How Jellyfish Pictures helped BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit break new ground in storytelling with the concept art behind Prehistoric Planet.
Jellyfish Pictures collaborated with The BBC Studios Natural History Unit (“Planet Earth”) and Apple TV+ on the epic natural history event series “Prehistoric Planet”. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the groundbreaking five-episode series premiered worldwide in May 2022.
The team worked closely with program makers and academics for a year before production began to lay the visual foundation for the series. They created hundreds of pieces of conceptual art that were instrumental in the development of the natural history documentary approach, storylines, creatures and environments that were subsequently brought to life on screen.
Enabling natural storytelling techniques
The big aim of the series was to emulate a wildlife documentary by the BBC Studios Natural History Unit. Documentaries such as “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet” have shown the natural world in inimitable style and detail, with one of the hallmarks being bringing previously unknown behaviors of earthlings to the screen. The creators of Prehistoric Planet wanted to do the same, but with the creatures and environments of 66 million years ago.
Natural history documentaries are shot in a very specific way, with techniques and equipment specifically designed for the limitations of filming animals from afar, displaying diverse behaviors in often challenging environments. By emulating the style, camerawork, framing and editing techniques of these documentaries, Prehistoric Planet brings a groundbreaking level of realism to the viewing of Cretaceous creatures in action.
A Jellyfish team of 12 concept and storyboard artists, led by Jellyfish Pictures Creative Director Tom Brass, worked closely with programmers to help them implement this approach.
Faced with key scenarios for the story, Tom and his team got to work, first studying modern natural history documentaries and the sophisticated techniques used to show natural wildlife behavior. Using CG camera lenses to recreate the composition of natural history style films, the team then created hundreds of concept art pieces that helped the BBC Studio Natural History Unit visualize key scenes and sequences in line with this aim and with a to storyboard.
Jellyfish worked to provide visual development and concepts that not only matched those of a natural history documentary, but were also rigorously fact-checked and beautiful and captivating to further immerse audiences in the world of Chalk.
Like “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet” before it, “Prehistoric Planet” presents the little-known behavior of Earth’s inhabitants. Dinosaurs have rarely been depicted on screen as doing what most animals do; attracting a mate, lounging, foraging for food, and caring for their young.
Using the latest research and modern wildlife documentation techniques, the programmers presented this behavior with a new level of compassion, understanding and realism previously impossible.
Jellyfish were able to help the BBC Studio Natural History Unit break new ground by helping to develop and visualize these scenes. As an example, Gallimimus were drawn carrying flowers and reaching an island in the river as part of a mating ritual.
Jellyfish’s artists designed nearly 60 of the dinosaurs throughout the series, working with a science advisor on detailed renderings of creatures we’re familiar with and many that will be new to audiences.
Jellyfish Pictures began work on Prehistoric Planet in 2019 and over the course of a year they worked with programmers to lay the visual foundation for the series. Through extensive visual development and collaboration with scientists and filmmakers, Jellyfish has been instrumental in helping the BBC Studio Natural History Unit to deconstruct and apply natural history film techniques to show dinosaurs and the Cretaceous period in the most realistic and immersive way possible today.