We were always photographing them from a tripod, a fixed position. And for Planet Earth and then for The Hunt, we developed the technique of taking the Cineflex, which is this system that stabilises the camera, initially on a helicopter. We then moved it on to a snow vehicle, and that allowed us to track with the polar bear. It gave a quality of image that is just totally fresh. It really captures the mood of the animal.
Also, because you’re enclosed in a little buggy, it allows you to film in all sorts of weather. That was fine, except we were driving along in the buggy and testing the depths of the ice all the time, drilling into the ice. I was there, the cameraman was there, and we went through the ice. And we’d just got out of the vehicle before it went down. And that was bloody frightening. It’s the most frightening experience I’ve ever had filming in 25 to 30 years of doing it.
We then went back the following year and had another go with the same system. It’s those sort of things that you can’t predict where you’re trying to push the boundaries.
There are behavioural things that happen, too, which just blow you away. The zebra and giraffe episodes have some amazing sequences of five male cheetahs hunting together. I mean, cheetahs are solitary predators. Sometimes the males will co-operate. I’ve never seen five cheetahs hunting together. That is epic. We have extraordinary sequences in the freshwater, of jaguars hunting caiman, all shot with a stabilised camera on a boat.
There’s an extraordinary sequence in our jungle film of a bird of paradise called the western parotia, that has the most complex dance of any bird. I mean, it has an 18-step dance. Everybody who has filmed birds of paradise did it from ground level, looking at them straight. None of the people could ever quite work out why this bird was dancing like this.
And then we thought, 'hang on, where is the female?' And she’s always in the branch up above the male doing the dance. And of course, we then put a camera hanging above her to get her point of view and suddenly, you understood his whole dance is designed to be looked at from above.
I could go on and on and on. There are just so many fresh and exciting sequences in this series. I genuinely think it’s going to blow people away. I also think there’s going to be real power in the narrative.
We do it in a very selective way because we really want to make this series a very entertaining show. People come home from work, relax at the weekend with a gin and tonic. They don’t want to have a finger wagged at them.
There are so many unbelievably powerful images. To give you an example, the rainforest, jungle film ends with a beautiful sequence of orangutans of Sumatra which centres around a female orangutan who has learnt to use tools. She’s unique - she’s the only orangutan in the world that can use these tools.
The male that features in this is 40 years old. When he was a baby, the rainforest just went to the horizon, for miles and miles and miles.
And now, literally, on the edge of where they live, there’s oil palm. And so our last shot in the sequence is a drone shot where you just go out from the rainforest and you just see the oil palm and it’s just really powerful.
We filmed extraordinary images in the shallow seas of oceans completely taken over by jellyfish and they are there because they are replacing fish. Our oceans are being taken over by jellyfish, and that’s a very powerful image. We filmed for the very first time in time lapse actual coral bleaching. You actually see the process of the coral bleaching and it’s extremely powerful.
Those are the selected images that will make people think about what we’re losing. But it’s very important that we give positive messages. We really want to empower the audience.
The last sequence of the shallow seas episode is filmed at a place in Indonesia called The Zoo, which 10 years ago was trashed – all the sharks had been taken. 10 years ago, they made it a nature reserve. And we filmed it. It looks like an Eden. It’s so recovered in 10 years and it’s a lovely sequence to end the show.
Because we need to say to people, 'it’s dire, but there’s still time to do what we need to do'. We open the opening episode saying what we do in the next 20 years is totally vital. That is what is going to make the difference.