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Creating ‘First Man’

June 8, 2017 marks the premiere of our latest original film, First Man, created in partnership with Nilaya Productions.  First Man is an epic special that takes viewers on an exceptional journey back through 25 million years of human evolution.

Part of what makes First Man so special is that it has something to please every viewer, spanning history, science, drama and even special effects.  Not only are the storyline and scenic backdrops jaw-dropping, but the special effects make-up takes center stage, as our team worked diligently to accurately portray four species of early hominids.  Curious about the process of turning modern-day actors into species dating back millions of years?  Read on to learn more about the fascinating process.

Team

Our biggest challenge was the actual look of the characters.  With the influence of movies like Planet of The Apes, aesthetic standards have indeed dramatically changed, while the expectations of the audience have increased.  With the arrival of new technology in make-up and prosthetics, after a few tests, we decided to work with the Academy Award-nominated Adrien Morot FX Studio in Canada.  Renowned for their incredible masks and make-up, they had just wrapped work on The Revenant.

Design

Our protagonists were initially drawn by character designers.  Based on scientific assumptions of what they could look like, we decided to give each species an identity: noses, eyes, mouth, foreheads, fur and hair.

Casting

Casting the right actors for this film was a particularly extensive process.  In order to find the actors who could perform difficult primate movements (walking on all fours, jumping, climbing trees, etc.), the process was much more involved than usual, but we ended up with a stellar group of actors who would help embody the traits and behaviors of extinct hominids.  Once our cast was in place, it was off to Canada, where they would be entirely moulded – face and body.

Sculpting 

Once the actors arrived in Canada, Adrien Morot FX studio created the facial masks and the costumes inspired by the character designs, custom adapted to each individual character.  Those masks and costumes were accompanied by special eye lenses to accurately portray how the size of the iris changed throughout time.

Shooting 

In the end, we received the masks and costumes in South Africa for the shoot.  We were shocked by how heavy everything was – weighing in at a few tons of equipment because, in order to keep the costumes fresh, each actor would wear a replicate of the same costume every day they were on set!  Each day would mean five hours of preparation and two hours of getting rid of make up at the end of the day for an actor.  Furthermore, it takes an army!  Each actor had three make-up and costume artists assigned to them.

 

Watch the First Man trailer here:

First Man is available to stream in its entirety starting on June 8, only on CuriosityStream.

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Thank You, Teachers

Remember that teacher who made you love learning?

Remember the first time you figured out that one math problem that had been impossible up until now?  Remember that college recommendation that your high school teacher wrote for you that almost brought a tear to your eye?  Well, now is your chance to say “thank you” to teachers everywhere.

The first full week in May is celebrated as Teacher Appreciation week in the United States and we are thrilled to join in the praise for our nation’s educators.  Nobody instills curiosity in a young learner’s mind like a good teacher does.  We are partial to many teachers, like decorated “Mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin – the math teacher everyone wishes they had.  Watch Benjamin in action below and fall in love with math all over again.

 

So, take a little time to #ThankATeacher this week.  Whether it’s your child’s teacher, your own childhood teacher, or your family member who works in education, let teachers know how appreciated they are.  Stay curious with some of our top content about education here:

 

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A day in the life of a filmmaker: Working with Commander Chris Hadfield

We are just one week away from the premiere of one of our most exciting original documentaries to date, Miniverse.  The film features the always wonderful CuriosityStream advisory board member Michio Kaku, as well as astronomers Derrick Pitts and Laura Danly, and is hosted by former astronaut Chris Hadfield.  All of you space fans out there may remember Commander Hadfield as a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station.  Well, it turns out he’s just as fun and creative to work with as you might imagine.  We sat down with Doug Cohen, executive producer of Flight 33, to live vicariously through him about working with one of the world’s greatest astronauts.

Q: What was Chris Hadfield (CH) like to work with?

A: Chris is a former fighter pilot and an astronaut, so the things that felt like challenges to the rest of us were no sweat to him.  To quote one member of our crew, “Chris Hadfield is the best human being I’ve ever met.”  It’s not just that he’s charming, curious and tireless; it’s also that he sings, plays guitar, tells great stories and, of course, he’s been to space!

Q: What was the funniest thing that happened while shooting Miniverse?

A: Chris had spent the whole day driving at about 40 miles per hour through the Mojave Desert while chatting with astronomer Laura Danly.  We kept his speed down to reduce the amount of road noise during the conversation.  As the sun set, we prepped to shoot beauty shots of the car driving down the lonely desert highway.  I radioed to Chris that he should drive past the camera, and since we weren’t rolling sound he was now free to go as fast as he wanted.  When I called “action”, he put the pedal to the metal and whipped past us at 122 miles per hour with poor Laura Danly holding on for dear life!  That’s the last time I tell a former fighter pilot to drive as fast as he wants!

Q: Describe the dynamic between CH and Michio Kaku.

A: They were excited to meet each other!  It was fun to watch the contrast between astrophysicist and astronaut. Michio made it clear that despite his fascination with space, he had no interest in doing something risky like traveling to Mars.  Chris, on the other hand, said that the danger is precisely what makes him want to do it.

 

Q: Between CH and Derrick Pitts?

A: Derrick would have liked to be an astronaut himself, so he was thrilled to be Chris’ guide for the outer planets.  The two of them bonded over some packets of freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream.”

 

Q: Between CH and Laura Danly?

A: When we asked Laura if she wanted to participate in the program, she said “you had me at Chris Hadfield”.  They had a lot of time to talk as we drove from the mountains to the desert, and it was amazing how many things they saw reminded them of Star Trek episodes.

 

Q: What’s the hardest part of shooting so much inside of a car?

A: We had five cameras rolling inside the car at all times, plus cameras affixed to the exterior and to a chase car.  That’s a lot of cameras that need a lot of tending.  You are constantly stopping to troubleshoot misbehaving gear.  We studied how James Corden does it for Carpool Karaoke and how Seinfeld’s team does it for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and took the best ideas from both.  The difference with our show is that we were really traveling from place to place, so we couldn’t just stake out a route on a local road and keep circling.  The entire country was our “set”.

Q: Why did the cops keep pulling CH over?

A: We had no problems in most of the country, but in New York and Washington, D.C. the police were extremely “curious” about this car with cameras all over the windows.  Sometimes, we would neglect to remove our prop license plate that said “ROCKET”.  That also drew the attention of the police on a couple occasions.  One officer removed the license plate and cut in half!  Luckily, we had made an extra one.  In general, when we would tell the cops that we were making a science documentary with an astronaut and a bunch of astrophysicists, they let us go with nothing more than a confused look.

Q: Are there any funny stories from shooting in NYC near the Freedom Tower?

A: We shot at the Brooklyn Bridge across the river from Freedom Tower just before sunset, and as we were shooting, people were lining up to meet Chris and Michio.  This actually happened almost everywhere–hotel lobbies, the steps of the Washington Monument–people from all over the world would show up and ask for an autograph or a selfie.

Miniverse premieres the week of April 17, only on CuriosityStream, and will be available in standard, HD and Ultra HD 4K resolution.

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Celebrating Two Years of Curiosity

Two years ago today, we launched CuriosityStream under the leadership of my father, John Hendricks (Discovery Channel Founder & Former Chairman).  Since its debut on March 18, 2015, CuriosityStream has evolved into the premiere destination for quality, factual programming in 196 countries worldwide.  I am delighted to share these anniversary accomplishments with you, our fellow curious minds.

In the SVOD universe, content is king and CuriosityStream has some of the best science, nature, history and technology programs available anytime and anywhere.  Our subscribers have gravitated toward the more in-depth programming, in contrast to the trends we see in linear television.  While nonfiction documentaries about space and physics topics are hard to come by on broadcast and cable television, CuriosityStream subscribers have ready access to top performing CuriosityStream Originals like Deep Time HistoryDigitsPrescription: Nutrition, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places and many more.  In the years to come, we will continue to invest in quality, original productions that will ensure CuriosityStream remains the world’s top streaming destination for on-demand documentaries.

Over the past year, our library has grown to over 1,700 titles and our focus on original content has taken some incredible strides.

Exclusive CuriosityStream Originals debuting on the service in 2017 include the science series Ancient Earth, available now, about extinction events in Earth’s history, as well as the space exploration special, Miniverse, coming in April, where viewers will tour a version of the Solar System scaled down to the size of the continental U.S., hosted by astronaut Chris Hadfield and featuring guest Michio Kaku.  Later in the year, look forward to new episodes from our hit special Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, which debuted in September 2016, and the groundbreaking search for life on exoplanets in Living Universe.  These are just a few of the titles our busy team currently has in production.

We have also made significant advancements in CuriosityStream’s platform design and function, based largely on what we’ve heard from you, our very valued subscribers.

  • Our interface design has been completely overhauled and replaced with a sleek back-end and front-end system that makes it easier for you to find the content you love.
  • Our new rating system and recommendation engine provide a smooth process for sourcing the best documentaries, geared specifically for each member.
  • We have layered our API into a CDN (Content Distribution Network) that serves content much more quickly and efficiently, enabling CuriosityStream to deliver some of the world’s best HD and 4K documentaries cost-effectively, keeping monthly and annual plans affordable to our members.
  • On the accessibility front, we recently launched CuriosityStream on Xbox One and have imminent app releases set for LG, Sony and Samsung Smart TVs in Spring and Summer of 2017, adding to our existing availability on Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Android, iOS, mobile and desktop.

With all of the progress and innovation achieved over the past two years, we have never lost our curiosity about the world around us. We know that you share our belief that curiosity is the lifelong driving force that fuels our passion to learn, create, understand and explore. As we move forward together on a journey to better comprehend our Universe, our civilization and ourselves, I want to personally thank you, our “curious at heart” subscribers.

With your support, this new quality revolution in television is now a reality.

Cheers,

Elizabeth Hendricks North

President & CEO, CuriosityStream

 

Follow me on Twitter @ehendricksnorth

 

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Programs to Honor Black History Month

This Black History Month, we are shining a spotlight on content that explores history, culture and storytelling across the globe, from Africa to the United States.  Our marquis featured program is Ebony: The Last Years of the Atlantic Slave Trade, arguably one of the most beautifully filmed and directed films ever made about the transatlantic African slave trade.  One of the top production companies in France, Les Films D’ici, along with Senegalese director Moussa Touré shot much of this tragic story in Africa, giving it shocking authenticity.

Ebony: The Last Years of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Slavery is the shared dark side of the history of many nations around the globe.  But apart from the accounts of our schoolbooks and a few memorable dates, what do most people really know about the struggle to put an end to the Atlantic Slave Trade?

During the second half of the 19th century, slavery and the trade linked to it were theoretically forbidden.  The concept of abolitionism was spread out all around the colonies of various empires.  However, the slave trade continued and brought even more injustice and violence, in a world that was at the dawn of a major change.

Through realistic dramatic recreations, and authentic drawings and documents of the time, Ebony follows the tragic lives of Africans who were sold into slavery in Guinea and transported across the ocean to work under brutal slave owners in the French West Indies in the early 1800’s.  Watch the powerful story here.

 

Additional Featured Content

Ray Charles: If You Can Sing – Iconic musician Ray Charles shows how “easy” it is to sing from the heart, explaining how he beautifully executes his craft.

 

Butterfly Effect: Martin Luther King, Jr. – What would the Civil Rights movement have been like if Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been motivating change?

 

Lessons Learned: Time In Africa – Henry Crumpton, a former CIA covert operative, tells a story from his post in Africa that changed his way of thinking.

 

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Mars: The Red Planet

If you have been following NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, then you know it has had quite an eventful couple of months!  It has recently discovered an odd-shaped iron meteorite that some likened to “an alien egg,” viewed spectacularly layered rock formations and, just last week, slabs of rock cross-hatched with shallow ridges were discovered that likely originated as cracks in drying mud.  This makes it a perfect time to explore our new collection, Mars: The Red Planet.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System after Mercury.  Named after the Roman God of War, it is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance.  50 years of space exploration have brought us closer to understanding Mars, but is it as hospitable as many experts think?

This newly curated collection is made up of eight programs, totaling just over six hours of content all about Mars.  Perfect for all age ranges, the content covers everything from whether or not there is water on Mars to the likelihood of life on Mars to what it would take for humans to colonize Mars.

So, why not make it a night of star gazing and dreaming of far away galaxies?  Grab some popcorn and get ready to binge on facts and speculations about the Red Planet.  Find the full collection here, only on CuriosityStream.

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Prescription: Nutrition

As we settle into the routines of the new year, many of you (like me) might be striving to improve upon everyday habits, including diet and exercise.  Inspiration and motivation — difficult to find in dreary winter weather — are there for you on CuriosityStream starting today, with our new January feature, Prescription: Nutrition.  In this original and exclusive CuriosityStream series, Dr. Michael Greger (bestselling author and world-renowned public health expert) shares the latest scientific research behind the prevention of most chronic diseases, based on his and his team’s ongoing review of thousands of medical studies each year.  His wealth of knowledge is distilled into practical advice on his non-profit website NutritionFacts.org, as well as in this captivating CuriosityStream original series.

The impetus behind this exclusive program came from my personal struggle at the beginning of last year to contend with some unnerving health scares.  After attending a book reading for The Humane Economy written by our CuriosityStream Advisory Board member and my friend, Wayne Pacelle, I gave the vegan diet a try.  Soon after, the nearly immediate benefits of my new fruit and vegetable diet unleashed my curiosity.  I realized astounding improvements in my health (and surprisingly, my fitness) from eating so many fresh fruits and vegetables.  Not only did I start consuming mass quantities of plant-based foods, but I also began consuming books, from The China Study to Dr. Greger’s How Not to Die.   The authors had differing perspectives on diet, but all experts agreed that adding more fresh fruits and vegetables is the first step to improving your nutrition and your overall health.


When we polled our subscribers for their thoughts on potential CuriosityStream series, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Prescription: Nutrition had support from our member base.  I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the power of plants.  So I must thank our subscribers for their enthusiasm in bringing this series to fruition.

 

Broccoli Floating on a Shiitake Dashi – get the recipe and learn more about the series by clicking on the image!

 

While we might be searching to understand the complex physics underlying our Universe with dark matter, we have dark matter (or unknowns) in the form of the nutritional make-up of our food as well.  Scientists have only identified (at most) 10% of the vitamins, phytonutrients and micronutrients bio-available in our food.  When we opt for orange juice instead of a whole orange, we may think we are getting nutritional excellence with Vitamin C, but that Vitamin C may have been much more bio-available if it came with the glucose-slowing properties of pulp fiber and the other 90% unknown nutrients readily available in the unprocessed orange.  There are many questions to be asked and more to be answered in Prescription: Nutrition.

Watch the trailer below and tune in bi-weekly for new episodes of Prescription: Nutritiononly on CuriosityStream.

 

To your health and unbridled curiosity…

Elizabeth Hendricks North

President & CEO, CuriosityStream

Elizabeth Hendricks North is President and CEO of CuriosityStream. Follow her on Twitter @ehendricksnorth.

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Stay curious in 2017

Happy New Year!

Part and parcel with a new year arrives both reflection on the past and excitement (hopefully) toward the future.  Here at CuriosityStream, we are very much looking forward to 2017 and to helping you become more curious about the many wonders in science, technology, history and nature.  Our team has been hard at work over the holidays putting together a release schedule of original and exclusive titles debuting on CuriosityStream over the next few months.  Take a look at some highlights below and stay tuned for their official premiere dates.

 

January 2017

New year, new you!  Hosted by Dr. Michael Greger, MD, author of the New York Times best-seller How Not to Die and editor of the world renowned website NutritionFacts.org, explore the dramatic health benefits of plant-based diets and the amazing revolution in how we approach our relationship with food.  New episodes will be released bi-weekly beginning in early January.

February 2017

Travel back in time to visit the three most powerful extinction events in Earth’s history.  This original series explores the major events that wiped out between 70-90% of Earth’s species developed during the Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous periods.

March 2017

Join former astronaut Chris Hadfield – a YouTube sensation for his performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station – along with hitchhikers Michio Kaku and more on a joyride across our Solar System, scaled down to the size of the continental United States.

April 2017

You will be captivated by this epic story of our origins told through the story of one extended family.  This group of men, women, and children are your guide to over 15 million years of human history, including the trials, drama and joys of being human across the ages.

May 2017

Can a team of scientists reveal unknown chambers in the Great Pyramid using special muon detector plates beneath the pyramid?  In this expedition, experts use high-tech drones, thermal cameras, laser scanning to create a 3D map of inside and out of the famous Giza plateau tombs.

Stay curious!

Cheers,

Elizabeth Hendricks North
President & CEO, CuriosityStream

Elizabeth Hendricks North is President and CEO of CuriosityStream. Follow her on Twitter @ehendricksnorth.

 

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Top 10 Curious Moments of 2016

As we look back on 2016, we want to take this opportunity to thank you for being a part of our curious community.  This past year has been monumental for science and technology and CuriosityStream been there every step of the way with documentaries that explore key moments in science, history, space, technology, nature and the human spirit.

Journey down memory lane by binge-watching our top 10 curious moments of the year.  Who knows what 2017 will have in store?

               

               

               

               

               

 

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All I want for Christmas is…to stay curious!

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a change-making year, to say the least.  I, for one, learned a lot and am anxious to see what 2017 has in store.  In a year filled with controversy, new beginnings, tragedy, joy, milestones and re-writing history, one thing binds it all together: curiosity.  As the son of an engineer and a costume designer and uncle to three growing boys – all of whom embody curiosity and creativity – I can’t wait to spread some holiday cheer this year in the form of CuriosityStream gift cards.  This year, we have introduced digital gift cards available here, as well as hard copies available on Amazon.com.  The best part is that annual subscriptions add up to a 16% savings over the course of the year as opposed to monthly plans – something to keep in mind for all of you existing monthly subscribers who might be interested in upgrading in the new year!

I hope you will join me this holiday season by giving the gift of curiosity.  After all, no one should be curious alone.

Here I am staying curious with my nephew on a fall day after watching a ton of documentaries!

Happy Holidays from all of us at CuriosityStream!

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