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How the BBC made Planet Earth II

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2017

In the first of a three-part video series, Vox’s Joss Fong looks at how the technology used to film nature documentaries has changed over the past 50 years and how the producers of Planet Earth II used contemporary image stabilization techniques to make the series with a more cinematic style.

In the 1970s and ’80s, it was enough for the NHU to show people a creature they’d never seen before and provide the details in the narration. The films were illustrated zoology lectures. Since then, the producers have become sticklers for capturing specific behaviors, and in Planet Earth II, they showcase the drama of those behaviors. Each scene sets up the characters to perform something - something brave, something brutal, something bizarre. They’ve made room for our emotions; that’s what cinematic storytelling means.

And visually, the cinematic approach means the camera is often moving.

Hollywood filmmakers have kept the camera in motion for decades, but for obvious reasons, it’s much more difficult when your subject is wildlife. As we explain in the video at the top of this post, NHU producers used new stabilization tools throughout the production of Planet Earth II to move the camera alongside the animals.

The program doesn’t make you wait long to showcase this new approach. The tracking shot of a lemur jumping from tree to tree is one of the first things you see in the first episode and it put my jaw right on the floor. It’s so close and fluid, how did they do that? Going into the series, I thought it was going to be more of the same — Planet Earth but with new stories, different animals, etc. — but this is really some next-level shit. The kids were more excited after watching it than any movie they’ve seen in the past 6 months (aside from possibly Rogue One). The Blu-ray will be out at the end of March1 but there’s also a 4K “ultra HD” version that had me researching new ultra HD TVs I don’t really need.

Oh, and remember that thrilling sequence of the snakes chasing the newly hatched iguanas? Here’s a short clip on how they filmed it.

Update: The second video in the series is an ode to the BBC’s pioneering use of slow motion and time lapse photography in their nature programs.

Fong also explains one of my favorite things to come out of the first Planet Earth show, the slow motion buffer capture system used by the crew to catch great white sharks leaping out of the water.

But also, digital high-speed cameras came with a continuous recording feature. Instead of pressing a button to start recording and then pressing it again to stop, they could press the button as soon as they saw some action, and the camera would save the seconds that happened before the button was pressed. That’s how the cameraman captured this great white shark coming out of the water, not just in the air, for this sequence in the 2006 Planet Earth series.

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

Update: The concluding video in the series shows how the filmmakers use thermal and infrared cameras to capture scenes at night.

The bit at the end about the Sony a7S is interesting — as cameras go, this one is much cheaper than the professional high-def cameras used for most of the scenes but is way better in low light.

  1. I still have a Blu-ray player than I barely use and only buy 1-2 BR discs a year, but Planet Earth II is one of those increasingly rare programs you want to see in full HD without compression or streaming artifacts.

We Work Remotely

Beijing smog time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2017

Covering an actual time of 20 minutes, you can watch this time lapse of smog rolling into Beijing in a matter of a few seconds. The NY Times has a short piece on the video, which was filmed on January 2.

Residents have come to expect such dense air pollution in the late fall and winter, as people burn coal to heat their homes. Recently, the problem has been particularly bad, and the city has been enveloped in smog for extended periods starting in October.

Mr. Pope, writing on Twitter, pegged the air quality index, a measure of the pollution, above 400 around the time of the video. The United States government rates readings of 301 to 500 as “hazardous.”

What a disaster…and the air wasn’t that clear before the smog rolled in. I’ve been to Beijing once, back in 1995, and even though I’d love to see how the city has changed over the past 20 years, I have no interest in returning until they get their air quality under control.

Update: And it’s not just Beijing; cities around the world are struggling with pollution. Parts of London have blown through their annual 2017 emissions limits in just 5 days.

By law, hourly levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide must not be more than 200 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) more than 18 times in a whole year, but late on Thursday this limit was broken on Brixton Road in Lambeth.

Many other sites across the capital will go on to break the annual limit and Putney High Street exceeded the hourly limit over 1,200 times in 2016. Oxford Street, Kings Road in Chelsea and the Strand are other known pollution hotspots.

Relaxing time lapse videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

Michael Shainblum makes time lapse videos of nature, landscapes, and cities, and some of them are very relaxing to watch. The resolution on these is great, so make ‘em big, sit back, and enjoy. (via bb)

Google Earth Timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Google has updated their Timelapse feature on Google Earth, allowing you to scrub satellite imagery from all over the globe back in forth in time.

This interactive experience enabled people to explore these changes like never before — to watch the sprouting of Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands, the retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and the impressive urban expansion of Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, we’re making our largest update to Timelapse yet, with four additional years of imagery, petabytes of new data, and a sharper view of the Earth from 1984 to 2016.

A good way to experience some of the most compelling locations is through the YouTube playlist embedded above…just let it run for a few minutes. Some favorite videos are the circular farmland in Al Jowf, Saudi Arabia, the disappearing Aral Sea, the erosion of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the urban growth of Chongqing, China, the alarmingly quick retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and this meandering river in Tibet.

A massive billion-dollar movable arch now covers the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2016

A building which cost $1.5 billion and was 20 years in the making was moved into position over the highly radioactive remains of the main reactor at Chernobyl this week. The time lapse video above shows how the building was inched into place.

The new structure, which is about 500 feet long, has a span of 800 feet and is 350 feet high, is designed to last at least a century and is intended to prevent any additional spewing of toxic material from the stricken reactor.

Even with the building in place, the surrounding zone of roughly 1000 square miles will remain uninhabitable.

Mesmerizing mushroom time lapse from Planet Earth II

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2016

Damn the Brits! First Brexit paves the way for Trump (ok, not entirely accurate) and now they are currently enjoying Planet Earth II with the sublime David Attenborough while we Americans have to wait until late January 2017, at which point there might not even be a planet Earth on which to watch nature frolic on our living room high-definition displays. But — Jesus where was I? Oh yes: for now we can watch this clip from the Jungles episode of Planet Earth II about fungi, including some great time lapse footage of mushrooms growing, some of which glow in the dark! Also from Planet Earth II: the incredible iguana/snake chase scene and bears scratching themselves on trees. (via colossal)

Beautiful time lapse of clouds, rain storms, and dust storms

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2016

Photographer and filmmaker Mike Olbinski shot 85,000 frames at 8K resolution to make this 7-minute time-lapse film of storms of all shapes and sizes doing their thing. Just slip on the headphones, put the video on fullscreen, and then sit back & watch. A tonic for these troubled times. (via slate)

Watch time lapse videos of bacteria evolving drug resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2016

Researchers at Harvard have come up with a novel way of studying how bacteria evolve to become drug resistant. They set up a large petri dish about the same shape as a football field with no antibiotics in the end zones and increasingly higher doses of antibiotics toward the center. They placed some bacteria in both end zones and filmed the results as the bacteria worked its way toward the center of the field, evolving drug resistance as it went. Ed Yong explains:

What you’re seeing in the movie is a vivid depiction of a very real problem. Disease-causing bacteria and other microbes are increasingly evolving to resist our drugs; by 2050, these impervious infections could potentially kill ten million people a year. The problem of drug-resistant infections is terrifying but also abstract; by their nature, microbes are invisible to the naked eye, and the process by which they defy our drugs is even harder to visualise.

But now you can: just watch that video again. You’re seeing evolution in action. You’re watching living things facing down new challenges, dying, competing, thriving, invading, and adapting — all in a two-minute movie.

Watch the video…it’s wild. What’s most interesting — or scary as hell — is that once the drug resistance gets going, it builds up a pretty good momentum. There’s a pause at the first boundary as the evolutionary process blindly hammers away at the problem, but after the bacteria “learn” drug resistance, the further barriers are breached much more quickly, even before the previous zones are fully populated.

Time lapse video of ice cream bars and popsicles melting

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2016

As with many other ordinary everyday processes, if you film melting ice cream and popsicles up close and over time, it looks pretty damn cool. (No pun intended.) (Ok, pun intended, who are we kidding?)

Time lapse video of pills dissolving in water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2016

Time lapse video filmed with a macro camera of various pills dissolving in water. Pills are often colorful so some of these end up looking like decaying clowns. You might want to take a couple tabs of something, throw this on the biggest screen you can, dim the lights, and trip your balls off.

A year-long time lapse of the Earth rotating in space

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2016

NASA recently released a time lapse video of the Earth constructed from over 3000 still photographs taken over the course of a year. The photos were taken by a camera mounted on the NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite, which is perched above the Earth at Lagrange point 1.

Wait, have we talked about Lagrange points yet? Lagrange points are positions in space where the gravity of the Sun and the Earth (or between any two large things) cancel each other out. The Sun and the Earth pull equally on objects at these five points.

L1 is about a million miles from Earth directly between the Sun and Earth and anything that is placed there will hover there relative to the Earth forever (course adjustments for complicated reasons aside). It is the perfect spot for a weather satellite with a cool camera to hang out, taking photos of a never-dark Earth. In addition to DSCOVR, at least five other spacecraft have been positioned at L1.

L2 is about a million miles from the Earth directly opposite L1. The Earth always looks dark from there and it’s mostly shielded from solar radiation. Five spacecraft have lived at L2 and several more are planned, including the sequel to the Hubble Space Telescope. Turns out that the shadow of the Earth is a good place to put a telescope.

L3 is opposite the Earth from the Sun, the 6 o’clock to the Earth’s high noon. This point is less stable than the other points because the Earth’s gravitational influence is very small and other bodies (like Venus) periodically pass near enough to yank whatever’s there out, like George Clooney strolling through a country club dining room during date night.

And quoting Wikipedia, “the L4 and L5 points lie at the third corners of the two equilateral triangles in the plane of orbit whose common base is the line between the centers of the [Earth and Sun]”. No spacecraft have ever visited these points, but they are home to some interplanetary dust and asteroid 2010 TK7, which orbits around L4. Cool! (via slate)

4K video of Norway’s stunningly beautiful fjords

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2016

If you need a small window of peaceful beauty today, here you are.

Visualization of the history of cities from 3700 BC to now

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2016

Using the results of a recent report by a team of Yale researchers, this visualization shows the growth of urbanization across the globe from 3700 BC to the present day. There is an amazing flurry of activity in the last few seconds of the video because:

By 2030, 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. Today, about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.

There are now 21 Chinese cities alone with a population of over 4 million.

Time lapse of two hydroelectric dams being torn down

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2016

Two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River in Washington were removed in order to restore the river’s ecosystem — in particular, the salmon habitat. It was the largest dam removal in the US history and, as the video explains, has been successful so far in attracting fish back to its waters. But for our purposes here today, the first 30 seconds shows how the dams were unbuilt and the rivers reshaped.

See also this time lapse of another Washington dam being disabled and its reservoir drained:

Epic time lapse videos of Mercury’s transit of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2016

About 13 times per century, the planets align in the heavens and the Earth can watch Mercury crossing the face of the Sun. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was watching too and captured time lapse videos from several angles using various instruments measuring magnetism, visible light, and UV. The cosmic ballet goes on.

See also more from the SDO: a gorgeous time lapse of the Sun, a three-year video portrait of the Sun, and Thermonuclear Art.

Time lapse video of a year’s worth of sunrises

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2016

A man in Germany rigged a camera to take a photo 10 minutes after sunrise every day for an entire year. Phil Plait explains the Sun’s motion:

The video starts at the vernal equinox in 2015, on March 21, and runs through to March 20, 2016. The Sun rises due east, then moves left (north) every morning at a rapid rate. You can then see it slow, stop at the June solstice, and then reverse direction, moving south (right). It slows and stops again at the December solstice (note the snow on the rooftops!), then reverses, moving north again. The weather gets pretty bad, but you can still see enough to get a sense that the Sun moves most rapidly at the equinoxes and most slowly at the solstices, just as I said.

What the NYC subway train saw

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

YouTube user DJ Hammers has been uploading videos of start-to-finish trips on NYC subway lines from the perspective of the operator at the front of the train. The realtime videos are interesting to watch, but the 10x time lapses are probably a better use of your attention. Here’s the time lapse of the Queens-bound 7 train (realtime version):

See also Slow TV.

Go go gadget cruise ship

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2015

In 2007, a cruise ship called the Balmoral was brought into the dry docks to be extended. Like, they cut the ship in half and added an entire new section to it, like putting an extra slice of bologna on a sandwich. I totally didn’t know this was a thing you could do to a boat. (via @MachinePix)

Update: Ships can be cut apart and widened as well. (via @timotimo)

A time lapse of changing USA boundaries, 1629-2000

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2015

This is an animated map of the lower 48 United States showing every boundary change (country, colony, state, and county) from 1629 to 2000. (via @ptak)

Time lapse video of a scale model of the solar system

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

A pair of filmmakers, Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, built a scale model of the solar system in the Nevada desert and made a time lapse of the result. For orbits, they drove their car in circles around “the Sun”. The Earth they used was the size of a marble, which made Neptune’s orbit seven miles across. (via the kid should see this)

Time lapse video of a caterpillar turning into a monarch butterfly

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

(via the kid should see this)

1WTC elevators show NYC time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2015

The walls of the elevator to the observatory at the top of 1 World Trade Center are covered with screens and when you ride it to the top, you see a time lapse of NYC’s development, from 1500 to the present.

The observatory is open daily from 9am to 8pm.

The birth of bees

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2015

A time lapse of the first three weeks of a bee’s life, from egg to adult, in only 60 seconds.

Some explanation of what’s going on can be found in this video. (via colossal)

Reef life

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2015

A beautiful time lapse of colorful sea creatures going about their days.

Seagull contrails

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2015

Using a tiny bit of post-processing, the flight paths of seagulls become visible in this video:

See also the bird contrail videos by Dennis Hlynsky.

Infrared Planet Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2015

This is an ultra-HD time lapse of planet Earth in infrared. Infrared light is absorbed by clouds and water vapor, so the result is a sphere of roiling storms and trade winds.

Here’s a video with both hemispheres at once and another offering a closer view. If you’ve got a 4K display, this will look pretty incredible on it. James Tyrwhitt-Drake has done a bunch of other HD videos of the Earth and Sun, including Planet Earth in 4K and the Sun in 4K.

The Invasion of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2015

From eHistory, a time lapse view from 1776 to the present day of how the US government systematically took land from Native Americans through treaties and executive orders that were rarely honored for long.

There’s a companion piece at Aeon by Claudio Saunt as well as an interactive version of the map featured in the video.

The final assault on indigenous land tenure, lasting roughly from the mid-19th century to 1890, was rapid and murderous. (In the 20th century, the fight moved from the battlefield to the courts, where it continues to this day.) After John Sutter discovered gold in California’s Central Valley in 1848, colonists launched slaving expeditions against native peoples in the region. ‘That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected,’ the state’s first governor instructed the legislature in 1851.

In the Great Plains, the US Army conducted a war of attrition, with success measured in the quantity of tipis burned, food supplies destroyed, and horse herds slaughtered. The result was a series of massacres: the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho (1863), the Sand Creek Massacre in eastern Colorado (1864), the Washita Massacre in western Oklahoma (1868), and a host of others. In Florida in the 1850s, US troops waded through the Everglades in pursuit of the last holdouts among the Seminole peoples, who had once controlled much of the Florida peninsula. In short, in the mid-19th century, Americans were still fighting to reduce if not to eliminate the continent’s original residents.

FYI, it’s always a good rule of thumb to not read comments on YouTube, but in this case you really really shouldn’t read the comments on this video unless you want a bunch of reasons why it was ok for Europeans to drive Native Americans to the brink of total genocide.

Clever end credits for The Boxtrolls shows how stop motion works

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2014

The end credits for The Boxtrolls, a stop motion animation film by Laika, is a clever time lapse sequence showing the work that goes into moving the characters. You can tell how long it takes by how often the animator’s outfit changes.

Christopher Jobson of Colossal writes:

I first saw Boxtrolls in the theater last September with my son, and this single scene caused a more vocal response from the audience than any other moment in the entire movie. People were literally gasping, myself included.

The Boxtrolls is already available for purchase on Amazon…might have to watch this with the kids soon.

More Stormscapes

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2014

This time lapse video of storm clouds by Nicolaus Wegner is flat-out incredible, by far the best of its kind.

Crank up the sound for this one. Previously: Stormscapes 1. (via bad astronomy)

Gorgeous time lapse of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2014

This is a time lapse of the surface of the Sun, constructed of more than 17,000 images taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory from Oct 14 to Oct 30, 2014. The bright area that starts on the far right is sunspot AR 12192, the largest observed sunspot since 1990.

The sunspot is about 80,000 miles across (as wide as 10 Earths) and it’s visible from Earth with the naked eye. Best viewed as large as possible…I bet this looks amazing on the new retina iMac. (via @pageman)