Making Planet Earth
Series creator Alastair Fothergill and producer Jonny Keeling spent five years working on the documentary to give a rare glimpse into the animal kingdom. After speaking with scientists and working for a year to plan, dozens of cameramen captured magical moments in more than 200 countries on all seven continents.
The result is a collection of scenes from the vast tapestry of Earth—from high above the treetops to the dark depths of the sea. Cutting-edge technology allowed the team to go where few humans dare to capture the sights and sounds of the living planet.
In order to capture close-up images of polar bears swimming, Alastair says the cameramen had to use extra precautions and special equipment—or they could end up as lunch! "Polar bears can only feed for two or three months of the year, and the rest of the time they're really hungry," he says. "And a nice fat cameraman is a good meal for a polar bear."
Alastair says these beautiful images are even more powerful because of the problems global warming causes for polar bears. Some believe, he says, the animals could be extinct by 2030. "The polar bear … is completely relaxed, but he was in trouble. You know, polar bears don't like to swim. And increasingly, as this polar ice melts, they're having to swim more and more," he says.
Capturing that touching scene took a lot of patience. The team worked with a scientist who knew the locations of several bear dens, so they could approximate where the bears would emerge—it was just a matter of when. "It was really boring for three weeks, and then we had one day which was really, really special," he says.
After spending time filming in the area, the foxes began to trust the crew. "What's fantastic is to begin with, they run away from you—the foxes—and then over a few weeks, they get really used to you, and they eventually sit at your feet and sleep, and you know then that they really trust you," Jonny says.
At a remote watering hole, massive elephants share precious water with hungry lions. During the day, they are no match for the giant vegetarians. But as night falls, the tables turn. As the lions stalk the herd, older elephants surround their young for protection. One elephant becomes separated, and the entire pack of lions goes after it. The elephant is no match for 30 bloodthirsty lions. They kill the elephant to feed their pack. "It's the most kind of horrific painting of hell when you actually see them on it, 30 lions, just holding down an elephant," Jonny says.
Jonny says infrared lights and special night-vision cameras allowed the crew to film in the pitch-black night. Simply filming the scene was intense, Jonny says. "You can't see anything and the elephants can't see very well, and you're sitting in a vehicle that's completely open," he says. "There were 30 or 40 lions all around the vehicle and they'd brush past your legs. You could feel them."
In one shot, a great white shark is seen attacking a seal.
Watch this amazing sequence!
In real time, swallowing its prey would only take a second. Thanks to technology, we're able to see the whole thing in slow motion.
Even the nature's most subtle gestures are humbling, he says. When Jonny was documenting snow geese and the foxes that prey on them for weeks in the same place, a mother fox began to trust him so much that she brought her cubs right in front of him. As a parent himself, he was touched by the gesture. "You never, ever, forget the moment when you were there and you saw the animal for the first time trusting you and bringing her cubs out," he says. "I'll never forget that feeling and that emotion that you have. It's fantastic."
"I think 95 percent of us live in cities and there's an enormous wilderness area that most of us never go to," he says. "And I just came away with a real responsibility to make sure that all that was still there for my kids and my kids' kids…and not just on tape, but actually out there in the wild."