The BBC’s latest wildlife documentary turns the tables by putting cameras in the hands of the animals.
Velcro helped Animals with Cameras had to overcome a number of technical problems to capture the inside of meerkat burrows, point of view cheetah chases and intimate moments between chimps.
Series producer Dan Rees explains that to meet animal welfare standards, specialist camera makers had to work within strict guidelines laid out by scientists.
In a blog post he said: “The problem is that there are enormous technical challenges involved in building cameras which are small enough for an animal to wear comfortably, without affecting their behaviour, but which can also generate footage of a high enough quality to be useful.”
He continued: “Building the cameras involved a constant dialogue between us and the scientists. They would specify the size limits, the best way to attach the camera, the maximum length of time it could be deployed and the best way to get it back afterwards.
“The production team would then source the parts and work through a number of designs and prototypes until everyone was happy. Without the scientific experts’ sign-off on animal welfare there was no deployment.”
Most of the camera systems were designed and built by bespoke camera specialist Chris Watts.
Chris, whose father also designed cameras for the BBC, used Velcro straps for several of the camera rigs including cameras equipped for cheetahs and meerkats.
According to Chris, the Cheetah-Cam made for some of the best footage.
“The cheetahs physically wore the cameras the best,” he said.
He continued: “The footage from the Cheetah-Cam blew my mind. I’d never seen footage from the head of a cheetah like this before, it felt so new and exciting and you really get to feel the speed of the animal whilst watching it.”
To satisfy the experts, the Meerkat-Cam had to be made extra light in order to fit around the meerkats’ necks comfortably.
It ended up being the camera that Chris was most proud of.
“It took lots of tinkering and finessing on location with the lighting and the harnesses so by the end it felt like we’d made such a difference to improve the image quality throughout the filming period,” he said.
He continued: “I also feel pretty impressed that we managed to get such good footage from a tiny camera, it only weighed 25g in the end which is nothing if you think about it.”
The camera ended up capturing “some of the most beautiful and intimate meerkat behaviour” that experienced meerkat director Anne Sommerfield had ever seen.
They also captured the first images and sounds of wild new-born pups below ground. And it was captured in a ‘home video’ way.
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