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Shooting Disney's 'Earth'

In making our new movie "Earth" (the first feature-length nature documentary from Disneynature), the goal was to show people what an incredible world we have and, despite our many environmental problems, to let people know that we still have a beautiful planet.

 

One of the problems with the environmental movement is that people say, "It's too late, we've missed the boat." That's just not true at all.  

Our TV series "Planet Earth" showed us that there's a tremendous interest in wildlife documentaries. Most people live in urban centers, away from the country. I think that increases interest in the outdoors; people are less connected to wildlife. There's certainly more general awareness about environmental issues in the States; there appears to be more talk about these issues than when we began filming the movie five or six years ago.

When we began shooting the movie we wanted to make a film that wasn't an overt conservation vehicle, because we believe people go the cinema to be entertained.
So we followed three animal characters for a year: a polar bear, a humpback whale and an elephant.

 

We filmed big, epic, wide shots, which tend to work better on the wide screen. The movie shows you our entire planet; it's a celebration of our planet.  

Advances in technology allowed us to shoot less intrusively than ever before, which is a great thing for getting natural behavior that's uninfluenced by humans. We used a camera called the Cineflex -- a camera system that's basically a bubble that hangs underneath a helicopter. Within this sphere is an HD camera with a long, telephoto zoom lens that is stabilized. We can film with a very long lens with very long stabilization without any wobbles.

 

That may not seem exciting, but in the past, we've only been able to use wide-angle lenses from the air. We would do an establishing shot from the air, then we would have to go on the ground with a tripod.  

With the new technology, we were actually able to film up-close animal behavior. That meant we could fly into really remote places that are almost impossible to go to on foot.

 

A lot of the material in "Earth" was filmed from over a kilometer away because the lens is so stable. Of course, the advantage of that is that we don't really disturb the animals -- and that's been revolutionary.

We shot one sequence where wolves were hunting down caribou. Wolves are hard to approach, and they live on terrain that's very inaccessible -- it's hard to get over the tundra. But with the helicopter, we could film these wolves from the air. 

We also used super slow-motion cameras which shoot 1,000 frames in one second. If you do that and play it back in the cinema, that slows the image down by 40 times more than you would see it with your naked eye. The way a great white shark leaps out of the water in super slow-motion -- that would be impossible to see with the naked eye.

 

Seeing this on the big screen is particularly powerful, because there's much more emotional engagement. 

All of the animals and places we filmed in the last five or six years can still be worked with and nurtured. It's an empowering idea: There are a few challenges ahead but there's no reason to think that we've missed our opportunity. If people do little things like turn off their computer at night, switch off their lights, turn the air conditioning down or buy food locally when it's possible -- those things make a difference.

 

It's not a massive thing for anyone to do individually, but combined, it will make a huge difference.

Mark Linfield is the co-director of Disneynature's "Earth," which is being released on Earth Day (April 22). He also has produced "Capuchins: The Monkey Puzzle" and two episodes of "Planet Earth."