Tag Archives: wildlife

The Making of “Age of Big Cats”

Martin Dohrn, Writer & Series Producer

Twenty years ago, a project like Age of Big cats would have been impossible to make. Much of the technology that has made this series achievable today, had yet to be invented. But more importantly, our knowledge of big cats was relatively limited, and some species were still so elusive and shy that sightings were extremely rare. Filming them in the wild was for the most part unachievable without years in the field and extreme luck.

But things are very different now. New ultra sensitive color and infra-red cameras have given us a clearer view of the nocturnal habits of some more familiar cats than ever before. High resolution 4K (8 mega-pixel) and 8K (32 megapixel) movie cameras allow us to film behavioral sequences in unprecedented detail. High resolution camera traps provide us with intimate images of their secretive lives from just metres away.

But the cats themselves have become more amenable to human observation. Filming cats that would rather not be seen at all is difficult and rarely delivers natural behavior. Some cats like the jaguar, snow leopard and puma have now become easy to see in a few places, when as recently as a decade ago, they were still on the “almost impossible to film” list. In fact, for the making of this series, we were able to film pumas, jaguars and leopards on foot at close range, without the cats showing aggression or fear. They were mostly unfazed by our presence.

However, some individuals did take a curious interest and in Chile this was almost a problem. There was a puma we named Friendly, as she would often approach us and sniff the bags at our feet before moving on. Matthew Kingdon, one of our camera operators, got a real surprise when she wandered up to him, then watched as he slowly walked backwards away from her (the correct response with any big cat). The other pumas were less inquisitive, but equally relaxed to the point that they just carried on with their lives when we were there, treating us more like furniture.

 Filming on foot in the dark brings its own problems. At night in Costa Rica, we watched with the infra red camera as Jack Hynes walked down the path to the beach, towards a jaguar that was on the look out for a turtle. We were able to warn Jack by radio and he waited as she wandered onto the beach. She carried on past our hide and into the forest. Jack never saw her despite the fact she was just metres from him. But later that night Jack did meet her.

We knew there was a dead turtle at the edge of the forest and that the jaguar was further down the beach, so Jack crept closer to the turtle and hid behind a small log. He didn’t know that the jaguar had now made its way back to the turtle. When he turned on the camera, the jaguar was staring at him from just a few metres away.

 


At first, she didn’t know what Jack was, so started creeping towards him – at which point his sudden movement surprised the jaguar who now realized he was a person and moved off.

For leopards, lions and cheetahs, most of the filming was from a vehicle, which most cats regard as something different from a person, so behave naturally. Cars have the advantage of being able to move lots of camera equipment around … day cameras, night cameras, infra red cameras, camera traps and thermal cameras, all at once. They also have the advantage of being able to protect cameras and people from the weather.

 

In the Masai Mara in 2017, the so called ‘short rains’ turned out to be an almost daily deluge, usually just after sunset when the lions were waking up to go hunting.  The rain was so heavy at times that small dry ditches would become rivers 20 metres wide in a matter of minutes. – rivers that no four wheel drive vehicle should attempt to cross. But we did, and on several occasions became stuck in a rising flood.

Despite the weather setbacks, we succeeded in capturing extraordinary natural behavior of cats, and although I have spent my lifetime filming them in the wild, what we were able to film this time, surpassed all my hopes.  Combined with new science on cats and their origins we’ve been able to create a compelling story that shows big cats in a new light.

 

Interested in learning more?
Check out our website and watch Age of Big Cats, now streaming in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

Read More

Travel back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the land

Ancient Earth is available now in Ultra HD 4k, HD and standard definition on CuriosityStream.  This 3-part original series awakens the magnificent prehistoric creatures that previously roamed Earth through extraordinary animation, produced in collaboration with 12-time Emmy Award winning Pixeldust Studios.

Who isn’t curious about the creatures that roamed the Earth long before mankind?  The success of blockbuster films about dinosaurs, history museums, children’s books and more prove that the prehistoric age is as much a part of modern day pop culture and interest than ever before.

Over here at CuriosityStream, we’ve heard from several of you (and your kiddos!) that you just can’t get enough content about all things prehistoric.  Today, we’re delivering on that request with our new original, exclusive series Ancient Earth, which will take you on an extraordinary journey back in time to an era when ferocious saber-toothed carnivores, terrifying 40-foot sharks and massive dinosaurs dominated our planet.  The series couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as scientists are gathering growing evidence that we’re now in the middle of our planet’s sixth mass extinction, with dramatic declines in wildlife populations around the world.

Everyone will find something for them in Ancient Earth.  Animation lovers will nerd out over incredibly realistic animations that bring to life some of the fascinating and almost otherworldly creatures that once lived, but were wiped out during the worst mass extinction events.  History buffs will be equally tantalized, as the series is based on the newest resources and research from experts at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History.  Kids of all ages will love that watching a show featuring fight scenes and stories of dinosaur survival and extinction is approved by their parents.  And those parents can be happy knowing that the series is not only a lesson in prehistoric creatures, but nature as well, since each episode offers an immersive experience with period-accurate environmental and landscape elements.

Ancient Earth features the extraordinary lifeforms that evolved during three of Earth’s most significant geologic periods, and the cataclysmic events that resulted in their demise:

  • Episode 1 – The Permian Period introduces viewers to the life that sprung forth on land and sea more than 252 million years ago, including terrifying creatures like the saber-toothed Gorgonopsid and shark-like Helicoprion.
  • Episode 2 – The Triassic Period reveals how the power of evolution ushered in the first era of early dinosaurs, most of which were ultimately annihilated by waves of lava and toxic gas from extreme volcanic activity.
  • Episode 3 – The Cretaceous Period highlights magnificent dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and massive pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatius—one of the largest flying creatures of all time.

 

Watch the series trailer here:

All three episodes of Ancient Earth are available now, only on CuriosityStream.

Read More

CuriosityStream Debuts David Attenborough’s Light On Earth

Memorial Day weekend ushers in the summer season and the time outdoors that comes with it. As you enjoy getting out in nature this summer, CuriosityStream’s nonfiction documentaries will be there to help guide you.  Whether you prefer chilling at the beach, hiking and camping in national parks or simply spending an afternoon in your own backyard, there are always opportunities to reconnect with your natural surroundings and appreciate the breadth and depth of Earth’s wonders.

Perhaps along your summer journeys, you too will have questions.  Why does a firefly light up at dusk?  How does a millipede benefit from its own nighttime luminescence?  What causes those radiant, nocturnal tides in tropical waters?

These questions and more are explored in CuriosityStream’s exclusive debut of David Attenborough’s Light On Earth (available to U.S. subscribers).  This special 4K production utilizes new camera techniques to capture never-before-seen footage of bioluminescent phenomena, guided by the world’s foremost naturalist, Sir David Attenborough.

“In the oceans, and on land, living creatures of many kinds have harnessed the power of light in extraordinary ways: to mate, to lie or even to hide under a cloak of light. Yet with the latest cameras and technology we are only beginning to understand the lives of luminous creatures. There remain many mysteries. But what a beautiful world they create… and what a beautiful world awaits the scientists of the future.”  — Sir David Attenborough

The film represents the first collaboration between CuriosityStream’s in-house production studio and Terra Mater Studios (David Attenborough’s production partners). However, it is not the first association between CuriosityStream’s founder, John Hendricks, and Sir David Attenborough.

EHN Attenborough

Elizabeth Hendricks North & Sir David Attenborough, Smithsonian, May 2015

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Attenborough and hearing him reminisce about co-productions years ago between BBC and Discovery Communications, which my father, John Hendricks, also founded and led as Board Chairman until 2014.  The legendary British naturalist is as lively and curious as anyone I have ever met, and his animated story-telling had us all rapt.  Attenborough’s energy and enthusiasm is boundless, as you will see for yourself in Light On Earth.

LOE shroom

This bioluminescent mushroom emits light 24 hours a day, but is captured like never before using brand new camera techniques in CuriosityStream’s Light On Earth.

 

It is my hope that this film (and future wildlife films) continue to inspire wonder about the planet and engage the next generation of naturalists.  As David Attenborough’s Light On Earth magnificently conveys to viewers, we live on a planet with many mysteries waiting to be uncovered and better understood.

 

 

 

Let your curiosity guide you this summer.

EHN signature

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

 

Watch a preview of Light On Earth :



Read More

Notes from the Filmmaker: American Wildlife

Mark Emery is the award-winning filmmaker behind CuriosityStream’s newest original 4K series, American Wildlife.  Emery is an in-demand wildlife and nature cinematographer and photographer, whose films and photographs have been showcased around the world. American Wildlife can be seen exclusively on CuriosityStream in ultra high definition 4K, as well as HD and standard definition.

In the fall of 2015, I heard CuriosityStream producer Jorge Franzini speak at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival about an intriguing idea – films for folks of all ages who like to be entertained but also like to learn, a kind of Netflix for the curious soul.  I have been working on films for many of the natural history companies for years. Though the formula for these shows can be entertaining, I was looking for a change. Steve Burns, the Chief Programming Officer for CuriosityStream, and Franzini worked with me to develop American Wildlife – the original short format pieces that you can see exclusively on CuriosityStream right now.

I worked with young editors, one who had created and edited the music videos for some of the best rock groups in the country. My long time friend, arranger and composer Tracy Collins, and I wrote the music and we were off and running. There is a wonderful freedom to this format. For one, the films are not edited for television, so there are no false build ups heading into commercials to make you come back, no repeating information after a commercial break – tricks that drive us all a little batty. You just build the story around the best footage and score the music to the rhythm of the animals’ movements.

Jeff,Mark & Moose 114

On the range

As for the narration, the team at CuriosityStream did not want the “Voice of God” narration found in so many shows. I am quite sure there is a God and I am quite sure it is not me, so that was not a problem! I just talked about the footage, somewhat like a director’s cut. I am not a scientist, not a biologist, herpetologist, or ichthyologist. Actually, I am a Presbyterian and not even very good at that, so the stories are reported in layman terms, the way I would explain these subjects to family and friends.

Mark and Mary 2270

Getting up close and personal

I also persuaded, through the extensive use of smoked salmon, Bruce Swedien to record some of the audio. Bruce is one of the premier recording engineers in the world with five Grammys and many more nominations. Bruce engineered Thriller for Michael Jackson, he’s worked with Paul McCartney, Duke Ellington, jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock, he’s done 14 albums for Quincy Jones, the score for The Whiz and The Color Purple, and so many more.

Mark&Mary Emery king

Mark and Mary’s adventures

We are amping up to do more as we continue to learn what we can do with this format. Many thanks to Steve Burns and Jorge Franzini for the excellent coaching and encouragement.  Now, I am off with my wife Mary to spend five months in bush Alaska, 300 miles from the nearest connecting road, to find more stories and catch more salmon to smoke for Bruce!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More