit in the palm of your hand. A lot of challenges really to get those cameras in there until sort of fit in seamlessly.
Getting the spy creatures to move and in some cases, behave like the animals they are filming requires some of the top experts in animatronics and robotic engineering to be able to do that.
What is the animal kingdom like through the camera?
Philip Dalton: The whole goal to spy creatures is to get an animal’s points of view. Those cameras are fixed, in a sort of wide-angle.
So the field of view is quite similar to the field of view as we see the world, the whole point of them is to win the hearts and minds of the animals and getting close. Filming in very close proximity means the animals are very close.
So it feels like you’re actually there as a viewer. In contrast, the more conventional type of filming is normally done through a long lens. So, although excellent for capturing behaviour, and a technique we still rely on — it gives the sense of one observing rather than being part of a scene. The spy creatures make you feel like you’re in the heart of the action.