Kingdom of Plants 3D premieres

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Guests arrived at a packed Princess Anne Theatre, BAFTA last week to watch the premiere of David Attenborough’s third 3D project – Kingdom of Plants 3D. We go behind the scenes…

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Kingdom of Plants 3D Kingdom of Plants 3D premieres

This article is brought to you in association with 3D specialists Presteigne Charter

On May 3rd, an audience were treated to the first ever screening of Kingdom of Plants 3D episode one – Life in the Wet Zone, followed by a ten minute preview of the other two episodes – Solving the Secrets and Survival.

Head of Sky 3D John Cassy and Executive Producer Anthony Geffen introduced the screening with Cassy saying “Anthony Geffen has absolutely pushed the boundaries of 3D television and I think what you are going to see tonight is very special. 3D offers a way of telling stories that you can’t get anywhere else.” He continued to say “We are looking to make more and more home grown programming and in the next three years we are going to raise our investment in home grown shows like this… it is a good time to be a programme maker working for Sky”.

Kingdom of Plants 3D is a three part 50 minute series filmed over the course of a year at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which houses some 90% of all known plant species in one form or another. In a similar model to Flying Monsters 3D, the show (formerly known as Kew 3D) will be released for IMAX as well as 2D TV (on Sky Atlantic).  Free 3D clips will be made available for the Nintendo 3DS as well as a supporting tie-in book initiated by Kew, a ‘making of’ programme and “an amazing app experience” according to Anthony Geffen.

Each episode covers a different aspect of plant life and utilises a number of different camera techniques to draw the audience into the surprisingly competitive world of plants. Life in the Wet Zone (26th May) looks at the adaptation of plants to wet and humid environments, with episode two, Solving the Secrets (2nd June), exploring the behind-the-scenes lives of plant movement, scent and communication.  Survival (9th June), the concluding episode, focuses on the continual adaptation of plants as well as a look at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, which houses almost two billion seeds of more than 30,000 species of wild plants to ensure their future for generations to come.

Just before the screening, Geffen said “While we were making Flying Monsters 3D, David, the team and I realised the power of macro photography in terms of 3D and we started doing tests on various things. One of the things that struck us would be interesting was plants. It didn’t take very long after doing simple tests to realise that the plant world was going to be an extraordinary world to make a 3D film in.”

Referring to his meeting with James Cameron at IBC, Geffen said “I think this film is going to take 3D to another level, in a different way. It was really interesting as I was at a trade show a few months ago. I showed James Cameron and he said “My goodness I cannot believe that footage. That would take tens of millions of dollars to do that in CGI”.

3D Focus believes Kingdom of Plants 3D is possibly the most advanced Sky 3D documentary to date. It has very high production values and some of the 3D time lapse shots were sensational. It is incredible how close the cameras get to the plants and insects and you really do feel like you are watching something quite ground-breaking. However, this is not a review article (which will be released May 27th) but that is a quick taster!

Kingdom of Plants was produced by Atlantic Productions with Sky 3D.  Anthony Geffen was the Executive Producer, Martin Williams was the series Director, Tim Cragg was the DOP, Skip Howard was the Stereographer and Jacquie Pepall (Dimension Media) was the Stereo Supervisor.

Like Flying Monsters 3D and The Bachelor King 3D (premiering at the end of the year), ONSIGHT managed the post production and facilities element with Richard Mills acting as Chief Technical Officer and Ben McGuire being the Post Production Supervisor using SGO Mistika. HALO worked on the sound effects.

Kingdom of Plants features many ground-breaking filming techniques. In fact, there were nine different camera systems used including time lapse, high speed (using Phantom cameras), 3D night-vision and infra-red sequences.

Speaking at the premiere, David Attenborough said “If you film time lapse for 24 hours a day you have to have the same exposure, the same light, in every single frame so at night time you have a flash but in the daytime you have to cut off daylight and use the same flash, so a time lapse of a plant can’t be done in a place where the normal public are. It has to be done at the back or in some special circumstances, not even at Kew.”

However, the majority of filming was filmed at the Royal Botanic Gardens and the attraction was never closed during the filming. With the presence of the public and humid filming conditions, rigid filming schedules and planning were implemented as 3D Producer Jacquie Pepall said at the 3D Storytelling event at Ravensbourne in March…

“We had two separate time lapse units as well as a main unit. The main unit had to get a lot of the footage you see, certainly all the David Attenborough footage, shot in a relatively quick amount of time, and so, even though as a concept Kingdom of Plants seems really easy because everything is in one place, we were extremely strict and rigid in our planning. Because the 3D equipment is quite big, we had to be really careful so in the scheduling for our shoot days we scheduled up until 15 minutes. We would know within five minutes where we should be and what we should be doing. I think that was the only way we could get everything done in time”.

Adam Sculthorp added “There were certainly issues working within a highly damp environment but it all comes down to planning. We knew this would be an issue so we worked with ONSIGHT to make sure we had the right tools there. We also had a time schedule for the rig to acclimatise.”

Kingdom of Plants 3D also broke the boundaries of Sky 3D’s depth budget parameters which were especially extended for the series. Also, there is a higher use of negative space than previously seen (the space in front of the screen) as cameras delve into the secretive world of the plants up close.

Speaking at 3D Storytelling, Post Production Producer Ben McGuire said “For Sky, the depth bracket is about 3%. You can then push that depth bracket either behind the screen plane or in front of the screen plane… as we have been progressing, Sky were changing their parameters and with Kingdom of Plants, we pushed what we would put into negative space. What was once constrained to 1% in negative space, out of the screen, we actually went to 1.5%and a bit further on this programme. However, this was done for editorial reasons.”

One of the concerns for any 3D production is the reduction in brightness caused by wearing 3D glasses. Directors Michael Bay and, more recently, Martin Scorsese, have been making some noise about the brightness issue during 3D theatrical presentation. A number of vendors are recommending developing laser illuminated projection technology to make the screens brighter and some believe laser-based projection technology could begin to reach theatres by the end of 2013.

However, whilst that might offer a solution in the long term, Kingdom of Plants 3D has been produced for television too. When 3D Focus asked about this issue, ONSIGHT's Richard Mills replied “It depends on the particular display medium. For cinema, there are DCI specifications. The standard specification for a theatrical screen is 14 foot lamberts. For 3D projection you are lucky to end up with 4.5 foot lamberts which is why people tend to grade up for a theatrical presentation. However, when it comes to television it very much depends on the user settings on the TV. Most modern sets vary their brightness dynamically so you are fighting a losing battle so you don’t really mess about with it too much. In the early days we were tempted to grade up for television production but it is now largely left the same. I’m hoping the television experience at home won’t ruin it".

On the production side, Dimension Media’s Jacquie Peppall added “One of the things that this show really points out is how critical lighting is. We really spent a long time lighting the shots and it makes a huge difference if you put a lot of time and energy into lighting for 3D and particularly because one of the things that really comes through well with 3D is textures. We saw that with the fossils in Flying Monsters 3D, and we see it in the macro photography in the plants with Kingdom of Plants. If you can light to bring out the textures, it really makes the 3D experience all that much more phenomenal. That is something I will take with me on my next 3D project.”

3D Focus asked Celia Taylor, Commissioning Editor Factual and Features at BSkyB, whether she was frustrated that the majority of people will see Kingdom of Plants in 2D and she responded “We would love lots of people to see it in 3D and 3D is a growing market. By creating some of the best 3D in the world that is how we are going to get people to see more 3D. That is what we are after. That is our whole strategy; to make the best 3D in the world that engages the audience.”

The first episode of KINGDOM OF PLANTS 3D WITH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH airs on the 26th May 2012 at 6pm on Sky 3D and will be simulcast in 2D on Sky Atlantic HD.

For more information about ONSIGHT click here
For more information about Atlantic Productions click here
For more information about Dimension Media click here

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Full episode synopses below.



3D technology reveals a whole new dimension in the lives of plants, from the most bizarre to the most beautiful. In this sensational series, David Attenborough explores their fascinating world, which was shot over the course of a year on location at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and in other controlled environments using a variety of 3D filming techniques and computer enhanced imagery.  Using 3D time-lapse and pioneering techniques in 3D macro photography, he traces them from their beginnings on land to their vital place in nature today, exposing new revelations along the way. He moves from our time scale to theirs, revealing the true nature of plants as creatures that are every bit as dynamic and aggressive as animals. David discovers a microscopic world that’s invisible to the naked eye, where insects feed and breed, where flowers fluoresce and where plants communicate with each other and with animals using scent and sound. He meets the extraordinary animals and fungi that have unbreakable ties with the plant world, from hawk moths and bats to tiny poison dart frogs, a giant tortoise and a fungus that can control the mind. And he does all this in one unique place, a microcosm of the whole plant world where, some 90% of all known plant species are represented: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  This spectacular adventure through the Kingdom of Plants is so immersive and compelling it has the capacity to amaze even the least green-fingered.

Episode 1: Life in the Wet Zone. (26th May)David begins his journey inside the magnificent Palm House, a unique global rainforest in London. Here, he explores the extraordinary plants that are so well adapted to wet and humid environments and unravels the intimate relationships between wet zone plants and the animals that depend on them. It was in the wet zones of the world that plants first moved on to land and in the Waterlily House David reveals how flowers first evolved some 140 million years ago. Watching a kaleidoscope of breath-taking time-lapses of these most primitive of flowers swelling and blooming in 3D, he is able to piece together the very first evolutionary steps that plants took to employ a wealth of insects to carry their precious pollen for the first time. David discovers clues to answer a question that even had Charles Darwin stumped: how did flowering plants evolve so fast to go on to colonise the entire planet so successfully? He marvels with signature enthusiasm at orchids, the largest family of flowering plants. Many of these captivating flowers evolved to be pollinated by a single insect species and in doing so developed such complicated contraptions of pollination it’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful. One orchid even looks like a bee.

Episode 2: Solving the Secrets. (2nd June) David uses the latest 3D technology to explore a world beyond the confines of our human senses. He begins with the secret world of plant movement and uses sinister carnivorous plants to show just how active plants can be. Bladderwort utricularia is a pond-dweller that is among the fastest known, its traps snapping shut in less than a millisecond. As the seasons change, David demonstrates how plants operate on a different time scale to us; how they modify their lives according to the time of year. We discover insects’ hidden links with plants, both as pests and pollinators. UV-sensitive 3D cameras reveal the invisible alter-ego of plants and their flowers’ mesmerizing patterns; a parallel-dimension of strange colours and stunning patterns through which plants communicate with them. With the aid of visual effects, David steps among the swirling vortices of plant scent; communication signals with which plants are inextricably plugged in to the natural world. And using a tuning fork, he demonstrates how plants and insects can even communicate with music. As autumn envelopes the Gardens, fungi reveal themselves not as the enemies of plants but their vital allies. In Kew’s atmospheric Fungarium, David discovers a specimen that has the power of mind control and another that lives underground where it has grown to be so big it can be counted as the largest single organism on the planet. It is 6 times bigger than Kew Gardens itself. David concludes the film in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, where he meets an old friend, the great Titan arum. At 8ft tall, it is the largest flower in the world and a plant he remembers from a previous filming trip to Sumatra. Using heat sensitive cameras, David reveals the Titan arum’s secrets, how it uses a combination of heat and powerful scent to punch a hole in the stratified layers of air in the rainforest, enabling it to broadcast its presence across vast distances.

Episode 3: Survival. (9th June) David discovers the plants that have evolved to shed their dependency on water enabling them to survive in the driest environments. The story begins at midnight in midsummer as David steps into the Princess of Wales Conservatory to witness the extraordinary nocturnal blooming of a cactus. The queen of the night, with its giant flowers, is the centre piece of a stunning symphony of cacti blooms that burst open in the desert (and at Kew) at night. In a mesmerizing 3D slow motion sequence, we discover the extraordinary connections between cacti and their natural pollinators: bats. The scene typifies the unique splendour of the 3D experience as bats seem to fly out of the screen and into the viewers’ living room. As the sun rises, David meets other amazing plants. Species like the century plant, the Agave franzosini, which grows steadily for over 50 years, only to then flower itself to death with one mighty telegraph pole sized bloom which literally bursts out of the roof of Kew’s green house.  Cracking the code to plants’ survival strategies is the key to protecting their future and Kew have built a high tech long-term solution fifty miles south of the Gardens. Described as mankind’s ultimate insurance policy, and with 10% already safely stored deep frozen, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has the capacity to store seeds from the vast majority of remaining species of plant on the planet, thus saving plants from extinction in the future.