Skip to content

'Prehistoric Planet' on AppleTV+: Animating a Peek Into a Lost World

May 19, 2022 | By

There's one big problem with filming dinosaur behavior: extinct animals are notoriously tricky to catch on camera. But, AppleTV+'s Prehistoric Planet has a workaround for that.

With five episodes premiering on the streaming service from May 23-27, Prehistoric Planet comes from the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, and is executive produced by the unit's Mike Gunton.

But, don't be fooled by the scenes of dinosaurs in the wild and the mellifluous narration of 96-year-old Sir David Attenborough, veteran of many BBC wildlife shows. Prehistoric Planet isn't exactly a natural-history documentary.

Thanks to the involvement of executive producer Jon Favreau (The Lion King, The Mandalorian), it's actually a scripted film.

There is real footage of landscapes, mixed with CGI plants and animals, re-creating the world of the Cretaceous period -- and that means T-Rex, Triceratops, Velociraptors and other well-known species.

Each episode moves through a different habitat: Coasts, Deserts, Freshwater, Ice Worlds and Forests.

Take a peek:


At a recent press conference for the show featuring Gunton, Favreau, paleontologist Dr. Darren Naish and showrunner Tim Walker, Gunton explained its beginnings.

"The initial inspiration actually was standing on a mountainside in Africa with Sir David Attenborough. And he was introducing a series we were making called About Africa. And he said nowhere on earth does wildlife put on a greater show. Those were his lines.

"I remember saying 'Thank you, that's it. Wrap. We've got that.' And I sat there thinking, 'I wonder if that's always been true. I wonder if there was a time when that was not the case. When would the most extraordinary time have been?'

"And I reckoned, the time of the dinosaurs, when they were walking across that mountain, that would have been the most extraordinary time when wildlife put on its greatest show.

"So, I thought, 'Could you get everybody standing on that mountainside including Sir David, the crew, all the directors, all the experts, all the camera kit, stick it in a time machine, go back to the time of the dinosaurs, and make a wildlife film that showed them doing that?'"

So, eventually in came Favreau, with his experience producing photorealistic animated films.

Said Favreau:

"I got to learn a lot about, not just about dinosaurs, but about biomes, about the way that the world developed.

"Part of what made this such a fun project for me is I got to get a front-row seat to the state-of-the-art technology as it related to the cinematic approach, to how we shot the plates, but also a front-row seat for the latest paleontological research."

Just since the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park in 2001, scientists have done a lot of rethinking about what dinosaurs looked like (less scaly skin, more hair and feathers) and how they behaved.

Said Favreau:

"We're living in a golden age of dinosaurs, where there are new discoveries made on a monthly basis.

"And each one of those discoveries cascades down throughout our understanding of what the ancient world was like and how life developed on this planet.

"So, to me, I'm very grateful for the rich education I was able to get from the leaders of these fields."

Added Dr. Naish:

"It's a fact, this is the first time a TV series or a movie involving prehistoric life has had a full-time, live-in technically qualified paleontologist. ...

"I had very deep involvement in all appropriate steps of this project. I think that really has made quite the difference. I think it was important to have that involvement. And as a consequence, you're seeing as best as possible an up-to-the-minute, cutting-edge portrayal of our scientific understanding of these animals for the first time ever."

Because this is not real wildlife filmmaking, we're not observing dinosaur behavior but instead looking at what scientists think dinosaurs did -- and what the filmmakers want to show them doing.

In even real nature documentaries, there are edits made to emphasize storylines and drama, with some films bordering on the emotionally manipulative.

That's definitely at work here. Parents be warned -- over the course of the episodes, many dinosaur offspring meet their ends. It's not grisly, but it's graphic.

Of course, this happens in real life constantly -- and no doubt did in prehistory -- but especially knowing that each death is scripted, it did feel a little excessive at times.

Still, the filmmakers of Prehistoric Planet tried to stay within the realm of possibility.

Showrunner Tim Walker explained:

"If you're gonna be authentic about as if you are actually filming these animals for real, you have to replicate that. So, you know, there are shots which are impossible which you can't do. So we didn't do them.

"So, when you see the images in the show, they feel as if they were filmed by real people in real-world environments. You can't get a shot up a T-Rex's nose. 'Cause if you try to do that, the T-Rex would eat you.

"So, the camera has to be a long way away on a telephoto lens, all those sorts of things."

And, one more quick peek:


Image:  AppleTV+

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Related Articles