Behind the scenes

We take you behind the scenes as David Attenborough embarks on an epic 500 million year journey to unravel the incredible rise of the vertebrates. He presents explosive new fossil evidence from a region he’s long dreamt of exploring – the frontier of modern paleontological research: China. The evolution of animals with backbones is one of the greatest stories in natural history. Brand new discoveries of fossils – ancient and living – combined with stunning CGI and cinematography enable David to tell this fascinating story and reveal that humans are the heirs to a magnificent evolutionary heritage.

Stunning, scientifically accurate 3D graphics by ZOO

David Attenborough’s Rise of Animals utilises a special collaboration between Emmy award-winning CGI company ZOO VFX and top scientists to create eye-popping and scientifically accurate CGI. Creatures from our ancient past are brought to life in unparalleled detail, that has never before been seen on television. This grants audiences a unique front row seat to the most significant moments in our evolutionary history, uncovering the amazing ways that our own human bodies came to be the way they are today.

“Zoo which is part of the Atlantic Group, produced those extraordinary animated CGI Creatures…if this program is a success, will owe a great deal to their team.” David Attenborough

 

Filming locations

Yunnan Province, Southern China:

Chengjiang Fossil beds

The Chengjiang Fossil beds are a couple of hours drive outside of Kunming.  It is most famous for exhibiting incredibly rare preservation of soft tissue.  Some of these fossils date back to 525 million years ago – a period in the heart of the Cambrian epoch on Earth.  Prior to the discovery of this site in 1984 by Hou Xianguang, the Burgess Shales in North America was the only other fossil site from this epoch where soft tissue had been preserved.  Because the Chengiang beds are around 25 million years older than the Burgess Shales, it is one of the world’s most important regions for our understanding of early multi-cellular life.

Lufeng Dinosaur National Geopark

This region is home to 73 complete dinosaur specimens, and 400 individuals in total, all excavated from the surrounding countryside.  This was once a vast inland lake known as the Lufeng basin. It is also the site of one of the most significant discoveries of an early mammal in recent years, that of the tiny fossilised skull of ‘Hadrocodium’.

Maternity Ward, First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University

This is one of the busiest maternity units in the city of Kunming, offering us a chance to observe the un-fused skull plates of new-born babies.

 Lake Fuxian

This is a local beauty spot around two hours south of Kunming, where local fishermen head out in boats in search of fish.

 

Liaoning Province, Northern China:

Sihetun Village

This site holds hugely significant discoveries from fossil beds known as the “Jehol beds”. They were formed around 125-million years ago when volcanoes erupted and spewed out ash that settled on the beds of shallow inland lakes, preserving a range of creatures living here at the time.  One of the most exciting finds from Sihetun was Sinosauropteryx, the first dinosaur discovered with a covering of primitive feathers.

 

Beijing:

Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

The IVPP is a leading institution for the study of vertebrate evolution, with an extensive collection of fossils, including feathered dinosaurs, early birds and early mammals.

 Beijing Museum of Natural History

This museum has an extensive collection including the earliest known gliding dinosaur, Anchiornis, and the earliest placental mammal, Juramaia, both 160 million years old.

 

Australia:

Melbourne Zoo, Australia

Melbourne Zoo is home to an elephant breeding programme, where experts use ultrasound scans to monitor the longest mammal pregnancy in the natural world.

Healesville Sanctuary, Australia

This is home to a breeding programme for Platypus’.  Mothers rear their young in underground burrows before they emerge at around 4 months of age.

University of Adelaide

They run a conservation programme rearing endangered species of Wallaby with the use of foster mothers.

 

Poland:

Zachelmie Fossil Site

The rocks here were once sediment at the bottom of a 493million year-old lagoon. Now they have been tilted by movements in the earth’s crust to dramatic angles, and have been found to contain tracks made by the earliest limbed vertebrates, much earlier than anything found before.

 

Germany:

Messel Pit/Senckenberg Research Institute

A 47-million-year-old fossil site that was once the muddy floor of an ancient volcanic lake. It’s thought that many of the creatures entombed here were killed by a lethal gas emitted from the depths of the lake. The result is an entire community of animals and a snapshot of life after the dinosaur extinctions.

 

USA:

The Badlands, South Dakota

The rocks here are carved by erosion into dramatic shapes but were once sediment laid down across a lush flood plain around 37 million years ago. It is the site of numerous discoveries of a monstrous mammal called a Titanothere, a herbivore that grew to over 8 feet tall.

Drexel Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia

Home to the 375 million year old fossil of Tiktaalik, a fish with limb-like fins that holds a crucial place in the evolutionary transition from fish to land-living vertebrates.