How did ‘Prehistoric Planet’ create such incredible dinosaurs? Find out in a behind-the-scenes look.
“Prehistoric Planet” takes viewers back in time on a guided tour of the Cretaceous period with Sir David Attenborough, in a documentary series that reimagines dinosaurs like the mighty tyrannosaurus rex and features lesser-known creatures like the charming owl Mononykus.
The show depicts the extinct creatures moving and behaving with a level of realism never seen before in movies or television. And if you pull back the curtain and look behind the scenes, you’ll find that the work that has gone on behind the scenes of the groundbreaking series is almost as impressive as the dinosaurs themselves, from perilous desert treks to dinosaur deductions. a la Sherlock Holmes. Anatomy and behavior.
“Prehistoric Planet” debuted on Apple TV+ on May 23, and all episodes are now available to stream. This is our behind-the-scenes coverage of the show, so if you don’t want to know how the sauce was made, check out our “Prehistoric Planet” Insight In place.
The series teamed up the natural history unit of BBC Studios – the group behind award-winning nature documentaries like “Planet Earth” (BBC 2006) – with the visual effects team of Moving Picture Company, who worked on 3D animated films like “The Lion King”. (Walt Disney Pictures, 2019). This combined team went to extraordinary lengths to make “Prehistoric Planet” feel as authentic and close to a modern nature documentary as possible.
“It all starts with the fossil record,” showrunner Tim Walker told Live Science during a behind-the-scenes press tour. The team studied ancient landscapes and vegetation to find modern habitats that could pass for the Cretaceous period so they could film in real locations. “It’s surprising that now, 66 million years later, there are a lot of things that look very much like they did then,” Walker said.
Related: Cretaceous dinosaurs come to life in stunning footage from ‘Prehistoric Planet’
From scorching deserts to lush jungles, the habitats the dinosaurs called home often still exist in one form or another today. Film crews traveled to these locations and used life-size physical objects, such as cardboard cutouts and 3D-printed puppets, as stand-ins for long-extinct dinosaurs.
These stand-in dinos were a point of reference for the filmmakers and special effects team, allowing the creators to see how much space the animals would take up and how they would move through their environments. Some animals were far too big to be puppets or cutouts – imagine walking through the desert carrying huge, long-necked sauropods cardboard – so the team used long poles and drones to capture the eyeline and scale of truly giant creatures.
“Just because there aren’t animals to film doesn’t mean you aren’t going through a hard time,” Walker said. The crew encountered deadly poisonous snakes and the footprints of the Lions in their fake Cretaceous scenes. They were so committed to authenticity that before the team decided where to place their cameras, they thought about how living dinosaurs might react to human observers.
“You could never ask the cameraman to go and stand in front of a T. rex because he would eat them!” executive producer Mike Gunton said during the press tour. “So you have to take a step back.”
The team didn’t just have replacement cameras and models; they were also equipped with laser detection and ranging (lidar) scanners for modeling environments and high dynamic range (HDR) imaging equipment for measuring light, allowing visual effects specialists to recreate environments natural and lighting in 3D space when adding CGI dinosaurs.
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The visual effects team designed the dinosaurs on computers, starting with skeletons based on fossil analysis, then adding muscle and skin. The appearance, movement and behavior of dinosaurs were inspired by evidence from paleontology, contemporary biology and other scientific disciplines such as biomechanics – the study of biological structures and mechanisms that control how animals move.
Gunton described their approach as “Sherlock Holmes-like”, bringing together information from a variety of sources and linking it with the help of scientific advisers. A scene from the episode “Deserts” shows how the animators used this approach to show viewers the unexpected: two sauropods of the genus Dreadnoughtus struggling and stabbing each other with deadly arm thorns.
“They are large, seemingly docile herbivorous animals,” Gunton said. “Yet on their forelimbs are these two big massive spikes. Now they don’t use them to pick their noses!”
When the fossil evidence didn’t have all the answers, the team used a scientific technique known as phylogenetic bracketing. This practice allowed them to infer the likelihood of unknown dinosaur traits – such as vocalizations or other types of social behavior – based on the characteristics of related animals in their family tree or unrelated animals with a mode similar life.
For example, the team examined crocodilesiguanas and birds for inspiration when animating the movement of a T. rexduring a courtship scene in the episode “Freshwater”, and the creators referenced large herbivores such as the elephants and rhinoceros to inform the movements of extinct herbivores such as Dreadnoughtus.
“Everything we do in the visual effects process, we try to replicate reality,” visual effects supervisor Elliot Newman said during the press tour. “There’s no better way to do that than watching real things.”
“Prehistoric Planet” is available to stream on AppleTV+ (opens in a new tab).
Originally posted on Live Science.