ZAGREB, CROATIA – It’s not often that you find a gorilla in a hotel ballroom.
But such was the case during BBC Studios’ presentation at the NEM Zagreb content conference in the Croatian capital. Granted, there was one important difference — the gorilla was an animatronic model, outfitted with cameras, and one of the latest “spy animal” innovations from UK-based John Downer Productions.
The prodco, represented by both the faux gorilla and series producer Matthew Gordon, was on hand at the inaugural Zagreb conference from New Europe Media to preview its upcoming Spy in the Wild 2 four-parter, set to air on the BBC in the spring of 2020 and in North America via PBS’s ‘Nature’ strand.
As with the original Spy in the Wild series (pictured), which first aired in 2017 and performed extremely well for the BBC and PBS, the new series takes a slew of specially outfitted animatronic “creatures” — including spy pelicans, vultures, puffins, crabs, bats, elephants and more — into four different global regions meant to represent changes in geography and climate, to get what Gordon called “animal behaviors [that] you have never seen before.”
Indeed, a clip of the series illustrated how the animatronic gorilla, when placed in a natural environment and surrounded by the real thing, was a spy worthy of M16 status. Teams of controllers stationed in the wild direct the movements of the robot, responding to the actions of the real gorillas with suitable reactions. For example, when a young gorilla approaches the spy gorilla, it beats its chest to indicate that it wants to play. The spy gorilla, aided by its human controllers, happily beats its chest in agreement.
Positioning the “robosimian” at the front of the stage but requesting that delegates refrain from posting pictures via social media, Gordon demonstrated various movements and capabilities of the creation.
The BBC Studios presentation also featured clips from other upcoming natural history series, including Primates, while highlighting to international buyers other landmarks on the way over the next three years, including the previously announced Green Planet, slated for 2021, and Planet Earth III, coming in 2022.
In other NEM Zagreb news, on Friday, the conference unveiled the winners of its TV Writing contest. The winner in the unscripted category was Matej Merlić for his project Travel Bug, and Daria Keršić won the scripted category with Dream Hackers. The main prize was €5,000 along with a six-month license for the WriterDuet Pro screenwriting software.
NEM Zagreb ran from Dec. 11-14, and is the sister event of NEM Dubrovnik.