The Human Zoo is a short film, produced for Sony by Stinkdigital, that straps cameras to zoo animals. According to the filmmaker, that’s even harder than it looks. See a rhino’s ears twitch in annoyance, and learn what happened after that.
Who can look at a penguin wearing a harness and not want more? We asked directors Robert Wilkins and Leo Maguire a few questions about how they got cameras on zoo animals, starting with how they got a zoo to agree to it! It turned out that it wasn’t about finding the right zoo, and more about finding the right animals. They explained, “We ended up working with a few different zoos. The animals who we could work with had either been hand reared, or had previously worn vests or trackers as part of scientific work (like the lemur), or were so tough (like the rhino or the gorilla) that the zoo-keepers thought the only risk was to our cameras.”
The most expert cinematographer proved to be Stephen, the penguin. “One of the stars of the show was the penguin Stephen who very expertly wore the Action Cam ‘dog harness’ for us. He had been rescued and hand reared so he was ok to be handled by his trainer who got him used to wearing the harness before we attached the camera.”
Though there was some question as to Stephen’s professional availability. “As it was penguin breeding season at the zoo, there was a risk that Stephen, who was approaching penguin adolescence, would find a mate. If that were to have happened he would have lost all interest in interacting with his trainer.”
The rhinoceros proved surprisingly touchy, because he was, “a lot more sensitive to the camera than any of us imagined. He was able to feel it through his leathery skin so either flicked it off, or crunched it off on a post in his enclosure.”
The problem with the gorilla was keeping his hands off the camera: “The gorillas were interesting, and are used to interacting with learning tools, but we had to put the ActionCam in an ‘indestructible’ flight case so he wouldn’t destroy it. We bored holes in the case with cameras positioned inside. The gorilla managed to get the handle off and was on his way to breaking in before the handler managed to get it back off him.”