Director Rob Neil on the cameras and kit used to shoot Oxford Scientific Films’ ITV series, Animal Mums
Animal Mums reveals the science that’s going on and captures on camera some incredibly rare and intimate moments in the animal kingdom. The series follows every stage of being a mum -from giving birth alone and the importance of bonding in the minutes that follow, to making sure her offspring pay attention and learn important lessons that will help keep them alive in a world where, at any minute, they could become someone else’s dinner. We shot a diverse set of stories – from Rhinos in South Africa to Racehorses in California. Every shot required a totally unique approach.
Piglet teat order experiment
We wanted to find out for ourselves whether piglets really do line up in the same order every time they suckle.
The aim was to film in a hyper-real style, reminiscent of the much-loved film Babe. Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park proved to be the ideal location. They provided us with a stable, which we dressed with hay bales and suitably rustic props, and lit with a 5K and 1.2K HMI. The star of the show was Dolly, a chilled out Gloucester Old Spot and mother to eight adorable and very hungry piglets.
For the hyper-real effect, cameraman Rupert Binsley shot most of the item on a Red Epic set to 4K and 25p with a range of zooms and primes.
We opted for 50 frames per second, knowing we would have the option of cranking up to real time in the edit. Once Dolly lay down, Rupert fitted the Epic to a Movi 3 Gimbal rig. This gave a brilliant steadicam feel effect as he moved over the piglets while they fed. Luckily Dolly lay down to feed every hour, so we were able to get a huge variety of shots to cover the item.
For the next stage of the experiment, Adam Henson numbered the piglets as they fed. Each suckling only lasted for about 3 minutes, so we had to get this done in one take. Rupert shot with a 1D. Once complete, all we needed to do was wait to see if the piglets lined up in the same order when they fed again an hour later. You’ll have to tune in to find out the answer!
Hunting lessons for cheetah cubs
When our fixer told us that the Sanbona reserve in South Africa was home to a wild cheetah that would allow us to walk with her and her cubs as she hunted, we knew it was an opportunity not to be missed.
We didn’t have a typical NHU budget, so we gave ourselves just forty-eight hours to get the footage. The shoot days involved getting up at 5am so we could film in the magic hour. Filming continued until 11am – by which time the light was too harsh and flat – when we would break for lunch and siesta. Then it was back out again from 3pm until sunset. Rupert used the same kit as in the pig experiment; the Red Epic with the 50–500mm lens did the bulk of the work.
Being able to walk with the cheetahs was great because it meant that we weren’t restricted to the confinements of a jeep. We opted for 50 frames per second to enhance moments of intimacy, such as a glance between mum and cub, a disapproving snarl, or a face lick.
AP Anna Williamson was also second unit camera. She used a Canon 305 to great effect, capturing stunning vistas, essential wides and lovely time lapses.
Our standout series footage came when the family rested; they were so unphased by us that we were able to use the movi/gimbal and fly over and above them as they looked out from their ridge across the plains. It was a privilege to film these incredible animals.
Animal Mums is on Sundays at 7pm on ITV.
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