BBC Earth

Filming secrets

Hidden Kingdoms - Filming Secrets

New technology

The team looked to Hollywood to immerse the audience in the dramatic lives of the world’s smallest creatures. By using 4K cameras and the same cutting-edge techniques used in blockbuster films like The Hobbit, the truly extraordinary lives of these miniature heroes was captured – a feat that was impossible to do any other way.

Slow-motion filming

Slow-motion filming is a favourite of the Natural History Unit, but the technique was raised to new heights in order to give viewers an insight into how tiny creatures perceive their world. Using new HD slow-motion cameras to play out split-second events over several minutes, viewers can experience the world as perceived by these tiny creatures – from a fly avoiding that fateful swat, to a grasshopper mouse dodging the deadly strike of a scorpion.

Time-lapse photography

Thanks to time-lapse techniques, the team was able to speed up the slowest of events, such as toadstools sprouting in autumn from the forest floor, hoar frost encrusting a dragonfly, and stars rotating in the moonlit skies of the Sonoran Desert in America’s Wild West.

Purpose-built sets

It was only by earning the trust of a wild sengi in purpose-built filming territories that the team were able to film the fastidious nature of this super speedy creature in such detail. Low-level tracking and ultra-high-speed cameras revealed not only their extraordinary speed but that, compared to a reptile, a sengi has greater ability to change direction – negotiating the twists and turns in the track with barely a break in speed.

Trackside cameras

Using miniature tracking cameras alongside a zebra-tailed lizard and a collard lizard revealed the power and athleticism of these tiny creatures. These mini marvels accelerate so fast that they end up running on two legs – an adaptation that allows for greater speed. And thanks to their highly developed extensor muscles in their rear legs, they also have the ability to leap many times their own body length.

Blue-screen technology

Ever wondered what’s it like to be a dung beetle caught in an earth-shaking wildebeest stampede? Or a mouse facing a tsunami-like flash flood, which to us would be nothing more than a gentle trickle? Well thanks to blue-screen filming techniques, the team was able to recreate real-life events as experienced by the animal stars, giving viewers a unique new perspective on these dramatic worlds within worlds.

The power of 3D

For the first time ever, the Natural History Unit ran 3D cameras alongside the 2D ones. Multiple Oscar-winning British film engineer Peter Parks, a pioneer of filming small objects, helped develop not one, but two 3D filming systems. The '3D snorkel' lens allowed the team to film creatures as small as an ant, and a second 3D system was able to reveal the slow-motion worlds that these creatures inhabit – at 1,500 frames per second.