Planet Earth II: How to Edit Animals


A video essay analyzing the editing of the Iguana vs. Snakes scene in Planet Earth 2. Specifically, I look at how the editor uses the imagery of the iguana and snake to make the scene more dramatic and emotional.

Transcript Provided by YouTube:

00:00
[Music]
00:04
wildlife documentaries have managed to
00:06
master a delicate dance between
00:09
education and drama and large part I
00:11
think this can be attributed to the
00:13
genres transformation of animals into
00:15
characters with purpose and emotion
00:17
really no one does this better than
00:19
BBC’s planet Earth today I want to take
00:22
an in-depth look at the editing choices
00:24
of the iguana vs. snake scene in Planet
00:26
Earth – I want to understand how and why
00:29
editors position animal imagery to play
00:31
out like a blockbuster action movie
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comprised of 28 individual shots
00:36
spending 2 minutes and 4 seconds the
00:39
scenes distills hours of footage into
00:41
the epitome of a chase sequence in doing
00:44
so it manages to simultaneously shock
00:46
and inform you can break the scene into
00:49
roughly 6 component narrative parts when
00:52
analyzed closely these blocks seemed to
00:54
mirror what we might find in a typical
00:56
Hollywood film indeed the editor for the
00:59
scene math Meech admits I really like to
01:02
find John Ruth at fits with a sequence
01:05
if I can as it’s a subliminal way to
01:08
ease people into a news story the
01:11
initial 18 seconds of this scene
01:13
established the narrative opposition
01:15
between the marine iguana and the racer
01:17
snake through a shot counter shot
01:19
framework quickly countering each shot
01:22
of the snakes on frame left with an
01:24
opposing shot of the iguana on frame
01:27
right the editor uses our visual
01:29
knowledge of eyeline matches from
01:31
narrative film to associate the two
01:33
animals in space the bundle of snakes
01:36
seem to be eyeing their next lonely
01:38
victim the iguana these expositional
01:41
shots then quickly transition over to a
01:43
series of images that build suspense
01:45
this is initially cued by a close-up of
01:49
the snake moving from the right of the
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frame to the left implying that the
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snake is now behind the Iguana coupled
01:55
with a series of waterhemp held shots of
01:57
the two reptiles friend together the
01:59
scene begins to establish the iguanas
02:01
dire situation in addition the iguanas
02:04
eyeline is once again
02:06
by a subsequent image of a snake so here
02:09
when the iguana seems to look backward
02:11
the editor cuts to a shot of a racer
02:13
snake slithering slowly from what we’ve
02:15
now established in her head as behind in
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the middle of this masterful shot of
02:21
tension and release the chase begins
02:23
although the chase really only lasts for
02:26
three and a half shots but in those
02:28
brief seconds our minds are bombarded
02:30
with visual information we see a slowed
02:33
down iguana shoot off followed by a
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moving handheld shot that tracks the
02:37
Iguana and then the snakes as they
02:39
traverse the sand this tracking shot
02:42
helps anchor the small sequence because
02:44
it gives us just enough time to adjust
02:46
to the jeopardy of the situation while
02:48
the following shot adds the urgency of
02:50
the baby iguanas quest by implying that
02:53
there are more and more snakes emerging
02:55
from the rocks and then the catch
02:57
followed by a twist cut to the catch
03:01
dashes our hopes because it’s so abrupt
03:04
our eyes almost want to lag past the
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frame because we expect the Iguana to
03:08
keep running here the editor plays with
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the audience and understands that timing
03:13
is everything
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it’s what transforms wildlife imagery
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into fast paced engaging stories the
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snakes writhing becomes truncated by a
03:22
quick cut to a close-up and then back to
03:24
a later part of the struggle allowing
03:27
the Iguana strangulation to last just
03:29
long enough to keep the tension high
03:31
before we lose interest for the rest of
03:34
the escape Meech continues to manipulate
03:36
the timeline of real events to create a
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more compelling fictitious nary
03:40
immediately following the iguanas
03:42
release the editor cuts back to a shot
03:44
similar to what we’ve already seen
03:46
demonstrating that this footage is
03:48
actually a conflation of hours of images
03:51
captured by camera operators not
03:53
necessarily the bold track of one iguana
03:56
but because
03:58
cuts are relatively quick and we are
04:00
already invested in our character we
04:03
don’t register this anomaly finally the
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shot succinctly delivers our much
04:08
desired victory a rack focused pulls the
04:10
audience from one iguana to the other
04:12
highlighting the completed journey this
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clips success lies in its extinct merit
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the iguana needs to get from point A to
04:21
point B and the snakes want to eat it
04:23
for dinner a simple clean story that is
04:25
craft fully edited maximize sympathy and
04:28
by opposition and build suspense
04:31
essentially the scene demonstrates the
04:33
power of the editor to inject
04:35
significance into an animal’s actions
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transforming a reptile that might fail
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to engage an audience in real life into
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an emotional and educational hero so the
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next time you watch a wildlife
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documentary understand that what you see
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on screen is the highlight reel of
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nature not necessarily the actual event
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editing in this case imbues the world
04:57
with spectacle drawing us close so the
05:00
narrator can teach us to better
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appreciate the complex systems we
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inhabit
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hey thanks so much for watching I’ll be
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putting out environmental videos every
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single Friday so if you like what you
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saw go ahead and subscribe and support
05:18
me on patreon that’s about all so I’ll
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see you next week bye


This post was previously published on YouTube.

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