Imagine your life being filmed by giants! How would they do it? Would they stay in their world and look down from on high or get right down on their knees and try and see the world from your perspective? Maybe not something you think about everyday, but it was exactly what was going through our minds when we set about trying to bring the lives of some of the natural worlds most amazing characters to the screen - to turn the spotlight on the minute stars of Hidden Kingdoms.
For nearly 25 years of wildlife filmmaking I have been quietly fascinated by the unsung heroes, the little creatures, that live beneath our feet. I have encouraged their inclusion in the odd sequence or two in many or the programmes I've been involved in from The Trials of Life to Africa. I think they've always punched their weight amongst the lions and elephants, but... I don't think they've ever has a chance to really shine - to show the full extent of their extraordinary nature, We have never really taken the viewer into their world to see it from their perspective...That's where Hidden Kingdoms comes in.
A number of us at the Natural History Unit felt the time was right to focus the lens intensely on these little creatures - so began a two and a half year adventure filming the lives of elephant shrews (aka. sengi), grasshopper mice, chipmunks, tree shrews, marmosets and rhinoceros beetles, each small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
But what approach to take and what technology to use? In the hidden kingdoms we are the giants and yes, we wanted to get our noses and lenses down at ground level, but what would the animals make of it and what would we actually see? The first surprise was the intensity of the lives of these little creatures - more happens to a sengi in 24 hours than happens to a lion in a week. Second almost everything happens in the blink of an eye - a grasshopper mouse shoots in and out of frame in a couple of seconds - especially as to see their perspective means getting the lens very close to the subject... No sitting in a filming hide with a telephoto lens taking shots lasting minutes.
It soon became clear that while we could piece together their behaviour in our heads by careful observation we couldn't see a way of recording those observations, from their perspective, directly through the lens. So, over the next two years we had to re-imagine how to shoot these animals - to develop and apply an enormous range of new techniques to build up their story shot by shot to illustrate their lives.
We all found it impossible not to become completely enamoured with these creatures, they're adorable as well as impressive, so spending countless hour down in their world was no hardship. Given that time and care, they rewarded us by putting on a remarkable show for the cameras, to allow us, to reveal their extraordinary abilities.
One of the most enjoyable things about making wildlife films is how interested the audience are in the adventures we have making the programmes; The filming techniques, the trials and tribulations of getting the shot and the experience of being in some of the most remote parts of the world. As well as talking to the audience face to face we also have the opportunity to include a 'behind the scenes' feature at the end of many of our shows.
For Hidden Kingdoms we thought the audience would be interested in seeing how tiny and elusive these creatures are and seeing the different approaches we have taken - like the use of blue screen, the use of special filming stages, how we worked with captive animals, and how we and our lenses eventually became accepted by our subjects.
Our approach will not be to everyone's liking and there will be others who will want to know more.
I can't at the moment think of another way of revealing the hidden kingdoms perspective (other than perhaps shrinking a camera crew down to Lilliputian size) and so to my mind our approach offers the best opportunity to show an audience the wonderful nature of our subjects and to give them a sense of the challenges the animals face.
For our team, at least, it has been really worthwhile. I hope we can continue to explore this hidden world and we will be putting huge amount of energy into evolving the approaches we've taken. I look forward to sharing both those efforts and our results.
Hidden Kingdoms is on BBC One on Thursdays at 8pm.
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