Nov. 21, 2013
Wildlife director John Downer and cameraman Phil Dalton are two of the people behind the special. For the program, mechanical life-sized penguins equipped with hidden cameras were devised and then embedded among the real-life birds to explore their world.
The duo brought three of their robot buddies to the studio and showed off some tricks, including laying an egg (with a camera in it, of course), while another, which was lying face down, came to a standing position. The penguins accomplished their tricks with the help of Dalton's handy remote control, which the cameraman said worked from up to a kilometer away.
"The whole point was to try and get inside their lives and see penguins as they see themselves," said Downer, who noted they got "extraordinary" footage because the cameras in the fake penguins could tilt, pan and capture high-quality detail.
"The material we got, so much was new to science," Downer said.
But at times the fake penguins blended in a bit too successfully. One real penguin became "very affectionate" with one of the mechanical ones, said Downer. And later, when a fake emperor penguin set off on the march across the ice, the real birds "just got in line and followed," he laughed.
"In penguins' defense, they might not be the smartest, but they are the feistiest and the most determined animals," said Downer.
"Penguins: Waddle All the Way" airs on Discovery on Nov. 23 at 9 p.m.