“You can have any number of brilliant 3D shots, but without a compelling story at its heart the film won’t work. What the medium does offer is a uniquely intimate experience. 3D allows you to literally step inside the King Penguins’ world. This is the natural way for us to see, and you are in there, experiencing all this with our hero.”
“Filming wildlife is sometimes frustrating. But filming wildlife in the harsh sub-Antarctic conditions, using vast, ungainly, highly sensitive 3D equipment is frustrating with knobs on.”
Writer & Narrator
Collaborating for several years, David Attenborough and Anthony Geffen from Atlantic Productions knew they were embarking on a groundbreaking film packed with excitement, love, tragedy and humor. “Penguins are big, colorful characters. They are irresistibly comic,” says Attenborough.
From brand-new hatchlings to moulting adolescents, every stage of a King Penguin’s lifecycle is right there on this spectacular island for the crew to capture. Attenborough knew that the penguins would not mind the cameras. “The difficulties were huge but the rewards are huge too,” he commented. “With 3D you can convey the reality of what’s in front of the camera in a much more powerful way than ever before.”
“We’d set out to tell a dramatic tale”, explains Sias Wilson, co-producer, “and so knew we’d need to put movement into the scenes to create the narrative emotion. This is easily done with 2D camera systems, but it’s not so easy to achieve with bulky 3D cameras. During preproduction we looked at a number of ways to give the camera freedom of movement and eventually settled on a purpose-built crane and scaffolding support system. This allowed the crew to follow the action and any specific penguin behaviors required for the narrative.“
The weather on South Georgia is also famously unpredictable, with sudden high winds, and temperatures that can plummet to minus 20 degree Celsius (minus 68 degree Fahrenheit). The beleaguered crew regularly faced bursts of torrential rain that threatened to ruin the equipment. When the ship’s water supply broke, they got water from a waterfall until a passing cruise ship came along. And for five months they lived in tents, rather than on their more comfortable ship, because it was impossible to lug the massive camera equipment on and off board.
Standard 3D cameras are extremely heavy; it takes four people just to move one camera. They are also highly sensitive to moisture - a ridiculous hazard for filming in extreme weather or underwater. And they don’t come with a zoom lens, a pretty essential tool for most wildlife filming. To counter these issues the team took specially designed 3D stereoscopic equipment that could withstand the demands of filming in the Antarctic.