Incredible Animal Journeys
March 28th, 2024

Explore the extraordinary tales of survival, nature, and the remarkable diversity of our planet's creatures through the voices of talented filmmakers. The National Geographic series "INCREDIBLE ANIMAL JOURNEYS" presents stories of wildlife from the lands of Africa to the depths of the ocean, with each episode unveiling a new chapter of their awe-inspiring journey. While humans may perceive themselves as the world's greatest explorers, the reality is quite different. Hear from the wildlife filmmakers who dedicated time to studying and capturing these adventurous animal behaviors.

“INCREDIBLE ANIMAL JOURNEYS,” narrated by Jeremy Renner, is now streaming on National Geographic TV, Disney+ and Hulu.


Episode 1: ‘Ocean Odyssey’ with Katie Vickers

Wildlife Camerawoman Katie Vickers discusses the standout moments and challenges that led to capturing some of the stunning footage featured in ‘Ocean Odyssey’ episode one for Nat Geo and Disney+ “Incredible Animal Journeys.”

“The moment that stood out for me was when we were searching for the pod all day and were about to call it quits as it was getting dark. We turned a corner and saw spouts in the distance. As we approached, we witnessed an incredible sight: 9-10 whales breaching almost in unison, with 4-5 of them lobtailing in harmony. It was a breathtaking moment, and I doubt I'll ever see so many whales breach in unison again.

Our biggest challenge was figuring out where the whales were going to bubble net. We didn't have the usual large swarm of fish to guide us, so it was tricky to position the camera correctly before they surfaced. Spotting the calf and her mother for the first time was a huge triumph. We also managed to successfully tag some of the whales with our science team, and the footage we captured was pretty spectacular - especially when we saw a breach from the whale's perspective.

For our setup, we used the RED GEMINI with CN20 in our Shotover. The low-light capabilities of the GEMINI were crucial in capturing beautiful footage when the light was poor and allowed us to film much later into the evening.”- Wildlife Camerawoman Katie Vickers

Episode 2: ‘Chasing the African Rain’ with Manu Akatsa

In the' Chasing the African Rains' episode, cinematographer Manu Akatsa shares how he faced the unexpected with the help of his talented team, from battling drought in Tsavo East to witnessing the gripping struggle of a young elephant calf trapped in a waterhole.

“I had an incredible time working on this series as a cinematographer for Episode 2: Chasing the African Rains. I operated the long lens and gimbal in two major sequences—a first for me on a single blue-chip shoot. Two years ago, it wasn’t common to work alongside a predominantly local field crew on a blue-chip Natural History shoot, so it was special to work under the expert direction of Faith Musembi, our field director, and under the guidance of Wyclef Jean, our expert filming driver. This shoot took months to plan and research, and I’m grateful for all the time and effort Maia Sherwood-Rogers put in, along with her excellent field support on location.

Smack in the middle of a drought, Tsavo East was dry as a baked bone, and our hearts were in our throats as we filmed a young elephant calf that had slipped into a man-made waterhole. These waterholes are a precious life source during the drought but can be precarious for wildlife, with steep and slippery banks. It was tough to film him—his little feet frantically hoofing at the slippery banks. We could sense the frustration as his mother desperately attempted to pull him out with her trunk. This played out for nearly an hour. I was filming on the RED HELIUM, and my first card inevitably filled up. So, I proceeded to unmount it to load up a second one, but guess what? It didn’t mount! The camera couldn’t access it. Meanwhile, we’re halfway through filming a sequence we waited nearly a week and a half to capture. Double drama at the waterhole! After multiple reboots and foul expletives, I remembered that the RED DSMC 2 lineup was designed to be modular. If a particular module wasn’t working—in this case, the SSD Side module had a bent pin—all you had to do was swap it out for a functioning one! We had a spare in camp, thanks to Russell MacLaughlin. So I raced back to camp, picked up the spare camera, rushed back to the waterhole, and the calf was still stuck. A bittersweet moment! quickly performed emergency surgery on the side module, and we got back to filming the sequence. quickly performed emergency surgery on the side module, and we got back to filming the sequence.” - Cinematographer Manu Akatsa

Episode 3: ‘Alaska’s River Race’ with James Frystak

Cinematographer James Frystak reminisces on the heart-pounding moment when a lone wolf pack encircled him while shooting in the Arctic for episode three of ‘Alaska’s River Race’ of "Incredible Animal Journeys.”

“I worked on a story about polar bears and wolves. During the shoot, there was a moment that stood out. My guide and I were patrolling the coast on snowmobiles, searching for wolves that we hadn't seen yet. We were already a week into the shoot, and things started feeling desperate. While I was 300' behind the guide, I noticed a wolf chasing after me. Although this would frighten most people, I quickly slowed down, got off the snowmobile, and pulled out the RED GEMINI Camera. My guide was completely unaware of the situation and continued ahead, leaving me alone. Once the camera was up and running, more wolves appeared until there were 11 of them surrounding me. I was entirely alone in -25F weather on Hudson Bay, Canada, and all at once, the pack erupted in a symphony of howling. I started filling my card, and it was one of the most memorable moments of my career as a wildlife cameraman.

Aside from its incredible low-light capabilities, the GEMINI camera held up well under the extreme conditions of the Canadian Arctic, allowing me to keep filming no matter what Mother Nature threw our way.” - Cinematographer James Frystak

Episode 4: ‘Home at the End of the Earth’ with Tom Beldam

Cinematographer Tom Beldam shares his experience filming rockhopper penguins as they navigate through dangerous surf in a remote landing zone. He talks about the challenges and triumphs of the process for the fourth episode of “Incredible Animal Journeys--'Home at the End of the Earth.’”

“Filming rockhopper Penguins coming onto shore and navigating the huge surf in order to get ashore was a real highlight (for us a a camera crew...not for the penguins, I'm sure!). It was incredible seeing and filming the Penguins battle through the surf trying and make it ashore. Timing is everything in these sort of scenarios.

From time to time, a penguin would make a mistake and end up in an area we referred to as the washing machine. It would take them around ten minutes of battling the waves to reach the shore. Incredibly, all the penguins made it to the shore safely, and I did not witness any injured ones during my time filming in the landing zone.

One of the main focus' of the shoot was to shoot the introduction to the rockhopper character. We wanted to show penguins heading to shore from way out to sea, but we couldn't film them from the sea due to the remote and dangerous nature of the landing area. So I had to film them from the land...This made actually focusing and capturing the proposing penguins in the frame quite tricky. As a result, every shot of Penguins porpoising into shore, either alone or in groups, was hard-won and celebrated in the field.

RED’s tech was crucial in being able to capture the dramatic nature of the penguin landing zone scene. The availability of high frames coupled with the dynamic range of the camera allowed me to shoot where I wanted to shoot and, more importantly, how I wanted to shoot in the field. The RED camera was a crucial tool for me in the field and one that stood up to the demanding conditions thrown at it. This enabled me to concentrate on the creative side of storytelling.” – Cinematographer Tom Beldam

Episode 5: ‘Polar Parenting’ with James Ewen

Cinematographer Rolf Steinmann talks about his experience filming ‘Polar Parenting’ episode five of “Incredible Animal Journeys” and the challenges of capturing pivotal moments that reveal the intricacies of survival and parenting.

“On Polar Parenting, I worked on a story alongside fellow cinematographer Rolf Steinmann and arctic guides Arran Laird and Mikael Härd from Polar X. FPV drone pilot Daniel Bajer joined halfway through the shoot. The task was to tell the story of the fledgling thick-billed murres (Brunnich’s guillemots) as they begin a long journey that begins on 400-meter cliffs in the high Arctic. The chicks must leave the nest before they can actually fly, and this involves making a giant leap. Between them and the sea is a massive plain. On this wide plain, arctic foxes are waiting for any chicks that don’t make the distance.

It’s a challenging shoot in many ways. An essential part of the story would be to capture the moment a murre chick would make the leap. There are hundreds of thousands of birds on the cliffs but ironically, isolating a chick that was ready to jump, getting into position and capturing the moment was one of the hardest challenges on the project. The murres nest on thin ledges, 400 meters up on very inaccessible, slippery, and unstable cliffs. It took several days and many hours of waiting with one very patient guide (Arran Laird from Polar X) before we were able to capture the moment a murre chick was brave enough to make the leap. With the GEMINI on constant pre-roll we could ensure we captured the leap from the start.

We also had to tell the story of the flight down. This was done both with an FPV drone operated by Daniel Bajer, and from the ground with the GEMINI and a CN20 on long legs. During the arctic summer there is 24-hour light but typically, these flights down happened when the sun had travelled around behind the mountains, so the Dual ISO on the GEMINI was critical, it helped us maintain the high frame rates that were essential for the storytelling. Everything happens incredibly fast and slowing down the flights allowed us to capture moments where the parent birds would seemingly ‘buffet’ the chick with their own wings to keep it airborne. When the arctic foxes were hunting the chicks that didn’t quite make it to the water, the camera would be swapped over to baby legs so we could follow the action from there.” - Cinematographer Rolf Steinmann

Episode 6: ‘Frequent Fliers’ with James Salisbury

Wildlife Filmmaker James Salisbury shares his experience during a seven-week filming expedition, focusing on his remarkable encounters while working on episode six: ‘Frequent Fliers’ of “Incredible Animal Journeys.” He delves into unexpected twists and awe-inspiring moments, such as the 'swallow reunion' on a Dartmoor farm and the triumphant monarch butterfly shoot in an Oklahoma prairie.

“I spent a total of seven weeks filming for Incredible Animal Journeys in 2022. During this time, I was fortunate enough to work with a fantastic production team and witness some incredible natural spectacles.

My first shoot was an unexpected one. The day that I was supposed to be boarding a plane to Montana, I found myself on a farm in Dartmoor filming the ‘swallow reunion’ sequence. Unexpectedly cold weather had delayed the egg laying of the burrowing owls that we had planned to film for the ‘prairie feast’ sequence, so I was asked to lend a hand on the farm. Some amazingly talented and experienced cinematographers worked on the swallow sequences, and it was truly humbling to see the reunion shots that I had captured cut seamlessly with their work.

Following a successful few day’s filming swallows, the team and I were on a plane and finally heading to Oklahoma. It was here where I had my standout moment of the shoot! We only had three days to film monarch butterflies in the prairie environment; the days were long, tiring, and sweaty, but by the end of the third day, we had secured all of the key shots.

As the sun set on the third day, we were filming a herd of bison on the roadside when I noticed a monarch perched on some milkweed in front and slightly to the left, of a bison staring straight down the barrel. This prompted me to think of a shot that had been deemed in the storyboards as "nice to have, but extremely unlikely"… a bison to monarch pull focus. I proceeded to pan, simultaneously pull focus, and repeat; I managed to repeat the shot a couple of times, and it was looking... ok, but less than ideal. Call it experience, intuition, the force, or sheer dumb luck; something told me to pull focus but not to pan. This is the moment that you see on screen! As I pulled focus from the bison, the monarch entered frame left, came perfectly into focus, and exited frame right. It was (in my biased opinion) a perfect moment, and it was the first time that I can recall thinking, “That’s definitely going to make the cut”. This was the last shot that was captured during this portion of the shoot; the sun had just dipped behind a hill when we wrapped. We were shooting on a Canon CN20x50, which is a very light-thirsty lens! Luckily, we were shooting on a RED GEMINI, which allowed us to put the camera in low light mode and continue to capture footage beyond what would usually be possible. Had we not elected to take the GEMINI, we may not have captured this unique and very special moment in time. It just goes to show that time spent in pre-production, planning shots, discussing the kit, and setting expectations before filming is of vital importance for the success of a shoot.

My remaining time on the project was spent filming burrowing owls (when they eventually laid their eggs), the monarchs passing by the gas station, bats in Austin (Texas), and the monarch/road/truck sequence (which was an unusual shoot for me, but a lot of fun!).” - Wildlife Filmmaker James Salisbury

Episode 7: ‘Behind the Journey’ with Raphael Boudreault-Simard

Hear from filmmaker Raphael Boudreault-Simard as he shares his experience of working on “Incredible Animal Journey” episode seven. He talks about the challenges of working in the Southern Ocean, facing 80MPH winds, and the breathtaking feeling of capturing the shot after three weeks.

“I did not realize it would be 3 whole weeks of extremely challenging drone flying, day after day. I had heard the Southern Ocean was a windy place but never imagined I would be flying drones in 80MPH winds. One of our goals was to fly like a wandering albatross in the middle of the Drake Passage during a howling windstorm and we did manage to do just that! I even had to rope myself to the ship’s fencing to make sure I wouldn’t get thrown overboard! Even through all the hurdles, flying the KOMODO and V-RAPTOR on our customized FPV drones filming in these incredibly powerful places was exceptionally rewarding.

You know the feeling of having your breath taken away by the power and beauty of a place? When the visuals carry such energy that your whole being melts in awe? RED cameras, especially the V-RAPTOR, have the gift of bringing the audience to these miraculous places as if they were there in person. RED cameras are digital visual awe, I mean it.” – Filmmaker Raphael Boudreault-Simard

SPECIAL THANKS TO Producer-Director Ruth Davies