Filming the fiercest

Filming the fiercest

The tiger is a difficult animal to capture on the camera

Tiger is the biggest forest predator on earth. Although we have filmed tigers hunting in the open in the past, 90 per cent of their hunts take place in the forest and that’s the habitat where they excel in. It’s not easy – the tiger has to find its prey in the first place. Its a real challenge to approach anything that’s obstructed by trees; creeping up without being noticed is extremely difficult in a forest covered with dried leaves and twigs; and tigers are plagued the whole time by other animals making alarm calls whenever they see one. Yet all of these things the tiger has cracked.

It’s very rare for anyone to film a tiger hunting in the forest, and it’s never been done with the landmark production values we aspire for. In India you’re not allowed to follow a tiger in to the forest on a jeep, and even if you could, a tripod on the back of a jeep bounces up and down if anyone so much as sneezes.

So we put our camera on an elephant. Tigers are very familiar with elephants and vice versa – domesticated elephants have been used for generations in India. Being on an elephant means it smells of elephant so you don’t smell. It acts as a cloaking device. And the deer know that an elephant is not dangerous to them. They’ll walk towards elephants. The first day that we switched on the camera, our cameraman, was blown away because this little deer walked straight towards the lens. A deer would just not do that towards a normal camera.

But elephants bring their own problems. What we wanted to do was to create beautiful footage at a tiger’s eye level. It was no good being 12 feet up on an elephant and looking down. Consequentially we fell upon the idea of using a stabilised camera on what would have to be a bespoke rig, which we could lower by a pulley from the top of the elephant down to the ground. We manoeuvred up and down as much as we needed to look over the grass. And we could spy the tigers from that.

Then we tried it on a jeep as well and it turned out that in spite of what we initially thought we were able to get some great shots from the road. What we discovered was that as you drive along the road system, with a gyrostabilised camera rigged to the back of the car you can keep filming, in a long tracking shot. Tracking shots are the bread and butter of Hollywood now, from Bond to Bourne to Christopher Nolan films. The camera never stops moving, and as a lot of hunts are a mobile event that technique is perfectly suited. It’s great because it gives the viewer a sense of the environment the animal is in as well as focusing their attention on the animal itself. Essentially, you feel like you’re there, and that is our goal.

(Catch the thrill behind this adventurous hunt on Tiger: Spy in the Jungle on Sony BBC Earth on July 15 at 9:00pm)



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