The footage that fooled Britain: David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet

After the row last week over the birth of the polar bears in David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet –  it turned out that they weren’t born in the Arctic after all – I can reveal that Sir David’s next big natural history documentary, (the first feature film filmed wholly in 3D),  also contains some photographic sleight of hand. The Bachelor King, out in cinemas next spring, is being billed by the PR people as the heroic quest of a single awkward adolescent penguin to find a mate and father a chick.
Or as the PR blurb puts it: “Through waters stalked by killer whales, in the face of angry three-ton elephant seals, against flesh-eating giant petrels and over the course of a vicious southern winter, our king must keep going.  Our Bachelor King’s story is often comic, sometimes tragic, ultimately triumphant, a rite of passage set on one of the world’s last great wildernesses.”
  Clips from the film were fab – fluffy brown penguin chicks waddling out of the screen, a giant petrel bird snatching up a squeaking penguin baby inches from my nose… but then I interviewed Sir David for the Sunday Times and it became clear that the 3D heroic penguin I had so empathised with on screen wasn’t actually a single bird.
Quotes from the interview:

Me: How did you find this one penguin for the film crew to follow? I mean how did that work?Sir David Attenborough: Ok [laughs] let us not beat about the bush. Um er if you made a film about  hunting dogs you would soon see that a hunting dog has a black spot on the front of its face or it doesn’t – and they’re very variable. So if you’re going to trace a black patched hunting dog through it’s life-cycle it’s going to take you three years. Penguins, on the other hand, all look very very much the same. How do they tell one another apart? Well we know that they distinguish one another, a penguin will find its mate, by the sound of its voice, and the bray of a penguin is a really very harsh sound. But nonetheless, that’s how they do it. They don’t do it by visual stimuli. So what we have attempted to do, and I am not abashed by it in the least, is that we are trying to distil the story of a typical penguin, of a young penguin that comes ashore after having spent 3 years at sea. He’s returning to where he was hatched and he’s got to find a mate and he’s got to rear a chick and then he’s got to go back to sea. That’s the story, which is a distillation of a standard king penguin story, and to do that, fortunately, there are penguins of all the right sizes at all the right times.

Me: [laughs] so you didn’t have one hero, it was a composite hero, you filmed lots of penguins and spliced the footage together? [Despite the PR blurb which focuses on a single heroic penguin, almost human like in his quest and bravery?]

David A: Well-

Anthony Geffen ( film producer): I doubt there was probably one Bambi [laughs]

Oh dear, really.. but at least when The Bachelor King opens in cinemas next spring you’ll be able to play the game of spot how many penguins make up the Bachelor King (and if you want to start early there’s a special screening on Sky on New Year’s Eve…)
You get the idea… for more details, here’s the Sunday Times piece.
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