Icon Films talk to 3D Focus about the challenges of producing a 3D episode of hit Animal Planet series River Monsters.
Disclaimer - Most quotes in this article have been edited in order to reduce the word count. They are not direct translations but the River Monsters 3D feature video below includes the full interviews.
Fronted by biologist and extreme angler Jeremy Wade, River Monsters is Animal Planet’s most popular series. Summarised by the presenter as “a genre of its own”, the series, now in its fifth season, investigates unusual fisherman’s tales across the globe. In River Monsters 3D, Jeremy travels to the Okavango Delta in Southern Africa, after a group of people capsized and were attacked by a frenzied group of unknown creatures. Some people drowned and others suffered severe mutilations after, what looked like, Piranha attacks although there are no such fish in that part of the world. It turns out the feared Tiger Fish was the culprit – a pack hunting species that Jeremy aims to catch.
River Monsters 3D: Pack of Teeth, was premiered on 3net in April this year. “Bringing a high-quality ratings hit like Animal Planet’s River Monsters to 3net audiences in immersive, native 3D for the first time ever underscores our on-going commitment to deliver the most unique and compelling content possible,” said Tom Cosgrove, president of 3net. “This series is a perfect fit for 3D and the kind of eyes wide open experience our viewers have come to expect”.
River Monsters, including the 3D episode, is a production of Icon Films for Animal Planet. Being Icon Film’s first 3D production, the crew attended lots of training courses and paired up with 3D specialists Inition who supplied Stereoscopic Supervisor Campbell Goodwille. Thomas Kelpie was Icon Films 3D Workflow Consultant for the project and Barny Revill was the director (who also directs the regular 2D series).
“What I am most proud of is that the whole thing works as a film, it is not just a 3D spectacle. I think a lot of 3D productions get overly caught up in the 3D mechanics” said Barny Revill “It’s still a River Monsters film through and through; it’s got the pace and the energy and we haven’t compromised it because it’s 3D. It’s not gone from being an exciting series to a very static tripod type show”.
For those of you who are not familiar with the TV series River Monsters, which is broadcast on the Animal Planet channel in the UK, the show is very filmic in its style with fast paced editing, dramatic reconstructions, Hollywood style sound effects and strong narrative threads.
Maintaining the run-and-shoot look was the challenge Inition’s Campbell Goodwille had to face although he was armed with years of experience of shooting 3D in extreme locations.
“The bulk of our filming was done with SI-2Ks using Canon lenses on a Pulsar rig. The main rig weighed just under 20 kilos so the Cinematographer used our Easy Rig (pictured) which supports the camera. That was able to provide the ‘run and gun’ aesthetic of the show. We then had an umbilical from the cameras to my backpack mounted unit. I built a custom recording system which allowed me to have a touchscreen in front of my face the whole time to allow me to adjust the 3D settings”.
Jeremy Wade was initially sceptical about producing a 3D version of the hit series, especially when filming River Monsters is already difficult. Speaking before a recent premiere in Bristol, Wade said “River Monsters in 2D is a challenge enough to make. Fish are wild animals, a lot of people forget that. In order to film them you have to be mobile and relatively stealth. When we started discussing the possibilities of doing it in 3D, I was very sceptical. I was thinking that this was possibly a step too far. You are going from a crew of four to maybe seven or eight with great big bits of kit. But the amazing thing was that it worked, it was incredible. I thought it was going to really slow things down but it wasn’t too different from a normal 2D shoot. Part of that was due to very meticulous planning and also because we were very fortunate with our location”.
Icon Films 3D Workflow Consultant Thomas Kelpie (who doubled as a Safari Warden in the show) edited the programme using AVID 5.5 and ended up with burnt in side-by-side footage created by the offline support people at Films@59.
“That worked quite well but it meant that we didn’t have any opportunities to fix the 3D problems that you inevitably come across” said Kelpie “I got the guys to create some preset filter effects for percentage parallax corrections as well as being able to set the depth and convergence just for the offline viewings. We didn’t want to cause any pain for the American executives who hadn’t been watching that much 3D because its wasn’t exec’ed by a 3D channel (Animal Planet)”.
Although 'River Monster 3D : Pack of Teeth' is being distributed by ITV Studios, River Monster 3D has so far not aired in the UK and the programme highlights the different approaches taken by 3net and Sky 3D regarding extremity of 3D according to Kelpie… “We were always aiming for about 3% but in run and gun mode, some of the second cameras we had ended up with some shots that were up to 5 and 6%. Some of those got through all the way to the US version. I haven’t seen whether they made it into the Sky 3D friendly version yet. When we came to the online and doing the depth grades we went for a Sky 3D style. I took it to Discovery Centre in the States and I was able to sit in their 3D depth review where the guy re-depth graded two thirds of the film to bring everything out. The Americans are not too fussed about edge violations – they just want everything out, slapping you in the face wherever possible”.
Jeremy Wade revealed some of the TV trickery required when dealing with wild animals and to ensure their welfare, especially in a fast paced production… “When you have actually got the fish, it's pressure on everybody because the crew has got to get the filming right first time…. We do sometimes employ a little bit of trickery. We can do a two shot of me plus fish, then we do close ups of the fish, put the fish back and do close ups of my face talking as if I am still holding the fish, cutting between both”.
Across the River Monsters series in general, Jeremy Wade spends less time with a fishing rod than you might think with an average of about 30% of any shoot involving fishing. Also, as with River Monsters 3D, the final sequence of catching the fish was filmed at the beginning to ensure the main element of the programme was in the bag, although those sequences appear at the conclusion of the episode.
Choosing the right episode for the first 3D version of River Monsters was important. The subject matter and location were key elements behind the decision to travel to the Okavango Delta. Many episodes of River Monsters involve shooting in several locations, but ‘Pack of Teeth’ required only two, highly beneficial when moving large equipment and crew around. The team sourced a floating platform originally designed to take vehicles over the river which provided a steady platform for filming and the Tiger Fish themselves were known to not be as elusive as others.
“Part of the reason we decided to shoot the tiger fish episode in 3D was, of all the ones in this season, we knew we would have more than one chance with this fish. It wouldn’t be one moment we had got it for five minutes and then ‘what do you mean the stereo was all messed up!?!’. We knew that we would probably have a few chances” said Director Barny Revill.
Looking at the final piece, Jeremy Wade said he was delighted with the result, suggesting 3D can enhance the format saying “If you are showing an unfamiliar animal, 3D does really give you a better sense of what that creature is like” and Barny Revill learnt a lot from the experience… “The big thing that I learnt was, as a director on a 3D shoot, you are one of the only people that is not really thinking about the 3D. It’s not your sole focus. Your focus is the narrative the story – It’s not just a 3D showcase. Inevitably you might have a shot that is not the best 3D shot in the world but you need that because you’ve got a story to tell…This was my first 3D project and I loved it. I just think it’s going to get better and better.”
Finally, when we asked if Icon Films would shoot the rest of their documentaries in 3D, the answer was a very quick “NOOO!” with Thomas Kelpie saying “We were very lucky with this episode worked so well in 3D with the flat platform but if we had to lug all that kit up valleys and mountains it wouldn’t have worked as well. But, that doesn’t mean that in the future that everything wont shrink and become better and faster.”
River Monsters 3D is being distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment and it is their first 3D product. They are pursuing sales for the programme in territories around the world. ITV SGE say there are no plans to release the show on 3D Blu-ray unfortunately but agreements might be made at this year’s MIPCOM to have it shown in the UK.
VIDEO – 3DFOCUS INTERVIEWS TEAM BEHIND RIVER MONSTERS 3D INCLUDING JEREMY WADE
For more information about Inition visit the Inition website.
For more information about River Monsters, visit the Animal Planet River Monsters microsite.
For more information about Icon Films visit the Icon Films website.
For more information about Films@59 visit the Films@59 website
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