Thursday, January 24, 2013

TV Review: Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera

David Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera - PBS Nature

From land animals to small insects to birds to natural phenomena to even Human DNA, Sir David Attenborough has seen and studied them all. He truly is a living legend.

This is the first of the 3 part series (PBS Nature). In this episode, David Attenborough gives us a walk-through the constantly evolving technical aspects of wildlife film making.

David’s sense of humor shines throughout the episode. David is humble enough to focus on the nature and history of wildlife film making.

David was 8 years old when he saw his first wildlife film, Dassan by Cherry Kearton in 1934. Thus began his lifelong fascination with natural history.

David’s first film was Zoo Quest for a Dragon made in 1956. David is headed with his crew to Komodo Island to shoot the famous inhabitant: Komodo Dragon. David shares the picture he took of a curious Komodo that literally came face to face with him and was just a few yards away when the picture was taken.

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David discusses in detail the hardships faced by filmmakers due to the technical limitations. When filming underwater, initially they could only film for 10 minutes. They had to return to the surface and put a fresh film roll to continue the filming.

This situation was remedied with the arrival of the video camera that could shoot for 30 minutes. This made the shooting of never-before-seen sequences possible (The Blue Planet, 2001 and Nature’s Great Events, 2009).

David shares a funny anecdote about the “Bubble helmet” with microphone that was meant to enable the presenter to speak underwater.

David Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera - PBS Nature

David then focusses on the problems of shooting animals that are active in dark, such as bats and lions. Presence of camera lights disturbs the normal behavior of these beings. With the help of Infrared light cameras, able to capture the normal behavior (The Life of Mammals, 2002).

We are also treated to a superb Kiwi encounter (The Life of Birds, 1998). Kiwis have poor eyesight but are compensated by an amazing sense of smell. To hide his presence, David laid among the seaweeds whose strong odor was the perfect camouflage.

Here are some of the different types of cameras and techniques used for specific purposes:
  1. Thermal cameras – used to shoot animals based on their body heat readings
  2. Optical Probe – used to film insects and other microorganisms such as ants inside their nests.
  3. Motion detector – used to film rattlesnakes hunting rats
  4. Slow motion camera – used to film Kestrels, and Hoverflies (Life in the Undergrowth, 2005). Both of these winged beings can hover in the air and slow motion filming techniques are used to understand their ability to do so.
  5. Time lapse studio – This is the reverse of Slow motion camera and is used to speed up slow action (The Private life of Plants, 1995).
  6. Aerial Photography – used to shoot a wild dog hunt (Planet Earth, 2006)
  7. Computer animations – replaced line drawings as the best technique to recreate ancient life forms (The Life of Birds, 1998 and Life in Cold Blood, 2008)
It is an interesting fact that the human race has a lot left to learn about the natural world around us and it is the scientific and technical advances by the humankind that enables us to continue this learning process. David pays tribute to the human aspect of the filmmaking by ending the episode with the filming of Snow Leopard by Mark Smith in Pakistan (Planet Earth, 2006).

David Attenborough's Life Stories - Episode # 1 - Life on Camera - PBS Nature

David has the candor and humility to go back and correct himself. In one such instance, David was initially mistaken about how Nepenthes rajah, the largest Pitcher plant gets its nutrition. David soon figures out that the pitcher plant and tree shrews share a symbiotic relationship. The shrew feeds on plant’s liquid and leaves its droppings that provide nitrogen supply to the plant.

This is a must watch for fans of David Attenborough and Wildlife.

Click here and here to read reviews of episodes # 2 and 3 respectively.

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Image Source: PBS

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  1. I will have to watch the series. I have always been interested is TV documentaries like this. I remeber when the first really high quality night-vision cameras were used to film African wildlife. It was fascinating.


    1. I think you will enjoy this one. There are 2 more parts to be aired on the next couple of Wednesdays.