Friday, 29 May 2009

Natural History on BBC Radio 4

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LIVING WORLD - GRASS SNAKES
Sunday 31/05/09 at 6.35am

Grass snakes grow to a surprising five feet long (1.6m) - they are our largest native snake, almost exclusively hunting the ubiquitous frog and toad and yet we hear very little about them. Here Lionel Kelleway tries to get close to this most retreating animal and find out a little more about their private lives.

Presented by Lionel Kelleway
Produced by Julian Hector

Visit the R4 Living World webpage


A GUIDE TO WATER BIRDS (1 of 5)
Sunday 31/05/09 at 2.45pm, presented by Brett Westwood
Visit the series webpage

Brett Westwood is joined by keen bird watcher, Stephen Moss, on the Somerset Levels. With the help of wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson they identify wet meadow waders like Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe. This is the first of five entertaining and practical guides to identifying many of our freshwater birds found on ponds, rivers, reed beds and wet meadows. Not only is their advice on how to recognise the birds from their appearance, but also how to identify them from their calls and songs.

Presented by Brett Westwood
Produced by Sarah Blunt


NATURE: Seabirds - The canaries on the cliff
Tuesday 02/06/09 at 11am (Rpt Wed 03/06/09 at 9pm)
Visit the series webpage

The British coastline is alive with seabirds from April until June; thousands upon thousands breed on our cliffs and rocky shores, making us an internationally important site. But now worrying trends are being detected on the cliffs. Birds are not breeding, and those that do often can’t feed the young. The young that fledge are getting fewer and fewer and most concerning of all; the adults are leaving the breeding season exhausted and starving. What is happening? Are our seabirds the equivalent of the miner’s canaries and indicating big changes out at sea?

Presented by Chris Sperring
Produced by Mary Colwell

LIFE STORIES (Part 1 of 20) - Sloths
Friday 05/06/09 at 8.50pm (Rpt Sun 07/06/09 at 8.50am)
Visit the series webpage

"What would you like to be?" David Attenborough is often asked. "A Sloth" he replies. In this the first of a series of personal stories about the natural world, David Attenborough muses about the natural history of the sloth - perhaps the most lethargic beast in the animal world.

Produced by Julian Hector

Image from hanleedeboer.com

The Incredible Human Journey: Australia

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31st May BBC2, 21:30

Dr Alice Roberts travels the globe to discover the incredible story of how humans left Africa to colonise the world - overcoming hostile terrain, extreme weather and other species of human. She pieces together precious fragments of bone, stone and new DNA evidence and discovers how this incredible journey changed our African ancestors into the people we are today.

This week, a journey that seems almost impossible: to Australia. Miraculously preserved footprints and very old human fossils buried in the Outback suggest a mystery: that humans reached Australia almost before anywhere else. How could they have travelled so far from Africa, crossing the open sea on the way - and do it thousands of years before they made it to Europe?

The evidence trail is faint and difficult to pick up - but Alice takes on the challenge. In India, new discoveries among the debris of a super volcano hint that our species started the journey much earlier than previously thought, while in Malaysia, genetics points to an ancient trail still detectable in the DNA of tribes today. Alice travels deep into the Asian rainforests in search of the first cavemen of Borneo and tests out a Stone Age raft to see whether sea travel would have been possible thousands of years ago, before coming to a powerful conclusion.

Directed and Produced by Ed Bazalgette
Series Producer - Paul Bradshaw
Executive Producer - Kim Shillinglaw

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00klf6j

New online polar-themed tv channel launched

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FactualTV have added a new channel to their vast library of factual videos which will specifically focus on film content featuring the polar regions.

Dozens of full length documentaries and short video clips featuring research and study of the poles are available to view or download for a small fee, sometimes even for free.

The new polar channel complements the existing Sharks channel and more than 100 full length videos featuring nature and wildlife.

Visit the polar channel at polar.factualtv.com

Update from www.wildscreen.org.uk

Monday, 25 May 2009

Steve Backshall (and his muscles) are back with Deadly 60

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DEADLY 60, starts Thursday 28th May at 5:15pm on CBBC.

STEVE Backshall is back … in his most daring adventure to date. He’s travelling six continents to find his Deadly 60. A journey to find the creatures that others spend a life time avoiding! (Is Backshall doing a bit of an Irwin?)

...and in case you'd miss the subtleties of this macho-fest he'll probably also be taking his shirt off every few minutes to give you a gym-pumped muscle shot.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Incredible Human Journey: Europe

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Sunday 24 May, 9.30pm BBC2

There are seven billion humans on earth, spread across the whole planet. Scientific evidence suggests that most of us can trace our origins to one tiny group of people who left Africa around 70,000 years ago. In this five-part series, Dr Alice Roberts follows the archaeological and genetic footprints of our ancient ancestors to find out how their journeys transformed our species into the humans we are today, and how Homo sapiens came to dominate the planet. When our species first arrived in Europe, the peak of the Ice Age was approaching and the continent was already crawling with a rival: stronger, at home in the cold and even (contrary to their popular image) brainier than us. So how did the European pioneers survive first the Neanderthals and then the deep freeze as they pushed across the continent?

Alice Roberts reconstructs the head of the 'first European' to come face to face with one of our ancestors; she discovers how art became crucial for survival in the face of Neanderthal competition; and what happened to change the skin colour of these European pioneers from black to white. Finally, spectacular new finds on the edge of Europe suggest that the first known temples may have been a spark for a huge revolution in our ancestors' way of life - agriculture.
Director: Philip Smith
Producer: Paul Bradshaw
Executive Producer: Kim Shillinglaw

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Springwatch 2009

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Springwatch 2009 starts monday 25th at 8pm on BBC Two. The action continues immediatly after with a live show broadcast online.

New presenter Chris Packham joins Simon King and Kate Humble as Springwatch returns for another three-week celebration of UK wildlife – live and interactive from across the country.

Kate and Chris will be at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk, watching a host of those famous Springwatch live nest cameras. Simon this time heads for Wales, where he will be hoping to track down such elusive creatures as the polecat and the leatherback turtle, as well as planning to spend a night alone in Snowdonia.

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, meanwhile, goes on the badger trail to Essex, providing a fascinating insight into one of Britain's favourite mammals. Switching from behind-the-scenes work as a Springwatch producer to a new presenting role, Martin Hughes-Games looks at ways to turn a UK summer holiday into a wildlife holiday.

BBC Two will also broadcast three one-hour themed specials in the week following the live event.

Online
To get you in the mood visit the Springwatch website. It's bigger and better, building on the success of last year the team behind Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Big Cat Live have given the webcam player a boost, pimped the design, found a blogging mole and will soon be launching a user gallery.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Link: A major documentary film on Ida and her place in our history

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On Tuesday 26 May, BBC One shows the exclusive story behind a scientific discovery that could revolutionise our understanding of human evolution.

BBC Press
Narrated by David Attenborough, the one-off 60-minute documentary, Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link, tells the story of an important scientific development that could tell us more about where we come from.

The fossil, known as Ida, could be an indication of one of the roots of anthropoid evolution – the point at which our primate ancestors began first developing the features that would evolve into our own. Co-funded by the BBC and produced by award-winning filmmaker Anthony Geffen of Atlantic Productions, the documentary will offer unique access to a scientific discovery announced today at the American Museum of Natural History.

The documentary will show the University of Oslo's two-year journey to secretly analyse and verify Ida, piecing together her forensic secrets. Dr Jørn Hurum says: "This is the first link to all humans... This fossil is so complete. Everything's there. It's unheard of in the primate record at all. You have to get to human burial to see something that's this complete."

Discovered in Messel Pit, Germany, at 47 million years old Ida is 20-times older than most fossils that explain human evolution, and is 95% complete. Ida is a transitional species showing characteristics from the very primitive non-human evolutionary line (prosimians, such as lemurs), but is more related to the human evolutionary line (anthropoids, such as monkeys, apes and humans).

The documentary brings Ida's world to life, using 3-D animations and imaging technologies to recreate Ida and the world that she would have inhabited. Jay Hunt, Controller of BBC One says: "I am delighted that this ground-breaking piece of scientific research will be showcased on BBC One. "There can be nothing more compelling than the story of how the human race evolved."

David Attenborough, writer and narrator, says:

"This little creature is going to show us our connection with all the rest of the mammals."

The programme came into development after a chance meeting between Dr Jørn Hurum, vertebrate palaeontologist, University of Oslo, and Atlantic Productions.

Anthony Geffen says:
"It is incredibly rare to get the opportunity to document ground-breaking science as it happens. "Even more exciting is to be involved with breaking the news in conjunction with the scientists and across multiple platforms with a story that connects to every person on the planet."

Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link was produced by Atlantic Productions and is co-funded by BBC, the History Channel, ZDF and NRK.

http://www.revealingthelink.com/

Premiere in the US.
The world premiere of The Link, a two-hour event special, airs on Memorial Day – Monday May 25th, 2009 at 9pm ET/PT. It is being screened by History across the US.

BBC
The UK premiere of Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link will be shown on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday 26th May. The version of the film made for the BBC is written and narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

BBC Worldwide
The Link is being distributed to broadcasters around the worldwide by BBC Worldwide on behalf of Atlantic Productions. Please refer to http://www.bbcworldwide.com/ for details.

BBC Press

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Incredible Human Journey : ASIA

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17th May BBC2, 21:30pm

There are 7 billion humans on earth, spread across the whole planet. Scientific evidence suggests that most of us can trace our origins to one tiny group of people who left Africa around 70 000 years ago. 'The Incredible Human Journey' is a five-part series in which Dr Alice Roberts follows the archaeological and genetic footprints of our ancient ancestors in a quest to find out how their journeys transformed our species into the humans we are today and how Homo sapiens came to dominate the planet.

Asia: In this programme the journey continues into Asia, the world's greatest land mass, in a quest to discover how early hunter-gatherers managed to survive in one of the most inhospitable places on earth - the arctic region of Northern Siberia. Alice meets the nomadic Evenki people, whose lives are dictated by reindeer, both wild and domesticated and discovers that the survival techniques of this very ancient people have been passed down through the generations. Alice also explores what may have occurred during human migration to produce Chinese physical characteristics, and considers a controversial claim about Chinese evolution: that the Chinese do not share the same African ancestry as other peoples.

Directed and Produced by Charles Colville
Series Producer - Paul Bradshaw
Executive Producer - Kim Shillinglaw

DisneyNature Oceans set for release on Earth Day 2010

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With Disneynature’s first feature film EARTH (a rehash of the BBC series Planet Earth but we won't keep going on about that ;-) pulling in close to $100 million worldwide in its opening week, it’s not surprising that the studio is looking ahead to next year.

A teaser trailer has been released for OCEANS anticipated for release on Earth day 2010. You might recognise some scenes in this one from the BBC's PLANET EARTH series, but there are also glimpses of some new, incredible footage waiting in the wings.

Also keep an eye open for recycling of the classic line from Attenborough's Blue Planet 'Until now we've only touched the surface'...


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Starting with North America Keith Scholey & Discovery to capture the world in HD

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Discovery Channel signs deal with Wild Horizons and Keith Scholey to create the most ambitious documentary series to date starting with 'WILD PLANET: NORTH AMERICA'.

Using the full power of cutting-edge film technology, Discovery Channel is teaming with Wild Horizons, Ltd. and Keith Scholey, formerly head of the BBC's Natural History Unit, in a multiyear production deal to capture the world, continent by continent in high definition, as its never been seen before.

WILD PLANET: NORTH AMERICA (wt), begins filming in 2009, to kick off the project. This ambitious seven-part documentary takes an all-encompassing view of the North American continent from the arctic to Mexico and covers topics including mountains, forests, deserts, plains, coasts and rivers.

North America is one of the most captivating continents on the planet. Stretching from the polar ice caps to the subtropics, it contains diverse habitats and even more varied wildlife. Employing cutting-edge technology formerly reserved for blockbuster Hollywood films, Discovery and Wild Horizons will capture iconic landscapes and enable viewers to experience unforgettable locations for themselves. High-definition cameras will be hoisted to the tops of mammoth sequoias, the largest living things on earth, and lowered down into Carlsbad Cavern, one of the deepest caves on the planet. In addition, the use of high-speed cameras specially designed to move or fly with animals will enable the producers to capture animals in the most dramatic fashion, from leaping humpback whales to flying squirrels soaring through the forests at night.

"WILD PLANET: NORTH AMERICA will highlight the sweeping beauty and majesty of the continent and its rich diversity. Having Keith at the helm is guaranteed to deliver a series that will ignite our viewers' passion for the world around them."
said John Ford, president and general manager of Discovery Channel.

Keith Scholey, director of Wild Horizons, Ltd. said "North America has everything; majestic scenery, spectacular wildlife and vast areas of pristine wilderness. Discovery has given us the resources to do this magnificent continent justice, showing it to the American people in the most spectacular fashion. It's a huge privilege to be making such an important series."

Monday, 11 May 2009

TV Star Echo the Elephant Dies in Amboseli

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By Samuel Maina for GlobalVoices.

World renowned Amboseli National Park elephant matriarch, Echo, has died from what the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) believes to be a combination of old age and the long 3-year drought that has left this southern Kenya wildlife preserve dry and with little to offer in terms of food.

Echo died at 2pm on Sunday, 3 May 2009. She had collapsed on Saturday morning and had remained down for more than 24 hours, unable to get up, until she eventually died. “ATE staff Katito and Robert stayed with her the whole time”, Cynthia Moss, who learned of Echo's death while on a fundraising trip in the US, told WildlifeDirect on Monday, 4 May. Moss has suspended her US trip to travel to Kenya to be with the sorrowful staff at STE and to observe how Echo's family will deal with this sudden loss.

When Moss identified Echo for the first time in 1973, the elephant's family consisted of 7 members. At the time of her death, 36 years later, Echo was the leader of a family of 40 elephants that roamed the Amboseli plains in the shadow of the majestic Kilimanjaro.
Echo is perhaps the most famous wild elephant in the world after her appearance in various films the most memorable being her 1993 debut in the film Echo of the Elephants produced by the BBC Natural History Unit and narrated by world famous elephant researcher Cynthia Moss with BBC's Martyn Colbeck behind the camera. Echo appeared in the films sequels now popularly known as the ‘Echo Trilogy'.

The ‘Echo Trilogy' includes Echo of the Elephants (1993), Echo of the Elephants: The Next Generation (1996), and, the most recent, Echo of the Elephants: The Final Chapter (2005). Most recently, Echo has appeared in the film about Martyn Colbeck's work called An Eye for An Elephant.

According to Moss, the loss of Echo will be very disturbing for her elephant family.
“For all of them, except for her sister Ella, Echo was the only leader they have ever known” says Moss in a communication to WildlifeDirect also posted in the ATE website. Moss will be observing how the elephants handle the transition from Amboseli, Kenya. Echo was of great value to science. Moss says:

“For us on the Amboseli Elephant Research Project she has been an invaluable research subject providing us with insights into elephant behavior, leadership, communication, social relations and intelligence”. But Echo was not just a research project. “She was more than that. She was a daily presence, almost a companion to all of us. She gave us joy and filled us with wonder”





For all those who knew Echo, this is indeed a great loss. Dr Paula Kahumbu asked readers of the blog Baraza to light a candle for this magnificent mother, while Joyce Poole and Peter Granli remembered the moments they spent with Echo while studying elephant vocal communication on their blog at Elephant Voices.

Interview with the directors of DisneyNature's Earth

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Interview with Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Grant Museum: How to Make a Natural History Documentary

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Chris Howard and I will be speaking at the Grant Museum, UCL on May 20th.

Starts: May 20, 2009 at 06:30 pm
Ends: May 20, 2009 at 08:00 pm

Location: Grant Museum, Malet Place, London, WC1E 6BT United Kingdom

From Springwatch to Life in Cold Blood and mini-cameras to high speed cinematography, join Paul Williams and Chris Howard of the BBC Natural Unit for an insight into Wildlife filmmaking. Delving into the archives, Paul and Chris will explore the bizarre history of filming the natural world including boxing kangaroos, the first mating scene and incredible cutting-edge images of predators in the wild.

The talk will be followed by a special after hours viewing of the museum and a glass of wine.

Website: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology/whats-on/index.html

Friday, 8 May 2009

Amazing new underwater slow motion footage from the BBC

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The BBC have done it again. This incredible footage shows big wave surfer Dylan Longbottom in a 12 foot monster barrel, these are the first shots of their kind ever recorded. Spectacular!



The BBC Natural History Unit specially modified a TyphoonHD4, apparently the most advanced HD camera ever, costing $100,00. While the exact modifications appear to be a closely-kept secret, we do know that it was outfitted with a special underwater housing designed by German high-speed camera expert Rudi Diesel, and the camera itself is able to shoot in HD at 20 times the speed of a normal high definition camera. 'Planet Earth' eat your heart out!

The Incredible Human Journey: Out of Africa

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Sunday 10th May BBC2, 21:30

Dr Alice Roberts travels the globe to discover the incredible story of how humans left Africa to colonise the world - overcoming hostile terrain, extreme weather and other species of human. She pieces together precious fragments of bone, stone and new DNA evidence and discovers how this incredible journey changed our African ancestors into the people we are today.This week, Alice travels to Africa in search of the birthplace of the first people. They were so few in number and so vulnerable that today they'd probably be considered an endangered species. So what allowed them to survive at all? The Bushmen of the Kalahari have some answers: the unique design of the human body made us efficient hunters; and the ancient 'click language' of the Bushmen points to an early ability to organise and plan.So we survived here - but Africa was to all intents and purposes a sealed continent. So how and by what route did our ancestors make it out of Africa? Astonishing genetic evidence reveals that everyone alive today who isn't African descends from just one successful, tiny group which left the continent in a single crossing. An event that may have happened around 70 thousand years ago. But how did they do it? Alice goes searching for clues in the remote Arabian Desert.

Directed and Produced by David Stewart
Series Producer - Paul Bradshaw
Executive Producer - Kim Shillinglaw

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00klf6j

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

BBC Earth News launched today

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BBC Earth news launches today, part of the exclusive Earth Multiplatform project from the BBC Natural History Unit. For over fifty years, the NHU has produced award-winning wildlife films and documentaries. Each year, up to seventy NHU expedition teams travel the world, visiting the most remote and inspiring locations, filming, reporting and celebrating life on Earth. Earth News is here to bring that world to you, and to tell the greatest story of all. The story of life.

Also visit 'Out of the Wild' for expedition updates from Natural History crews in the field.

BBC Earth News has launched with a strong lead story exclusive to Earth News, disclosing the origin of the gigantic tide of green algae that almost derailed the Beijing Olympic sailing regatta.

The Prince's Rainforests Project

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The Prince's Rainforests Project launches it's global awareness campaign with a video featuring some well-known faces...



http://www.princesrainforestsproject.org

Tropical forests may seem a long way away, but they play a vital role in our lives. They operate as the worlds natural air-conditioning and thermostat systems and produce much of the rainfall essential to the worlds growing population.

Rainforests absorb nearly a fifth of all man-made CO2 emissions but they are currently being destroyed at the rate of a football pitch every four seconds. When these forests are burnt -- for agriculture or mining, for example -- they release stored CO2 back into the atmosphere, pushing annual CO2 emissions from tropical deforestation above those of the global transport network.

It is for these reasons that HRH The Prince of Wales set up The Prince's Rainforests Project with the clear ambition of 'Making the trees worth more alive than dead.' On May 5th, the PRP launched a worldwide campaign to raise awareness of this issue. This is where you can play your part. We are looking for a global gathering to show this is something people care about.

http://www.princesrainforestsproject.org

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

South Pacific: Ocean of Islands

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Sunday, 20:30 on BBC Two

The South Pacific islands are the most remote in the world. Their extraordinary isolation has created some of the most curious, surprising and precarious examples of life found anywhere on Earth; from giant crabs that tear open coconuts, to flesh-eating caterpillars that impale their prey on dagger-like claws.

Human culture is different too. The men of Pentecost Island celebrate their annual harvest by leaping from 20 metre high scaffolds, with only forest vines to break their fall. And on the tiny island of Anuta, possibly the most remote community of people on the planet, the locals survive entirely on what they can grow and catch.

The South Pacific's innumerable islands look like pieces of paradise, but the reality of life here is sometimes very different, with waves the size of buildings, brutal tropical storms, and, in the far south, even blizzards. This is the real South Pacific.

Credits
Narated by Benedict Cumberbatch
Producer: Huw Cordey
Executive Producer: Fiona Pitcher

Broadcasts:
Sun 10 May at 2009 20:30
Mon 11 May 2009 at 19:00
Tue 12 May 2009 at 20:00 on BBC HD

Monday, 4 May 2009

Cataloguing Life On Earth: An Inside Look at ARKive

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Three months after starting at Wildscreen as an ARKive media researcher, I announced to my flatmate that my first batch of species had been uploaded to the website. My role at ARKive is to track down media for various species, so I was quite pleased to see my first lot go ‘live’. Rather than a pat on the back for a job well done, I received only a look of ‘three months and that’s all?’ - an expression he happens to excel at.

Looking back, my flatmate’s preconceptions of life at ARKive were not so different to the ones I used to have. There can’t be that much to uploading a few pictures to a website. What exactly had I been doing for the past three months?

ARKive is aiming to create audiovisual fact files for all life on Earth, then make that information available to anybody with an internet connection. It’s no small task, so where to begin?

Falling in line with Wildscreen’s most basic imperative, to promote conservation, ARKive prioritises rare and endangered species. Nearly 17, 000 species are categorised by the IUCN as at risk of extinction. Endangered lists from the IUCN and other authorities such as CITES are drawn upon to create the species lists which give ARKive it’s content.

Every day, up to 30, 000 people from across the globe visit ARKive. The site currently has a rapidly growing collection of over 33,000 film clips and images. All collated and catalogued by a small team in Bristol.

Many people may not know what a certain species looks like, yet alone how it behaves. ARKive hopes to allow people to experience this, thereby inspiring action. It’s not easy to make somebody care whether we loose Paradisaea rudolphi unless that person knows it looks like this and sounds like this. As you can see, images and footage can be an important part of the process.

Everything on ARKive is stored in the media vault, a 70 TB (71, 680 GB) database composed of 72 hard disks formed into three disk arrays. The 60 plus hours of footage available on the website alone takes up approximately 5.5 TB (5476 GB) of this. Creating a safe centralised digital bank of material is a crucial part of the project.

One of the biggest providers of moving images to ARKive is the BBC. The BBC Motion Gallery is one of the first stops once a species list has been allocated. Footage is inherently less common than images, but you might be surprised at some of the species you can find if you look.

Tapes are rented from the archive at the Natural History Unit. Some species bring with them a lot more tapes than others. For a ‘big’ species, this could mean a mixed pile of up to 30 or more trims and programmes. Wildscreen itself holds a fair amount of programmes in its own library of festival entries. This dates back to 1986, but it doesn’t have everything and certainly won’t have trims tapes, which are important for the ‘small’ species.

Assuming each tape contains footage of the correct species, it would be incredibly impractical to catalogue it all. Not to mention you wouldn’t be inspiring anybody with hours of a lion pride resting. The aim is to create a comprehensive cross-section of the species’ life history, from birth to death and as much behaviour in-between.

Dredging through hours of archive footage inevitably stirs up a few great clips although, unfortunately, often of non-target species. Seeing a northern giant petrel pick at a still flapping gentoo penguin from the inside out is one such gem, something that didn’t quite make it into Blue Planet. Or Gerald Durrell’s useful tips on leech removal from Two in the Bush - using the butt of a cigarette. However, those of target species often do make it to the website.

Once timecodes and metadata have been catalogued, the next phase is to call in master quality tapes for digitisation and editing. At this point, footage leaves the hands of the researchers. All editing is carried out by an in-house team.

Track laying and audio mixing is outsourced for almost all clips, then sent back to Wildscreen where they are synched to moving images. The clips can then be re-uploaded to the vault where they are transcoded into a variety of formats, including the final low resolution form seen on the website.

So, before footage is made available on the website, it passes through several hands and is dealt with in a variety of forms and formats. Moving footage is just one part of an audio-visual factfile. Still images and species text make up the rest. Read more about these and the unique ARKive database in my next post.

Rob Morgan

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A brief history of Early wildlife filmmaking

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Early Natural History Filmmaking by Bryony Dixon
For more visit: www.screenonline.org.uk

If there is one area of the film business where Britain has always retained an enviable reputation, that is the natural history or wildlife film. As soon as pictures could move, naturalists were desperate to capture on film the subjects of their obsession - birds, bees, flowers, animals and plants of all kinds. Pioneers such as Oliver Pike, Percy Smith, F. Martin Duncan and J.C. Bee-Mason invented the genre, invented their own equipment and methodology, developed techniques and braved the elements to capture images that still fascinate us today. All three had long and fascinating careers as filmmakers and effectively launched the genre that eventually led to such pinnacles of achievement as Planet Earth (BBC, 2006-).

The first views of animals on film in the 1890s cannot really be described as natural history or wildlife films. These were principally views of captive animals, sporting events, hunt gatherings, parades, agricultural shows, farming processes, zoo films and animal acts, where the cameraman was photographing an existing spectacle. Film technology was not sufficiently developed in the 1890s to cope with anything more than this. The length of film (less than a minute) would not allow for the patient recording of the unpredictable movements of wild animals, and there were issues too with focus and manoeuvrability. The noise of the camera was another problem when filming nervous wildlife, and similar methods had to be employed as during the transition to sound film.

The first British film featuring animals in a deliberate set up was made by William K. Dickson for his Biograph Company in London in December 1899, and featured a fight between a tarantula and a scorpion - although arguably this was an opportunistic film of an existing animal act. The first deliberate attempt to portray wildlife on film was Charles Urban's 1903 Unseen World series, drawing mainly on the talents of sequence photographer and lecturer F. Martin Duncan. The series dealt primarily with microscopic creatures delighting in such names as Volvox Globators or Rotifers, mostly delivered straight but some with a surrounding narrative (based on the 1901 W.R. Booth trick film) of a scientist having lunch and examining his cheese under a microscope to find it crawling with mites. The mites were real, and this microscope shot is all that now survives of the film.

Urban's personal mission to use film for education was an important factor in his fostering the careers of wildlife filmmakers such as Percy Smith, and in 1907 he developed the Kineto brand specifically to promote scientific and travel subjects. Oliver Pike, an unusually 'driven' nature photographer with technical flair, made his own film In Birdland (1907), which played at the Palace Theatre in London for six weeks and sold an impressive 100 prints. Pike was picked up by Pathé and contracted to make several films with considerable investment and high production values including beautifully subtle stencil colouring, for distribution all over the world. These set a high standard, and must have had considerable influence on other filmmakers.

These first natural history filmmakers seem to share several traits: a passion for wildlife and the natural world from an early age, technical inventiveness and competence as well as knowledge and, often, physical courage (Oliver Pike, for example, relates tales of filming seabirds from an overhanging cliff). Reflected in the autobiographies and writings which accompany some of the films is a view that this genre of filmmaking has a 'boy's own' quality, conflating healthy outdoor pursuits, adventure, hunting, exploration and fame. J.C. Bee-Mason's films of the Arctic and the 'Green Hell' jungles of Bolivia are indeed exploration films during which he nearly always forgets about the human explorers in favour of the wildlife he encounters. The very act of capturing the glories of nature on film is a noble endeavour and underlying this is the filmmakers' absolute conviction that the public would want to see the resulting images. They were not wrong.

Nature films had a long shelf life and were very popular. Moreover the British filmmakers over long careers developed a 'voice', a mode of expression that was intimate, personal (the films are nearly always one man talking as if to one audience member) and respectful. The hushed voices employed by contemporary naturalist broadcasters, from Sir David Attenborough to Bill Oddie, as they describe some fascinating species is a development of the same approach. The coming of sound led to a slight hiatus in this style. The sound track to Magic Myxies (1931) experimented with a light-hearted, populist and slightly jovial tone, which was quickly slapped down by the educationalists, and although the anthropomorphic tendency creeps back in occasionally, this is, in Britain at least, generally greeted with disapproval. The personal and authoritative style of nature filmmaking was here to stay, and all of the efforts of global players such as Disney could not change it.

Simon King answers 'So how do I get into Wildlife Film-making?'

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From http://www.simonkingwildlife.com/AboutSimon/Questions.php

HOW DO I GET INTO WILDLIFE FILM-MAKING?

Probably the most frequently asked question over time… and a good one! The straight answer is there is no one route into the wildlife film-making industry. My own route was unorthodox. I first appeared on TV when I was 10 years old, in a period drama about a boy on Dartmoor who finds and raises a fox. This came about because of my already established passion for animals and my late father, John King, who was then a director with the BBC in Bristol. We went on to work together ( and apart ) for the next 25 years, making a number of series and stand alone programmes. In that time I developed as a cameraman and producer, whilst continuing on-screen appearances.

So how does this help with regards to advice? I’m not sure, but what is certain is that throughout that time, I have been true to my first passion – The Natural World and all that it represents. A genuine interest and knowledge of the subjects one hopes to work with is the single most important tool for the job. A zoology degree can open doors but is not essential ( I left school at 17 to make my first film as a cameraman ! ). Media Studies too can help develop a knowledge of the fundaments of film making, and get you meeting the right people. The ready availability of video cameras and home video editing facilities really has made a tremendous difference to the access everyone has to develop these skills. Creating a show-reel, to display your ability as a cameraperson, presenter, producer or any other discipline can speak volumes to a potential employer.

But above all – passion. Genuine, full-blooded passion for the subject will open more doors than almost any other credential. Marry that with perseverance and you’re on your way. Good luck!

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU NEED?

I have collated a lot of equipment over the years, all of it suited to different tasks.

My main camera is an Arriflex HSR2, a Super-16mm film camera which can run up to 150fps ( slow motion ). I deploy a number of lenses, including 150 – 600 mm zoom, a 10 – 150 zoom and a number of fixed and specialist lenses.

In addition I use a Sony PD150 camera. This uses DVCAM tapes and is the camera used to film me in the field most to the time.

On some shoots I use higher specification video cameras, be they Digi-Beta, High Definition or even high spec. DVCAM, depending on the production’s remit.

Obviously there are a lot of peripherals without which you can’t get going. Tripods with fluid heads, hides, camouflage, an assortment of lights, jibs, the list goes on. Add to that all the stuff you require for more specialised shoots such as underwater, extreme cold, extreme hot and soon the gear store starts to bulge! And that’s before you start taking any still photographs.

Find out more about Simon here