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 even very 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 3D was a team effort between Atlantic Productions, Dimension Media and ONSIGHT. Anthony Geffen was the Executive Producer with Dimension Media’s Adam Sculthorp and Jacquie Pepall stereo supervising and 3D producing respectively.
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 (time lapse rigs using Canon Prime lenses), high speed (using Phantom cameras) plus 3D night-vision and infra-red sequences.
A variety of rigs and cameras were used including P&S Standard with Canon 5D cameras (for time lapse), the small P&S Freestyle rig using Sony F3 cameras, a bespoke 3D borescope rig with Red Epics, a Romford Calcutta Side-by-Side rig, and a Quasar principle rig.
The crew used Optimo DP Zooms, Ultra Primes, and Olympus 100mm Macro lenses. The time-lapse rigs used Canon prime lenses and the borescope system was equivalent to 40mm.
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 so we would knew within 5 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 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.”
One of the concerns for any 3D production is the reduction in lighting 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 in the industry 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, Richard Mills said “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 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 coms 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 ring out the textures, it really makes the 3D experience all that much more phenomenal so 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 audienc