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Life: The making of Life: And you thought Planet Earth was big...

Updated Monday, 22nd June 2009

Mike Gunton, Executive Producer of the BBC/OU series Life, sketches out the scale of what the team are attempting.

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The definitive exploration of the diversity of living things. Hmm. It’s hard to imagine a bigger subject to cover in a wildlife series than that – after all, there are something like one and half million known species on the planet. Doing them justice is going to be a tall order. For a start, how do you pick the best – the most spectacular behaviour, the most fascinating stories – the most surprising, most awe-inspiring images?

Well, that’s what the Life team has spent the last year grappling with; finding the top 150 behaviour stories of animals and plants battling to survive – and a star cast of great characters in the process.

It has been remarkable. Just when you think you know what animals do, you find them up to something utterly extraordinary: a pod of killer whales combining forces to roll a seal off a slab of floating ice into another’s jaws; new discoveries of ‘giant’ chimps that use tools in a completely novel way; ‘superbrat’ baby coatis that beat up their elders in a fight for food; a giant octopus mother that lays down its life for her brood of hundreds of perfectly formed babies; even a mountain plant with so many flowers (20,000 to be precise) that they form a spike which towers 30 feet high, and it only blooms once a century!

To make sense of all this wonder, Life needs to be big in scope. There are ten episodes, one dedicated to each of the major wildlife groups: mammals, primates, birds, insects and so on. Filmed on every continent and in every type of habitat across the world, the series will have epic style and breadth, making it definitive, and uniquely satisfying in a way that hasn’t been attempted since Life on Earth a generation ago. But Life is also about entertainment. Alongside the revelatory quality, sense of place and cinematic style inspired by Planet Earth and Galapagos, there will be new up-close, intensely dramatic behaviour that will captivate and emotionally involve the audience.

To achieve all this Life has a fantastically talented team of producers. Martha Holmes has unparalleled experience of the poles and the oceans gained from Life in the Freezer and Blue Planet. Adam Chapman knows as much about the African plains and its big cats as anyone in the Natural History Unit. Neil Lucas is the master of time-lapse photography, Patrick Morris is fresh from Galapagos, Rupert Barrington has a track record of delivering astonishing images of insect behaviour going back to Alien Empire and Ted Oakes was the creative brain behind the breakthrough series Amazon Abyss.

As the viewer witnesses animals doing everything they can to survive against the elements, predators and even their own kind, they take a roller coaster ride through a world of extreme animal behaviour. With the extraordinary intensity of experience that the best HD photography brings, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about any series I’ve worked on. This is Life… as you’ve never seen it before.





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