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Prehistoric Planet: the latest science behind Attenborough’s documentary on dinosaurs

Prehistoric Planetlatest documentary Sir David Attenborough, premieres this week on Apple TV+. The five-part series looks at how dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures lived in different habitats around the world during the late Cretaceous Period.

We spoke to show producer Tim Walker and the show’s consulting paleontologist, Dr. Darren Naishabout how they resurrected long-dead species.

Tell us a little about the show.

Tim Walker: Prehistoric Planet It’s basically a definite natural history wildlife movie about. dinosaurs and other ancient animals that lived near them just at the end of the dinosaur age.

We had a passion for making a series that looked like we took the best filmmakers from the BBC’s Natural History Unit and crammed them into a time machine and sent them back to film the prehistoric planet.

Now, of course, we’ve been led by Mike Gunton, creative director of the BBC’s NHU, to recognize the passion that has required us to make the filmmakers this incredible collaboration we have received from the Natural History Unit. Take his creative genius and marry Jon Favreau, who has become a guru of CGI expertise and makes photo-realistic animals. Jungle Book and Lion King. So the marriage came together. Three and a half years later, we now realize this ambition.

Swimming T. rex and baby

Swimming T. rex and the baby in episode 1 © Apple TV+

The show opens with a swim T. rex. How do we know they can do this?

Darren Naish: The main aim of the series is to reveal a completely modern, updated view of dinosaurs and other animals of their time. And frankly, we portray them as live animals.

There’s a ton of information in the fossil record. We know a lot about what these animals look like and what they do. But there is much that the fossil record cannot show us, or only hint at, that they can do.

Would he swim occasionally? Well, all living animals swim. No one does. There is a list of animals that people say can’t swim. Not true. All of them can. This [modern] animals most similar to dinosaurs T. rex They are things like ostriches and emus and are excellent swimmers. And, of course, so are the other giant animals that live near the coast today. Famously, elephants, even horses and camels, are all excellent swimmers.

T. rex It also has pneumatic bones. It has an air-filled skeleton, so it would specifically float, it would be good at swimming if it wanted to. And they had huge, thickly padded feet that were really good at spreading their weight. It would be fine on uneven, soft surfaces. This is not an animal that is afraid to walk on beaches, soft mud and the like. So if you put all this together without even looking directly at the fossil evidence, there’s good reason to think. T. rex He would be an excellent swimmer.

T. rex especially the kind that people have very strong ideas about how it should look. How did you decide how to represent? T. rex?

DN: As an academic paleontologist, I contribute to scientific research on dinosaurs. I publish several technical articles per year. This project is unique as I was involved in every step of the process from the very beginning. And one of my jobs was to make sure our rebuilds were up to the minute in the best way possible.

There is more controversy and more fights about her appearance. Tyrannosaurus rex than almost any other fossil animal. What do we actually think about the appearance of the face? How extensive were the soft tissues? Did this dinosaur have ‘lips’? Air quotes around the lips because they are not lips like mammal lips. Lips like lizard and snake lips. Were there any that covered their teeth? How big were his eyes? Did he have completely scaly skin? Did he have some kind of filamentous hair on his body?

We considered all this at length. We went with the best scientifically supported views, and you see an outstanding up-to-date view.

There’s no way of saying we’ve made the final decision on what these animals look like. But what you see inside Prehistoric Planet this is the most up-to-date, technically rigorous view of the animal’s life landscape.

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The show focuses on their behavior as live animals. How much of this is derived from the fossil record and how much from living animals?

TW: One of the things we’re very eager for people to see is that dinosaurs were perfectly adapted to their niche. If you look at the different challenges that the natural world imposes on any living thing, it’s the same all over the world. Two groups of animals facing very similar conditions can be 6,000 miles apart and display behaviors too similar to act as a solution.

And that too can be translated over time. The same problems arose for any living thing 66 million years ago, as they do today. Animals adapt to these conditions, that is, they exhibit a certain set of behaviors.

DN: There are such specific details from the fossil record that give us at least some insight into behavior and, as far as possible, the specific bits of biology we’ve included.

So like a dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rexWe know exactly what species it ate and how it attacked the teeth marks left on the bones of other animals. From his footprints we know exactly how he placed his feet, the details of his gait. From some of these footprints, associated skeletons, we know how social or anti-social some of these animals were. It’s hard to stress how much research we’ve done for each species you’ve seen. Actually, what you see in the last thing is the tip of the iceberg.

You combine this with a technique called phylogenetic cascading. Let’s say we have a question about his behavior. T. rexsomething not found in the fossil record. For example, what postures did these animals use during the breeding season?

So in these cases, the fossil record doesn’t provide us with this information. In the family tree, we look at the behaviors found in the creatures surrounding the fossil. Think [dinosaurs] in the tree of life. On the one hand, there are live crocodiles and crocodiles that keep them in brackets, and they keep dinosaurs in brackets, like live birds. T. rex on the other hand. If you see a certain behavior in crocodiles and birds, you can conclude that it was also present in your extinct dinosaurs.

I think it’s the first time [this technique has] never applied.

As for their mating behavior, I think we need to talk about what I think will be one of the most iconic moments of the series. T. rex mating order How did you manage to make it feel so real?

TW: This series is probably my favorite series in the entire series. It’s great and based on very, very good research.

Our executive producer, Mike Gunton, tells this wonderful story of Sir David’s time doing the voiceovers. He then took off his headphones and said, “I’m watching these.” T. rex It was like I was watching them through binoculars during that date.”

T. rexes rubbing their noses before mating

T. rex rubbing noses before mating © Apple TV+

The reason it looks like this is because if you really think about how to film this, you’re in the field with a very small crew. Now, a real encounter like this will probably be a very, very exciting and exciting moment. And you will most likely only have one camera, with a maximum of two. Then you need to think about where to shoot it, because when it’s a 12 or 13 meter long, multi-toned animal, there’s no way you can get very close to it.

Throughout the series, these editorial restrictions apply to the way everything was created. We created every scene as if we were actually shooting it there. So you know, sometimes you can get very close based on the breed and behavior of the animals. Other times you have to film using drones or very low-impact techniques where you’re too far away from the animals on a very, very long lens.

My favorite dinosaur in the series deinocheirus. looks like something out Star wars. Can you tell us a little about the type?

DN: deinocheirusThis incredible late Cretaceous theropod dinosaur from Mongolia. It was discovered in the late 1960s and has long been known only from its arms. Its name means ‘terrible hand’ because those who describe it were fascinated by the eight feet long arms and giant, three-clawed hands. And it was initially assumed that he was like a hunter who used these large claws to tear apart other dinosaurs. However, it was later discovered that he was part of this group called ostrich dinosaurs, which were mostly omnivorous or herbivorous.

Then people thought, well, what did the whole animal look like? Her T. rexIts size was 30 feet long, but it wouldn’t have looked like an ordinary predatory dinosaur.

Deinocheirus stands in the wetland

deinocheirus standing in the wetland © Apple TV+

This was answered in about 2012, when it was revealed that they discovered almost complete skeletons of this animal in Mongolia. And just this surreal beast. It has a super long duck-billed face; The skull is about one meter long. The animal was toothless, its lower jaw was very deep, and the shape of its skull showed evidence that it was probably herbivorous.

It is found in a wetland environment. I mean, he’s probably eating watergrass or something. There are some fish preserved in the stomach contents and gastric stones used to break down plant material. So it mostly eats plants and occasionally some animals. He has a sail on his back.

And because this ostrich is part of the dinosaur group, we know for sure from the bright fossils that this group was feathered. so giant deinocheirus – Was this animal furry too? There’s some debate about this, we’re not absolutely sure, but as this giant, furry, sail-backed, duck-faced, long-armed, wetland animal, we set off with that view. It will be new to 99 percent of our viewers. And what a beast to bring to the screen. Gorgeous looking animal.

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