Johannesburg – "Sir David Attenborough said he thought we were mad." So says Michael Gunton, executive producer of the new natural history series, Dynasties, from the BBC Studios Natural History Unit.
Dynasties starts this Sunday on BBC Earth (DStv 184) at 16:00, with the first episode that will also be shown at the same time on BBC Brit (DStv 120) and BBC Lifestyle (DStv 174) on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV service.
The 5 beautiful, harrowing, shocking, delightful, surprising and awe-inspiring episodes of Dynasties each follows a different animal around the world – from a chimpanzee, a lioness and a painted wolf in Africa, to a penguin in Antarctica and a tiger in India.
Here are 5 things about Dynasties to know:
1. SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH THOUGHT IT WAS A MAD IDEA
"Dynasties is a much grittier journey into the natural world, but it's an important one," says Gunton. "I came up with the idea about 5 years ago. With previous series like Planet Earth or The Blue Planet we normally use a God's eye view of the world.
"I wondered if there was another way of telling the stories of the natural world. We never really focused on seeing this moment in time where the animals are at a fork in the road, where their lives will change fundamentally depending on which direction they take.
"Of course, it's quite a dangerous thing to embark on; if nothing of interest happens, you've got nothing to make a film. Say you're making Planet Earth II and you spend three months trying to film a lion hunt. If it doesn't work, it doesn't matter because you can go and film a tiger hunt or something instead.
"But if you decide you're going to spend all your efforts on just one particular chimpanzee troop, and specifically one individual, and the animal dies or nothing happens or filming permissions change, you're completely stuck.
"It's quite risky, and Sir David Attenborough said he thought we were mad. But while the risks were high, the potential benefits were also very high because if it works, the drama - the potential for true drama – is unprecedented."
2. MOVING MOMENTS
"Every episode has very moving moments, where you see heroic struggles against the odds," says Gunton.
"There are also extraordinary moments of connectivity where you absolutely empathise with the animals."
3. ANIMAL NOBILITY
"I hope that people will see these great charismatic animals in ways they've never seen them before," says Rupert Barrington, Dynasties series producer.
"By spending vast amounts of time time with each, our teams have been able to record what their whole lives are actually like, as opposed to just a single moment."
"They have watched these animals face up to immense challenges and great change with extraordinary resilience. What really comes through in the episodes is that for these animals, life is really, really hard.
"There's a nobility in how they act, whatever is thrown at them. I think because often they're struggling against universal challenges, you can't help but connect with their struggle. You feel for them – sadness at moments of tragedy and joy when they triumph."
4. FILMING FACTS
Up to 100 km per day were driven in search of tigers – 25 000 km in total – over halfway around the Earth.
It took 309 days of filming for just the chimpanzee episode and 402 days of filming for the lion episode.
-44.3 degrees celcius was the lowest temperature the crew experienced in Antarctica filming the penguin episode (62 days is how long the crew went without seeing the sun).
There were also 22 tyre punctures filming the painted wolf episode.
5. INCREDIBLE SURPRISES
Dynasties delivers whopping – and often gut-wrenching – surprises right from the very first episode. Be warned, be delighted; be surprised.
About the penguin episode, says cameraman Lindsay McCrae: "Over a period of days of a storm, the whole colony of penguins could shift quite a distance because they're constantly peeling off, which pushed them closer and closer to this gully.
"And then we had an almighty storm that prevented us from filming, and we thought, 'Crickey, what are we going to see when we get back there?' What happened next? – well, I guess everyone will see when they watch the episode."
(Photos supplied: BBC)