The finale of BBC America’s series Planet Earth II focuses on a habitat one might not expect the show to examine: cities. But given that urban areas are expected to grow by almost 30 percent over the next decade — making them the fastest expanding environment in the world — it makes perfect sense as a cap to the show. Across the globe, cities are places where animals live and adapt, thriving among humans.
“It’s a wildlife series, so we’re looking at how animals overcome the challenges of living in their particular environment in the most extraordinary and surprising ways,” explains producer Fredi Devas. “I was really excited about working on the ‘Cities’ film, because it’s such a new area of research, and animals are just showing extraordinary adaptation to this man-made world.”
Focusing on various cities around the world, the series follows wildlife from leopards in Mumbai, India, to peregrine falcons in New York City. The episode creatively employs carefully-constructed hyperlapse sequences to illustrate Sir David Attenborough’s narration. Spending weeks in Hong Kong in preparation for the episode, Devas would walk around, looking for shots that would make for a smooth transition between its segments. Instead of making traditional cuts, he and cinematographer/urban filmmaker Rob Whitworth creatively mapped out narratives from each different location they visited, acting like editors while out in the field.
“My narrative was all about looking for a seamless journey to show how light has evolved and diversified in our cities,” says Devas, “So you need to think of the locations that can capture what the different forms of light are and give views upon the city — where you want to say that it spread, above-ground, below-ground, and show how ubiquitous it is.”
“Cities” keeps a global perspective on the urban landscape. More than half the earth’s population, which equates to over 4 billion people, live in cities. With that in mind, Planet Earth II leaves an open-ended question for humans: do we choose to welcome nature into cities, or not?
“[The episode starts] by looking at the urban environment through the eyes of animals, from the perspective of animals. Then at the end of the film we change perspective and say that we are humans, we are the architects of this world, so the way we design it, we can either choose to welcome wildlife in, or banish it.”
BBC America’s Planet Earth II finale airs March 25 at 9 p.m. ET.