Friday, 29 July 2011

Yay. It's finally here - One Life - an epic adventure with a cast of millions

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One Life narrated by Daniel Craig is in cinemas now.

It's a summer for Natural History on the big screen. The elephants and orangutans of Born to Be Wild are stampeding and swinging out of the big screens of IMAX 3D. The WWF have released their short film Astonish Me - a celebration of newly discovered species that is being shown ahead of summer blockbusters in Odeon Cinemas (I was at the premiere earlier in the week), and this week One Life from the BBC was unleashed nationwide.

One Life is the cherry on the cake for our TV series Life, which in the United States was watched by a bigger audience than Planet Earth. In the wake of this success it was hastily decided to follow in the footsteps of Planet Earth, to produce a glorious and celebratory feature length film for cinematic release. 18 months later you can now watch this breathtaking imagery, including previously unseen footage, on the big screen. Witness the sheer majesty of stag beetles duelling for a mate - which look otherworldly when seen at 7 metres tall, or the team of cheetahs taking down an ostrich to feed their young. Whether you're an ant or a whale these are things that unite us all - the struggle to survive, to find a meal, avoid danger, make friends not enemies, and eventually find love and have children. The story may be a cliche - 'the struggle to survive', and it does labour on the idea that animals are similar to us, but don't let this anthropomorphism put you off. The epic moments speak for themselves. 

If you saw the series then you'll want to watch One Life to see the story retold - bigger, better and with more awe, in a way that only the cinema screen allows. It's also narrated by husky Daniel Craig, quite a contrast from the hushed David Attenborough. If you missed the series then this is your chance to catch up on what has become a significant chapter in the history of wildlife TV and cinema*

*I may be biased

"On the big screen such powerfully emotional stories have a much greater impact than when the experience is on a smaller scale. For me, that’s what’s so exciting about creating films." - Neil Nightingale, Creative Director, BBC Earth

Read more about this film and why BBC Earth is in the business of producing films for the cinema.

 Duelling Stag Beetles Photo: BBC/Rupert Barrington

Mesmerising pollinators - the importance & beauty of Bees, Bats & Hummingbirds 'Wings of Life' @tedtalks

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Pollination: it's vital to life on Earth, but largely unseen by the human eye. Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg shows us the intricate world of pollen and pollinators with gorgeous high-speed images from his film "Wings of Life," inspired by the vanishing of one of nature's primary pollinators, the honeybee.

This video starts with an introduction by Louie before a mesmerising montage of shots from the film including pollinating bees, bats and hummingbirds. (If you want to skip straight to the beauty then it starts at 3:16).

And while we're in the plant pollination mood here's an interesting story hot of the press - BBC news

Plant evolved bat-beckoning beacon

A rainforest vine has evolved dish-shaped leaves to attract the bats that pollinate it. Tests revealed that the leaves were supremely efficient at bouncing back the sound pulses the flying mammals used to navigate. When the leaves were present the bats located the plant twice as quickly as when these echoing leaves were removed. Read more

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Human Planet does the Proms - Listen Now! @BBCRadio3

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On Saturday evening the Royal Albert Hall hosted a live performance of music composed by Nitin Sawhney for Human Planet.  Listen on BBC iPlayer until July 30th.

Every year we, at the BBC Natural History Unit, complete what are affectionately known as the Big Blue Chippers, series which have taken years to produce and are full of the glossiest shots, the most ambitious stories and filmed in some of the worlds remotest locations. Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life, and most recently Human Planet. Inevitably they cause quite a stir around the world and spawn books, DVDs, games, museum exhibitions, even a range of clothing, calendars and cuddly toys! The one spin off that always gets my attention is the big musical spectacular such as 'Human Planet at the Proms' which took place on Saturday evening at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Charles Hazlewood, played excerpts from the music composed for the series as footage from Human Planet was projected onto big screens.

As gorgeous as the images are in these Blue Chip series the superbly composed music is a necessary ingredient for their success. Intricately crafted compositions help to suck you into the moment and heighten the exhiliration, suspense or romance of the scene - just as John Williams did for ET, so too has British-Indian composer Nitin Sawhney done for Human Planet.

Saturdays concert also featured performances from some of the musicians heard in the Music Planet series on Radio 3, including the Bibilang Shark-Calling Group from Papua New Guinea and Rasmus Lyberth from Greenland. At the start of the second half the musicians in the orchestra swapped their usual instruments for ones made from junk for a rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. This Scrapheap Symphony was part of Scrapheap Orchestra, a forthcoming BBC Four documentary that challenges a group of the UK's top instrument makers to transform junk, broken furniture and the contents of roadside skips into an orchestra of instruments.

These live events pop up every now and then and I strongly encourage you to go along and be carried away by the overwhelming performance.

Saturday’s concert was broadcast live on Radio 3 and is available on iPlayer until 30 July.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I'm a number not a name - so is everything else in nature - The Code, BBC2

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The Code, BBC Two, 9pm 27th July,

You may think of yourself as a name, but the truth is that you're a number, as is everything else in nature. Everything we do, everything we are, is governed by a hidden numerical code. In tonight's episode of The Code, Marcus du Sautoy unravels some of this mystery to reveal how this code has the power to explain everything, from the numbers and shapes we see all around us to the rules that govern our own lives. Smashing through the eye-watering dullness of text-book mathematics, he shows us how significant numbers appear throughout the natural world and how they can be as fascinating and beautiful as the things they control - beautiful mind, beautiful body, beautiful universe. From the periodical appearances of cicadas, who rely on safety in numbers and rare appearances to avoid predators, to how the nautilus uses a simple mathematical principle to build an elegant spiral shell. These numbers are part of a hidden mathematical world that contains the rules that govern everything on our planet and beyond.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Astonish Me' starring Bill Nighy - WWF 50th Anniversary @wwf_uk

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2011 is the 50th anniversary of WWF, or the World Wildlife Fund, one of the world's largest independent conservation organisations. The WWF supports a global network of more than 1300 conservation and environmental projects in over a hundred countries. Next Tuesday I'll be in the company of some of these inspiring conservationists for the world premiere of  'Astonish Me', a unique film that has been produced to highlight and celebrate their critical work.

Starring Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton, and Written by Stephen Poliakoff, 'Astonish Me' takes viewers on a journey to encounter some of the world's lesser known or recently discovered species. From a multitude of colourful birds and massive insects, to colossal squid and fish with transparent heads. It showcases a small, but thrilling, selection of the 15,000 new species that are discovered every year, and it's appropriately set in the Natural History Museum, London, where much of the work of identifying and naming these species take place. This film inspires us by the knowledge that there are still more wonders waiting to be found, but reminds us that we are also losing species and habitat at an alarming rate. Just consider the Amazon, where many species that scientists discover are already on the verge on extinction.

'Astonish Me' will be screened in Odeon cinemas from the 29th July 2011

 Astonish Me trailer from WWF-UK on Vimeo.

“It's extraordinary in the 21st Century there are so many animals out there that we're seeing or discovering for the first time.. I was adrenalised when I found out just how much had been discovered over the past 10 years. I hope this film will get people exhilarated by the natural world.”
- Stephen Poliakoff

“'Astonish Me' shows that the natural world is every bit as magical and surprising as the fictional world you might see in a Hollywood film. We know about less than a tenth of the species that we suspect are out there and I really hope this film inspires a new generation of conservationists to be curious about the natural world and to want to protect it.”  - Colin Butfield, Head of Campaigns, WWF-UK 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Out of the office! The Pantanal of Brazil

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Follow me on Flickr and Twitter and SoundCloud.

Overlooking the Pantanal, high up in the Amolar mountain range

I'm currently out of the office, scouting out locations and filming opportunities in the Pantanal of Brazil.  Spreading 195,000 square kilometres over Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal is a vast wetland wonderland packed with wildlife. Over 1000 species of bird, 400 of fish, 300 of mammals, 480 reptile species and 9000 different subspecies of invertebrate. I've had two close sightings of Jaguar, gawped at the odd looking Jabiru bird, and spent hours canoeing alongside a family of Giant Otters. Capybara and Caiman are everywhere, as familiar as the Tabebuia ipe trees which tower 120 feet over the waterways, held high with trunks 3 feet thick - it's the only tree strong enough to support the huge Jabiru nests.

The Pantanal is a dynamic place, constantly in a state of flux, from flooded wetland to dry grassland. The wildlife here is finely tuned to deal with these huge contrasts. Fish migrate and spawn with the floods, birds arrive to breed in time to feed on the fish trapped by the drying pools. Caiman hang around these rookeries waiting for scraps to fall - or a plump chick. Capybara usher their young out to feed on the fresh grass that grows following the waters retreat.

As we tour the silvery flat water-scape we pass floating islands of macrophytes,  and gatherings of giant water lilies adorned with a giggling lily trotter. The lilies air-filled struts keep them afloat as they glide in our wake like inflated mattresses.  This part of the Pantanal is made even more beautiful by the reflections of the Amolar mountain range which shimmer in the evening light. These grand undulations on the edge of the Pantanal afford a vast and breathtaking view across this otherwise flat and flooded landscape, and are the most spectacular place from which to bask in an enchanting sunset.

I will be returning to film in the Pantanal in August and from what local people tell me it should be even more incredible for wildlife. As the water levels subside the animals become more visible and concentrated. Wow!

Here are some of my iphone pics from Flickr and Twitter and you can hear my wildlife sound recordings on SoundCloud. I will post some of my Pantanal wildlife photography on Flickr as soon as I can.

Another close jaguar - just enough time to snatch a photo before it disappeared.

"Another close jaguar - just enough time to snatch a photo before it disappeared"

Up in the Amolar range overlooking the verdant Pantanal

"Up in the Amolar range overlooking the verdant Pantanal"

Discovered a freaky abandoned research station in the middle of the forest. Lots of dead things in jars!

"Discovered a freaky abandoned research station in the middle of the forest. Lots of dead things in jars!" The date on many of the jars say 1996 so could it have been abandoned all these years?

Splendid array of giant water lilies strewn out in front of a grand mountain vista #Pantanal

"Splendid array of giant water lilies strewn out in front of a grand mountain vista #Pantanal"

Sun rises over misty Cuiaba river as we head 6 hours down it to heart of Pantanal..

"Sun rises over misty Cuiaba river as we head 6 hours down it to heart of Pantanal."