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New Tech Takes BBC America’s “Planet Earth II” Even Deeper Into Our World

Advances in cinematography enable a more intimate sequel to the iconic British nature series.

Ten years ago, BBC’s Planet Earth astonished with breathtaking and rare footage of animals and ecosystems around the globe.

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Thanks to cinematic advances, such as drones and motion-activated cameras, its follow-up, Planet Earth II—premiering in the U.S. February 18 on BBC America—manages closer, more intimate, and even rarer shots.

“One of the differentiators between the original Planet Earth series and this series is the technology,” executive producer Mike Gunton told the Television Critics Association earlier this month. “The first series had that sense of almost a godlike perspective in observing. Looking down upon the planet from a helicopter perspective is a very strong one using gyro-stabilized camera mounts.

“With this series, we took that technology, miniaturized it, and put it in the hands of the cameramen, so they could take the camera off the tripod,” he adds. “Drones allow a middle ground. That’s allowed us to, rather than observe, actually experience the lives of the animals.”

The seven-part series, guided by the wry narration of Sir David Attenborough, features arresting footage, like this chase between snakes and an iguana that went viral last year:

“You take a gamble, talk to everybody who has ever been to a place, and say, ‘Are we being really crazy? Are we about to just waste a huge amount of time and money?’ ” said producer Elizabeth White. “And then you weigh that risk and say, ‘No. We have just got to go for this. We have got to try it.’

The footage even surprised a veteran naturalist like Attenborough. “The most difficult animal to film was the snow leopard,” he said. “It’s incredibly rare. Only two can exist in about a hundred square miles of the Karakoram Mountains in the Himalayas.

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“And the thing that might surprise most people is that New York City has the highest density of breeding peregrine falcons of any place in the world,” he adds. “The skyscrapers replicate the [cliff and canyon] conditions under which the peregrine falcons evolved, places where they can exploit the updraft of air and find good prey, which are pigeons.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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