Filming the Sounds of Nature for Apple TV

“So we love all your cityscape flow motions — how would you feel about creating them for the natural environment?” 11 episodes later having explored terrains as diverse as the dunes in Namibia, the lush Tambopata rainforest, and the barren Shetland isles, here is what I found out.

These Things Take Time

The sheer volume of human hours and dedication that goes into making a blue-chip nature series is the work of years. My work, just my work, on Earthsounds took place over three years, and my work on Planet Earth III was over nearly four years. The Series Producers and Producers spend even longer.

So You’re Making a 90 Second Sequence?

I’m curious, how does this sound to you? I ask because often when I tell people I’m flying off to Oompa Loompa land for 2-3 weeks to film a 90-second sequence they look back at me quizzically. 90 seconds? A team of you are filming for X weeks and all you’re going to get is a minute and a half of footage?

To me, 90 seconds is a big deal. In my head, it’s around 300 hours of work for my style of sequences. If you look at a shot as 5-10 seconds then it’s 10–20 shots to tell a story with, and then anything from 8-18 transitions to link it all together. For me, a flow motion sequence needs to earn its place. It can’t be at the expense of landing epic shots or telling a story, those transitions need to help visually connect the dots working in tandem with the narration.

On Earthsounds, the single-take device was particularly well-suited. It enabled the camera to take on the role of a sound or an ear roving a landscape. Immersed in an often little appreciated acoustic world.

In making single-take, ‘flow motion’ sequences, my role is somewhat unique. It means I am involved through pretty much every stage of realizing a sequence from early planning, to storyboarding, to shooting, to post-production, delivery and, all being well, picture lock.

Prep and Prep Again

So much work goes into preparing for the shots and working out the optimum time/location/crew. My part of this was looking at the director’s sequence outlines and working out ways to create a single take. Archive is your friend here. How you see things in your mind is often quite removed from how they look in-camera. Seeing how something has been filmed before and what it looks like is a huge help, even an amateur YouTube video can be very helpful.

Call Sheet

Now these things are great. While it’s the camera operator’s job to capture the exquisite shots we see on our screens, no small amount of work goes into getting them there. In the right spot with the right equipment at the right time. This work is largely overseen by a production coordinator. Their job is everything from booking flights to working out suitable local restaurants to meet the crew’s dietary requirements. Before every shoot, a ‘call sheet’ is issued (read ‘bible’). This document has everything in it. From the exact travel times, you need to get to the airport to the nearest medical facilities in the event of an emergency.

No Lights, Camera, Action

Shoots are funny things, they tend to start in airports, at ungodly hours, meeting a team of strangers. It’s an interesting dynamic as you will be working and living with them, spending every waking minute together, highs and lows, for the next few weeks.

Days are long, typically you’re filming from sunrise to sunset with battery charging and backup up to be completed before starting all over again. Bizarrely the shoots with free time can be the the hardest. Particularly if you are there to capture something that isn’t happening, like a monsoon in the Mara for example….

To be clear I am not one of the extremely talented camera operators who spends days, neigh weeks, in a state of suspended animation waiting for an impossibly rare critter to emerge. My world is creating sequences that seamlessly integrate this blue-chip loveliness with a visual narrative. As such any filming I do revolves around filming locations (trees and landscapes) which thankfully tend to stay put and are happy with you filming multiple takes.

I love to reshoot, something I understand to be less than standard in this particular industry. For me, it’s about working out the shots you need and making them everything they can be. Sometimes this will happen straight away but very often repetition is key, that special moment when something happens combined with a fluid camera move is worth nailing.

For me, some of the most magical bits are getting to work with some of the best in the industry. Seeing them unassumingly doing their thing.

Have you ever tried filming a bird? Those things move fast…. now try doing it at 1000fps, in focus, with a single opportunity.


Most people I speak with figure this must be the low point. Having to spend hours and hours in front of a computer. But for me, it’s where it all comes together. The better job you’ve done on location and in planning the more seamlessly it comes together. Sadly the opposite is also true.

The first draft is key. I like to hand over the sequence in a pretty polished state. There are lots (lots) of people to give feedback before anything gets signed off. The ‘first draft’ is my vision for the sequence, the hope is the feedback will not be too extensive…

That’s a Wrap

Hearing the sequences for the first time with amazing audio and effectively seeing them for the first time with the grade is magical.

Working in TV is a huge enterprise, that takes place over many years involving hundreds of people. Hopefully, the results speak for themselves.

About the author: Rob Whitworth is a BAFTA-winning, Emmy-nominated filmmaker. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Whitworth’s unique flow motion works are instantly identifiable. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram.