BBC Films ‘Frozen Planet’ With Axsys HD Cameras


After using the V14 HD camera system from Axsys Technologies in the production of Planet Earth, the BBC is now using the company’s HD cameras for its next blockbuster documentary, Frozen Planet.

As part of the production, BBC film crews have used the gyro-stabilized HD cameras mounted on an arm in a boat to film within the Arctic Circle and have filmed with a helicopter-mounted camera in the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia, said Aled Miles, vice president and general manager of the Axsys Gimbals Division.

When mounted on a helicopter, Axsys uses a Sony 1500 camera mounted inside a round ball called a gimbal. The camera is manipulated by a laptop controller inside the helicopter.

The company’s five-axis stabilization system, which is based on technology used by the U.S. military, allows the camera to produce clear steady pictures despite the vibrations produced by a helicopter or the shock of a boat ramming into a large wave, Miles explained.

The camera’s ability to shoot high-quality HD images at great distances has also allowed the BBC to film animals without disturbing them and capture behavior rarely seen. Those features have made the camera popular with both documentary producers like the BBC and with news organizations.

Last year, about 17 news organizations deployed the company’s V14 HD and V14 MSII mounted cameras in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Spain and the U.K, where they are used by the BBC, noted Miles.

“More and more news organizations are using HD technology” and upgrading their field operations, creating increased demand for Axsys’ product, Miles said.

There has been rapidly growing demand from both news organizations and documentary producers overseas, he added, even though HD launches have generally gone more slowly abroad than in the U.S.

“Even if they are still broadcasting in standard-definition today, they want footage shot in HD for the future when they begin HD broadcasts,” Miles said.
Frozen Planet is set to bow on the BBC in the U.K. and Discovery Channel in the U.S. in 2012. 

Sports programmers have also been avid buyers of the gimbals. For several years, they have been used in the production of ESPN’s Monday Night Football and the Tour de France, Miles noted. The system was also used in helicopter aerial shots at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, he said.

A year and a half ago, Cineflex was acquired by Axsys. As a result of that deal, the Grass Valley, Calif.-based company has been able to add some of Axsys’ advanced infrared technologies to its cameras.

The V14 MSII has a powerful thermal sensor that makes it possible to film a fugitive trying to escape police by running across a dark field, a feature that has proved popular with news organizations, Miles said.