Triceratops clashing in "Prehistoric Planet." (Apple TV+)


Apple TV+’s ‘Prehistoric Planet’ pioneers a new type of nature documentary

This nature docuseries takes viewers back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth 66 million years ago.
<a href="" target="_self">Cathy Li</a>

Cathy Li

May 26, 2023

In the second season of Apple TV+’s docuseries “Prehistoric Planet,” dinosaurs and other creatures roamed the Earth as they did 66 million years ago, brought back to life by computer-generated imagery and Sir David Attenborough’s narration.

The five-episode season, all exploring a different ecosystem in the Cretaceous period, was led by executive producers Jon Favreau and Mike Gunton, series producer Tim Walker and chief science consultant Dr. Darren Naish. It was released through a five-day event on Apple TV+ from May 22 to 27, with one new episode dropped daily.

Part of the launch celebration also included a series of art installations by David Popa, who used all-natural materials to make dinosaur landscape art.

Dinosaur landscape art by David Popa, made out of all-natural materials. (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Dinosaur landscape art by David Popa, made out of all-natural materials. (Apple TV+)

“The feedback we’ve had is that [the show] feels so authentic. The science feels true and reasonable, but also the experience of being with the animals feels like you are on a safari,” Gunton said. “That’s the remarkable thing about television: if you get it right, people can get so immersed that they become part of that world.”

The process to create footage of extinct animals was a complicated one, combining expertise from paleontologists, wildlife filmmakers and computer animators. Beginning with a fossil, the “Prehistoric Planet” team compiled an anatomically correct skeletal drawing, which they used to determine how animals moved. Color was based on DNA evidence, if present, or extrapolated from the way animals would have adapted to their environments.

Imperobator, relatives of animals like Velociraptors, shown in the conditions of Cretaceous Antarctica. (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Imperobator, relatives of animals like velociraptors, shown in the conditions of Cretaceous Antarctica. (Apple TV+)

“I always say that we wouldn’t have been able to make [“Prehistoric Planet”] if we weren’t a group of wildlife filmmakers. Animals pretty much do the same things within a range, and that would have been the same 66 million years ago,” Walker said. “We’re lucky enough to work with a group of people who have been observing animals for years and years. Marry that with the paleontologists and CGI experts and you’ve got this wonderful melting pot that creates the unique experience of this show.”

The crew began working on the second season concurrently with the first one, though Gunton said he started thinking about this project 10 years ago, while producing a wildlife documentary with Attenborough.

“[Attenborough] was saying that ‘nowhere on Earth does wildlife put on a greater show than here in Africa,’ but then I wondered if that’s always been the case. If you could go back to any time on Earth, I thought that the greatest show of all time must have been when the dinosaurs were here,” Gunton said. “I thought we could take our crew into a time machine and film a series like ‘Planet Earth,’ but 66 million years ago.”

Something the producers hope viewers take away from the series is that “life and nature is delicate and fragile,” Gunton said.

Hesperornis, a flightless, wingless seabird, shown hunting for food. (Apple TV+)

“It’s not an explicit message, but if you stop and think about what it all means, [you’ll realize] that they’re incredible animals. They’re not monsters, they’ve got all sorts of amazing lives,” Gunton said. “Planet Earth is a remarkable thing. This extraordinary sphere that is hurtling through space that supports life is amazing, no matter what time in its history.”

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