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The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"An eagle's vision is six times sharper than a human's"
 real 28k

In the eye of the killer
David Wallace and cameraman Jonathan Watts explain how the technology was developed
 real 28k

Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Predators: The ultimate killing machines
Bird BBC
The series required new camera technology
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Life-and-death contests between hunter and hunted have been filmed for BBC television in an entirely new way.

Their senses, their bodies, their behaviours are all designed for these moments

David Wallace, series producer
Predators, a series of six half-hour films starting on 4 May, uses miniaturised cameras mounted on the hunters themselves to show the chase from their perspective.

The series also uses action replays and computer animations, allowing it to analyse the tactics of predator and prey from every angle. It shows that both are often evenly matched, with no room on either side for the slightest mistake.

One of the series producers, David Wallace, explained what his team had set out to do.

Explosive moment

"In a standard natural history series, we take the life cycle of an animal or a place and beam the viewer there. We give them something like binoculars so that they can see it in a very classical, real way.

Python BBC
The producers promise to limit the blood and gore
"What we're trying to do in Predators is to take a tiny moment in time, the moment when a predator detects, identifies, approaches and grabs its prey.

"We try to explode that very short moment and open it up so that the viewer can see what is going on.

"These are really important moments for understanding how animals work. Their senses, their bodies, their behaviours are all designed for these moments."

Hunters featured in the first film, The Ultimate Predators, include cheetahs, crocodiles, golden eagles, great white sharks and spiders.

Croc BBC
Crocodile attack: Terror at the watering hole
Some of the cameras used in the series relied on technology adapted from surveillance equipment.

The camera system used on a peregrine falcon weighs 100 grams. It has a lens 10 mm wide, and is the smallest possible broadcast-quality camera. It, the battery and transmitter were mounted on a harness. The transmitter had a range of several hundred metres and a life of 30 minutes.

It was only when the film-makers "deconstructed and reconstructed" their footage that they realised exactly what they had been watching.

They discovered that a sprinting cheetah spends 50% of its time with all four feet off the ground, and that a diving gannet hits the water at 100 kilometres an hour. That revelation required the use of a system similar to those mounted on military missiles, a stripped-down, modified mini-camera in a reinforced housing.

Fatal heart attacks

The team dropped it into water from a height of 15 metres to simulate the real acceleration and impact of a dive.

Polar BBC
Polar bears have an incredible sense of smell
The series also reports on one species of spider (Amaurobius) whose young eat their own mother. It found that polar bears have the best sense of smell in the bear family, and can detect a seal 64 km away.

It takes four days for a dog whelk to eat a mussel, which in the last ten hours undergoes a series of fatal heart attacks. And it takes killer whales more than 30 years to perfect their skill in beaching themselves to catch sealions.

But David Wallace insists that Predators is not gruesome: "There's very little blood and gore in this. What we're really trying to do is celebrate the magnificence of the predator - and the prey."

Predators is on BBC ONE at 2030 BST each Thursday until 8 June 2000.

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