Spy in the Wild at the Media Production Show
Producer Rob Pilley will be at this year’s Media Production Show to talk about the BBC’s innovative documentary Spy in the Wild. The show takes place at London Olympia on 13 and 14 June.
Spy in the Wild was produced by John Downer Productions Ltd for the BBC. Dozens of lifelike robotic animals were designed and built, and fitted with miniature hidden cameras to get closer to creatures in their natural habitats and get unique insights into their behaviour.
“Each spy creature will pass through the hands of special effects artists, animatronics experts, robotics experts and computer programmers before it is finally complete,” Pilley tells KFTV.
“Often these people are in different countries too, so making a spy creature is no mean feat! As a result each generally takes around two to three months from conception, sculpting, engineering, skin fitting and painting until the final spy creature is ready to be unleashed in the wild.
“Larger, more complicated ones can take even longer – the crocodile needed to not only look the part but be able to walk on dry land then walk into water and swim, so took around six months to perfect.
“All were tricky in their own right, for not only did they have to fool us but in particular the animals they were designed to get close to and film.
"They not only had to be scale-perfect but also smell right, be texturally correct and most importantly move in a certain, appropriate way so as not to scare the wild animals away they are trying to interact with, plus be able to perform the necessary display movements needed to be accepted by the wild animals."
The completed spy creature:
“As all are complicated electronic devices they suffered considerably in the extremes of heat, cold, humidity and dust of the wild areas that we filmed, something that had to be addressed by the team whilst in the field," Pilley says.
There were constant compromises to get a balance between aesthetic realism in the artistry of the creature design, and the amount of internal space needed to accommodate the mechanics and enable the robots to move in the right way.
The animals were all tested as much as possible in the UK, but the team faced expected complications with heat and dust during the actual shoot, with the robots needing regular maintenance and rest.
Responding to the real animals’ specific reactions to the robot spy creatures was an additional challenge for the production team. The show’s animatronic baby crocodile ended up rolled between the jaws of an adult female, which the mother does to help its offspring break free of its egg at birth.
“This is fine if you are a soft squishy real baby crocodile, but when you are a spy creature made from carbon fibre and fibreglass it can result in some rather destructive moments, no matter how gently the female croc squeezes,” Pilley says. “The result was several smashed spy cameras, but we got there in the end!”
Rob Pilley will be talking about the show at the Keynote Theatre on the afternoon of Day One of the Media Production Show on 13 June. For more information and to register for your free badge click here.
Images: John Downer Productions Ltd