'Wings 3D' takes you flying with the birds

  • Article by: TISH WELLS , McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Updated: July 15, 2014 - 1:07 PM

Documentary takes audience on a journey through birds’ world.

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From “Wings 3D,” a macaw flying over a river.

Photo: Photos by John Downer Productions/BBC America,

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You can almost stroke the gorgeous feathers.

The documentary “Wings 3D” gives humans a bird’s-eye view of the world.

“The 3-D experience is the closest I’ve had of realizing the dream I had many years ago when I wanted to go into the animals’ world,” says wildlife documentary filmmaker John Downer. “In 3-D, you are up there with them.”

Downer created the award-winning BBC documentary TV series “Earthflight.”

“While we were making the program [‘Earthlight’],” he says, “there were three or four sequences that we knew we’d never ever be able to repeat, such as flying out with birds, flying over Venice or whatever.” So while he shot it in 2-D, he also “shot the sequence in 3-D.”

“In 3-D the birds just come out of the screen and you become one of them,” he says, “and, that was the dream to me.”

Downer started his career in wildlife photography around 25 years ago at the BBC. His first film was “In Flight,” about bird flight. He thought, “If I want to tell animal stories, I want to be in their world.”

He set about learning how to create a way for humans to “see what it was like to fly like a bird rather than learn about it.”

In those days the technical limitations held him back, so he put the idea on a shelf. The first documentaries were done with film, which was frustrating because he estimates that they’d miss about “three-quarters of what we saw just because the film’s run out.”

Now, he uses digital cameras and just lets them run. “I think it’s very rare that we see something that we don’t get on video,” he says. He used two cameras for “Wings 3D.”

His teams are people who worked with him often for years and years. “The filming style, the editing style, the music style; they’ve all grown together to complement each other.” He uses two editors working on the “thousands upon thousands of hours of footage that’s recorded” in the rushes.

What Downer wanted was “to take the audience on this incredible journey into the bird’s world and travel across the continents. And while we were making it, we were deciding, ‘Well, to really, really get to the ultimate closeness perspective we’ve got to do it in 3-D.’ ”



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