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Finally, Steve has reached his destination-the big city.
It's a tough place for a first-timer.
- Disneynature's "Penguins"

Disneynature's all-new feature film "Penguins" is a coming-of-age story about an Adelie penguin named Steve who joins hundreds of thousands of fellow males in the icy Antarctic spring on a quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner and start a family. None of it comes easily for him, especially considering he's targeted by everything from killer whales to leopard seals, who unapologetically threaten his happily ever after.

According to director Alastair Fothergill, not all penguins are created equal. "The Adelie penguin is by far the most characterful penguin on the planet," he says. "People may be more familiar with Emperor penguins, but they're actually pretty mellow. I like to say that Emperor penguins are the California surfers and Adelie penguins are New York City taxi drivers. They have attitude. They're feisty. They have an extraordinary amount of expression in their eyes. They almost look animated. And I knew-with their big personalities-the film would have a lot of comedy."

Adds Ed Helms, who narrates the film, "Even though they're birds, they're really aquatic creatures, and in the water they're unbelievably graceful and elegant, fast and agile. But on land, they're so awkward; they walk with this sort of weird wobble. And yet, they have such spirit and moxie because they persevere in these crazy Antarctic conditions."

To capture the footage for "Penguins," a team of the best polar experts in the world was dispatched to multiple locations over the course of three years. Cinematographers immersed themselves in the icy habitat, gathering footage on land and underwater, from boats, from helicopters and on foot-shooting for a total of nearly 900 camera days. The logistics of accessing the shooting locations were challenging-it can take up to two weeks just to travel to certain areas. "These locations may be the hardest locations to get to of any Disneynature film we've made so far," says Fothergill. "It's hard to think of a tougher habitat on the planet."

Antarctica is an unforgiving environment-temperatures dropped to -40 degrees on several occasions, and the coastal locales drew katabatic winds that twice topped 150 miles per hour. And yet, the crews persevered.

It turns out perseverance is a key theme in the story, as Steve's journey is filled with more than his share of stumbles. "There's such chaos of living in a colony with that many penguins," says director Jeff Wilson. "In the middle of it all is a first-time Adelie father trying to raise chicks with his partner in the harshest habitat in the world. There's a lot of heartfelt drama-weather, leopard seals, killer whales. But in the end, he's just trying to figure out how to be the best father he can be. That's the core of the story-it's not about being a perfect father. It's okay to make mistakes-we all do-and in making mistakes we become stronger parents. Being a good father isn't expertise or excellence, it is effort."

Says Helms, "Disney movies are filled with poignancy and real emotion, but also are extremely funny and relatable-this movie is no different. It's a True Life Adventure with real footage of penguins in Antarctica, but told in a way that tugs at your heart strings a little and also has quite a few chuckles. For me, this movie is a very cool mash-up of narration and character work. I get to voice Steve's inner monologue as well as straight narration. It was a really fun challenge for me-a privilege getting to imagine what this penguin might be thinking-and I'm really excited about it."

"Penguins" is the eighth theatrical release for Disneynature, which celebrates 10 years since its first feature-film debut. The first seven theatrical releases, "Earth," "Oceans," "African Cats," "Chimpanzee," "Bears," "Monkey Kingdom" and "Born in China," are seven of the top-eight highest grossing feature-length nature films to date, with "Chimpanzee" garnering a record-breaking opening weekend for the genre.

"Penguins" continues Disneynature's conservation tradition: for every ticket sold opening week (April 17-23, 2019), Disneynature will make a donation to the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) to help protect penguins across the southern hemisphere. Founded in 2002, WCN invests in a select network of on-the-ground conservationists, including top experts in the field of penguins like the Global Penguin Society (GPS). The worldwide leader in science-based penguin conservation, GPS champions specific programs that align with Disneynature's conservation mission. Conservation is a key pillar of the label, and the films empower the audience to help make a difference, with each film supporting wildlife featured in the films.

"There are still places left on Earth that are remote, untouched by human presence and where real-life dramas play out on a daily basis," says Wilson. "Adelie penguins deserve our respect and adoration and stewardship for the fact that they are superbly adapted to living in one of the harshest continents on Earth."

"Penguins" is directed by Alastair Fothergill ("Bears," "Chimpanzee") and Jeff Wilson ("Monkey Kingdom"), co-directed by Mark Linfield, and produced by Fothergill, Wilson, Keith Scholey ("Bears") and Roy Conli ("Born in China," "Big Hero Six"). Ed Helms ("The Office," "The Hangover" trilogy, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") narrated the film, and Harry Gregson-Williams composed the score. "Penguins" opens in theaters and in IMAX-it's the first-ever Disneynature film to be released in IMAX-on April 17, 2019.

One Adelie Penguin's Quest to Start a Family
Proves Complicated and Compelling
Steve is a 5-year-old Adelie penguin who's ready to tackle the next phase of life: building a family. "He's becoming a father for the first time," says producer Roy Conli. "He returns to the place where he was a chick to build a home and find a mate."

Filmmakers knew they wanted to tell the story of a new father-so finding a young male penguin was important. But what makes Steve Steve? "He's feisty," says director Alastair Fothergill. "He's full of character, and in a sea of penguins, he's the guy performing."

Steve measures two feet tall and weighs about 15 pounds. When the film begins, it's late September and summer is underway in Antarctica. After walking more than 100 miles on the ice to get to the colony where he hatched, Steve joins 300,000 other males in an effort to choose a site and build a spectacular nest out of assorted rocks, bones and pebbles to prepare for the females' arrival. Good nests attract potential partners. But it's not as easy as it sounds.

"This guy has a big challenge," says director Jeff Wilson. "He has to find some real estate within the breeding colony and build an appealing nest while every other male is trying to do the same thing. It's that classic issue of keeping up with the Joneses that we might deal with in our own neighborhoods. In some ways, penguins are very similar because they're so competitive over their nest sites and rock collections."

"It's so fun to watch Steve compete with all the other penguins to set up his nest and win his mate," says Conli. "It's hard not to relate to this guy."

And these penguins do compete. "The male penguins can be troublemakers-sneaking in and stealing other penguins' stones or even their nesting sites," says Wilson. "This behavior can lead to some serious fights."

Adds Fothergill, "More experienced penguins claim the best real estate in the middle of the colony, while guys like Steve are forced to set up camp farther out. The colony is so big that it stretches all the way out from the top of a hill down to the sea, which is a 40- minute walk. If you're a penguin and going to get food, that's quite a problem. Some are very clever, choosing to nest in areas where just as their chicks are hatching, the sea ice begins to break up, giving them an easy commute."

When the females arrive, they assess the nests, but that's not all they assess. "They'll evaluate the male's feathers, as well as the strength of his display call," says Wilson. "If he does everything right, a female will sit next to him for a little while."

Steve does his best with his nest and his display call eventually attracts the attention of Adeline. Once they've committed to each other, they reinforce their bond with a lyrical demonstration of sound and movement. Principal photographer Rolf Steinmann captured the exchange. "They looked very shy at first," he says. "They reminded me of shy teenagers who've fallen in love with each other. She was always looking up at him, he was always looking down at her, and they looked at each other for a long time. I filmed these mating rituals for two days."

Steve ultimately earns the heart of penguin named Adeline, who lays two eggs, and she and Steve take turns keeping them warm and safe. "In our story, while she's incubating the eggs, a terrible thunder storm occurs," says Fothergill. "They're called katabatic storms and Steve, who's been out at sea fishing, gets completely lost. Meanwhile, Adeline is sitting on her eggs-she's such a good mom, she won't leave her eggs. But she eventually gets buried under a foot of snow. When Steve returns, they fortunately are able to find each other."

Adds Wilson, "They try to feed as much as possible to build up reserves of fat so that they're able to feed the chicks when they hatch-which happens after a few weeks."

As soon as the chicks hatch, the game is on. "Steve has to go out to sea because he needs to find food to feed the chicks," says Fothergill. "That's a really demanding job that he does on his own at first. But as the chicks get a little bit bigger, Adeline joins Steve, leaving the chicks on their own. The chicks join 10 or 20 other chicks in a creche designed to defend themselves against predatory birds that try to steal the eggs early in our film, and later they try to steal the chicks."

Steve struggles to do everything correctly-finding food, meeting the hungry chicks' demands and protecting them from the skuas. Wilson, who has three sons of his own, says it's particularly tough for Steve because he's never done any of it before. "Firsttime fathers really don't have a clue," he says. "We could pick out the first-timers-like Steve-and none were doing it perfectly. That really spoke to me as a father-the idea that it's trial by error in everything that you do.

"Sometimes you have to laugh," continues Wilson. "He's such a dufus. We're all dufuses in that scenario-trying to feed your chicks, overfeeding them, they're vomiting everywhere and it's your fault. I was really interested in developing the idea that firsttime fathers have no playbook for guidance-whether you are a human or a penguin."

According to Wilson, the teams were instructed to spend as much time recording the failures as the successes. Says Wilson, "At the point Steve becomes a father for the first time, responsibility becomes a new challenge-one that is exacerbated by the environment in which he finds himself."

Editor Andy Netley was responsible for tying all the footage together. "Disneynature movies are unique because they're so character driven. We definitely wanted to do an emotional and informative story, but above all, it's Steve's story."

Filming in Antarctica Requires Extensive Planning, Lengthy Travel and Oh-So-Resilient Filmmakers

Antarctica is a place of mystery to many. The southern-most continent is a sparse and icy expanse situated almost entirely within the Antarctic Circle, where temperatures rarely rise above 14 degrees F. "We're taking audiences to a place that's extraordinary and almost otherworldly," says director Jeff Wilson. "Antarctica is almost viewed as a place of fairytales, so we wanted to present a unique insight into a world."

Adelie penguins are among the few creatures who call Antarctica home. "Penguins" footage was captured from four key locations-all accessed by flying to Australia, New Zealand or South America and taking a boat or aircraft from there to the Antarctic location.

Cape Crozier served as the main location for the production, where they worked alongside Adelie penguin scientists from Point Blue Conservation Science. It was accessed via McMurdo Station, the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program. Small teams lived in the penguin colony-residing in tents-and utilized long lens photography, as well as the specially designed "penguin cam."

Conditions at Cape Crozier were harsh. Team members traveled on foot to their shooting locations and endured big storms, including intense katabatic winds. "There are so few places were the Adelie penguins can find rocky areas to build their nests," says director Alastair Fothergill. "Cape Crozier is a particularly good place for bare rocks-one of the reasons is that it's one of the windiest places in Antarctica."

Principal photographer Sophie Darlington can certainly attest to the intense wind. Filmmakers resided in tents-yes, tents, though a special kind of tent-at Cape Crozier. "We had a sleeping bag called a Snowy Owl, which is unlike any other sleeping bag," says Darlington. "But you can sleep in shorts and a t-shirt. In Antarctica."

A team of scientists was next door in a slightly more secure hut. "A storm was coming in one night," says Darlington. "The scientists warned me that if the wind should get worse than 80 miles per hour, I should leave my tent and make my way into the hut. Off I went to my tent and climbed into my owl. I'm lying there and the wind begins to pick up, which is when I realized that I didn't have an anemometer. I don't know what 80 miles per hour sounds like in a tent. Finally, I decided to head to the scientists' hut- maybe 20 meters away. But I struggled on my hands and knees to get there, the wind was so strong. They opened the door and said, 'Well done, you held out till the wind was 102 miles per hour.' We were in that hut for three days."

Named after a French explorer, Dumont d'Urville Station is a French scientific station in Antarctica. Teams here captured both long lens footage as well as underwater shots. Principal photographer Max Hug Williams spent nearly three months on location at Dumont d'Urville, arriving, along with fellow cinematographer Rolf Steinmann, just as the winter season was ending. Approximately 30 scientists and researchers had spent the long, dark winter there. "They get locked down-nobody comes in or goes out-and live without new faces or fresh vegetables for months," says Williams. "We were the first flight in-the first new people anyone there had seen in five months. So we brought some iceberg lettuce with us-they literally had a party."

Dumont d'Urville is positioned adjacent to a penguin colony. Filmmakers were able to bunk in cabins on-site, located about a half mile from the main base where they ate their meals. "When we arrived, we thought the presence of this rope leading from our cabin to the base was a bit strange," says Williams. "Two days later, there were 100-mile-perhour winds and we learned that the rope was there to clip into to follow it to the main base."

Filmmakers were able to bring more equipment to the station, so crane shots were captured here, for example. It's also where the underwater teams filmed.

The production's largest crews lived and worked off the Hans Hansson exploration boat as it made its way down the coast along the Antarctic Peninsula-the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica. Teams had to travel to Punta Arenas in Chile, then on to King George Island, where they caught the Hans Hansson. The boat's skipper, Dion Poncet, was actually born aboard a yacht off South Georgia Island and has been sailing in Antarctic waters ever since.

The team captured long lens footage, as well as underwater imagery and some penguin cam footage. This location was ideal for capturing the fledging penguins-and their efforts to elude the predatory leopard seals.

The land-based Peninsula teams lived on the Esperanza base, a permanent, year-round Argentine research station in Hope Bay, Trinity Peninsula. Filmmakers worked with long lenses as well as the penguin cam.

Associate producer Kieran O'Donovan was part of the team at Esperanza. "It's quite an impressive thing to see thousands and thousands of penguins in one area-as far as you can see," he says. "It's a strong auditory experience and then, of course, there's the smell. I found it all to be overwhelming and exciting and interesting. It's almost like a city, because it has that same density and energy. They're all going back and forth, as if they're running errands."

Filmmakers traveled along Phantom Coast, sharing the ship with an onboard helicopter to film aerials. "It's called the Phantom because it's rarely visited," says director Alastair Fothergill, who was part of the aerials team. "I think we were probably the 20th ship ever to go there. It's the dark side of Antarctica. We worked on an ice breaker with amazing Chilean pilots who had trained with the Chilean Police Force."

When it comes to filming Adelie penguins during breeding season in Antarctica, timing is everything. A number of events tied to climate, weather and sea surface temperature, among other factors, affects the formation, expansion and melting of sea ice. The penguins' arrival to the coastal breeding areas and subsequent departure when the resulting chicks are ready to fledge to sea depends heavily on how much ice is-or isn't-present. The same highly unpredictable events presented innumerable challenges to the team determined to capture footage of these penguins.

To get one crew into one location required intense and detailed planning. Multiply that with multiple crews in multiple locations-then repeat the effort every few weeks. "We found that after about six weeks in Antarctica, you get pretty exhausted by the demands of the habitat," says director Alastair Fothergill.

According to director Jeff Wilson, logistics to and from Antarctica are enormous. "If you leave from the South American side, it can take seven days to sail to the Antarctic Peninsula," he says. "For the teams heading to Dumont d'Urville, the French base, the icebreaker that took them in took 10 days. To arrive at the American base, the crews flew down with two tons of equipment on an American Air Force plane that landed on the ice. Once on continent, our teams were then dropped by helicopter into the colonies where they camped for two months at a time in conditions that frequently dropped below -13 degrees F.

"It took three years of filming," Wilson continues. "All filming takes place between October and February, which is the window of access to Antarctica before the Antarctic winter takes over, the sea ice freezes over, the sun sets for six months."

"Antarctica is one of the few areas in the world that most people will never have an opportunity to see firsthand," says producer Roy Conli. "It's one of the most remote and harshest environments on Earth-but its stark beauty is breathtaking. Cultivating an understanding and appreciation of the area, the surrounding oceans and the animals who live there is essential to the future of our planet. That's one of the reasons I love sharing the story of Steve-a penguin who's working so hard to thrive in this world and doing his part for the next generation."

Veteran Cinematographers Capture Footage on Land, in the Air and Underwater

To capture the stunning and diverse imagery for Steve's story, some of the world's best cinematographers were assembled and dispatched to Antarctica, including specialists in long-lens filming, time-lapse, underwater, aerial and the specially designed penguin cam.

"Our teams were made up of very experienced Antarctic operators," says director Jeff Wilson. "Most people on our teams have been there six or seven times, which doesn't sound like many, but is a lot when it comes to Antarctica. As experienced polar operators, and with the connections to science that we have made in the past decades, we could predict the behaviors we needed to capture. Day-to-day decisions are made on the weather conditions-whether it will be safe enough to operate, whether there is likely to be a change in sea ice conditions or whether the water clarity is good enough to film in. Also, excitingly, this type of filming is dependent on good old traditional field craft, which is rare these days. Technology plays little role in Antarctic filming. Boots on the ground, using your eyes and wisdom counts for a lot more, which is why making a film like this is a joy."

Most of the footage was captured using RED Dragon 6K professional cameras-the modular design made them adaptable to long lens, penguin cam shooting and underwater production. Since the sun never really sets in Antarctica during the summer months, filmmakers had a lot of light to choose from, but found that the light when the sun was low in the sky-which was in the middle of the night-offered a particularly magical look. "One of my favorite moments happened one morning when the light just kicked," says principal photographer Sophie Darlington. "We were up above the colony and there was this incredible mist rising up from the edge of the colony by the ice. The penguins were all backlit. It was one of those moments that in my eye, it will be with me for the rest of my life, it was so beautiful."

Each of the cinematographers brought a unique skillset to the production. Their objectives depended on when they were on location and which location they called home.

Principal photographer Max Hug Williams helped capture nest-building. He was behind the camera when a lone Adelie penguin wandered through the Emperor penguin colony. "This guy turned up out of nowhere," says Williams. "He just marched straight through the middle of the colony on his way to look for rocks. The Emperor chicks were bigger than he was. They were checking him out, 'Who's this character?' They gave him a little slap, but he was so confident."

Principal photographer Mark Smith was part of the Cape Crozier team. "I wanted to get loads of very low-angle shots," he says. "Adelie penguins are only two feet tall, so we developed a new tripod so we could get down to their eye level."

Darlington did a lot of long lens work, scouting the massive colony at Cape Crozier for the best of the penguin behavior. One day the penguins came to her. "I was suddenly caught in a massive adult penguin commute," she says. "I looked up and there was just a sea of penguins coming towards me. I was kneeling down, so I had the camera at their level. It was like being in rush hour in London. It was an amazing feeling-being on the edge of the world and surrounded by these other people, it was like being transported to Lilliput."

Principal photographer John Aitchison filmed from Avian Island, capturing young penguins. "I was there toward the end of their time on land," he says. "I filmed them when they took the plunge and jumped into the sea. One of the difficult things with any group of animals that look similar is to isolate an individual penguin. There are various ways to do that: You can get low, perhaps exclude some of the background. You can use shallow depth of field or a longer lens that keeps your penguin in focus while the other ones are not. Or you can very tightly follow him while he's in the middle of the frame."

According to Wilson, there were two primary methodologies when it came to the cinematography in the film. "One is the traditional long lens, which is fantastic in isolating behavior and characters amongst hundreds of thousands of penguins," he says. "But we wanted to go one step further and introduce a look and feel to our essential character, and that meant moving with him and giving him a bigger, more pronounced presence on screen."

For filmmakers to be able to give audiences the penguins' point of view, they had to get creative. "A Ronin is a stabilizing rig developed for feature film use that's designed to follow humans at eye level," says Wilson. "It's built so that you can hold a camera at human eye level-five feet or so off the ground. But a penguin eye level is 12 inches off the ground. So we had to flip the Ronin on its head and create new handles and new support systems that provided the same level of stability."

The teams used the penguin cam extensively. "We wanted to track and walk along with Steve," says Wilson. "We could use wide angle lenses, shallow depths of field and the focus to put him right in center of frame, so that you always know that we're in Steve's world."

Principal photographer Julie Moniere captured a great sequence in which Steve is pursued by two very hungry creatures. "His chicks were hungry and Steve had just returned from the sea with a full belly," she says. "They chase him up and down the colony begging for food. It was really funny. It was a very rewarding moment for me. I was nearing the end of my second trip and I was tired. To get the shots after so much effort and to see those shots in the film was quite emotional."

Didier Noirot captured breathtaking imagery of the penguins underwater. He spent two-and-a-half months at Dumont d'Urville, but for the first two weeks he saw no penguins. The massive sheet of ice that surrounds Antarctica hadn't broken up, so the Adelie penguins couldn't yet access their breeding colonies. After two weeks, filmmakers found a couple small openings in the ice-and Steve. "There were just a few Adelies, but one was very nice," says Noirot. "Each time we arrived, he seemed to recognize the noise of our vehicle. He'd just show up and stand close to us so we could do everything we needed. I must say we were lucky."

Noirot says none of the penguins were afraid of humans-in part because humans are not considered predators, but also because of the close proximity of the colony to the scientific station. Noirot has extensive experience shooting underwater in icy environments. He wears a dry suit, which is cumbersome, and carries a rebreather and a backup, plus the camera, which was put inside Cineflex housing. He limited his time underwater to an hour.

Doug Anderson also specializes in underwater cinematography. He was tapped to film the sequences featuring fledging Adelie penguin chicks as they dive into the sea for the first time, preparing to head out to sea for the winter. Shooting from just off Avian Island, Anderson also captured footage of another creature under the sea: leopard seals.

Says director Alastair Fothergill, "The last big drama in our movie is when the chicks fledge. Broken ice fills the bay, so the chicks struggle to maneuver through the ice. And hiding beneath it are leopard seals, amazing predators with terrifying teeth that are almost impossible to avoid-they can catch 40-50 chicks a day. Steve shows his chicks the way to go, but then he and Adeline have to watch as they try to do it on their own."

Anderson says some seals were reluctant to be filmed, but with patience, he found a group of confident animals hunting in the same area. "They were big and mature and didn't mind me being in the water close to them," he says. "There is a degree of sociability about them, but if you don't present as a threat to them and stand your ground if they're posturing, they accept you in their environment. But they're big- maybe 16 feet long with a head the size of a small dog. And they're very interactive. But once they accept you, they will slip back into predation."

Anderson captured a surprising behavior one day after the seals had had their fill. "The seals weren't really hungry, but they continued hunting," he says. "We noticed that the penguins seemed to be playing dead in hopes that the seals' predatory response would go away if they stopped moving."

It worked. "It's innate behavior," says director Jeff Wilson. "These chicks have never been in the ocean before. That moment of fledging that we capture in the film is when they are being introduced to the water for the very first time. But there's an instinct, a core behavior, an understanding that's written into their genes that shows them how to escape."

Principal photographer Jamie McPherson was filming at the surface. "The leopard seal would nudge a chick underwater," he says. "But when the chick played dead and floated to the surface, the seal would get bored and swim off. Then the chick would hop out of the water as fast as it could."

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