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‘March of the Penguins 2’ Filmmakers Return to Antarctic for Unique Undersea Images

Luc Jacquet, the documentary filmmaker behind the 2005 sleeper hit “March of the Penguins,” will revisit those denizens of the Antarctic in “March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step,” which debuted March 23 on Hulu. Morgan Freeman again narrates.

One of the biggest challenges in “Penguins 2” was reaching the location. Jacquet started in Paris, flying 24 hours to Hobart, Tasmania. From there, it was 11 days by boat through scattered icebergs, freezing waters and swirling storms before landing on the coast of Adélie Land. The director was accompanied by a crew of 11, including cameramen Jérôme Bouvier, Manuel Lefèvre and Guillaume Chamerat; oceanographer and photographer Laurent Ballesta; and diver-photographers Yanick Gentil and Thibault Rauby.

The team captured rare images that provide glimpses into the harsh environment and extreme lengths to which the birds go to raise their young.

“The major difference for me this time was point of view,” says Jacquet, who used Sony F5 cameras and a range of lenses to capture the emperor penguins. “The challenge was to film the penguins like humans. And really they’re the only animals on the planet that will let you get so close to them. The technological advances allowed us to create incredible imagery and to test 360-degree camera work.”

For the original “March of the Penguins,” Jacquet wasn’t able to capture much of the birds’ underwater life because the technology did not exist for filming in extreme underwater conditions. But the emperors’ time underwater comprises more than half their waking life, and those undersea shots were key this time around.

The photo diving team led by Ballesta, a marine biologist and world-renowned specialist in underwater photography, achieved a series of deep-sea dives in the Antarctic Ocean that measured more than 70 meters below sea level at 28 degrees Fahrenheit — a historic first. “Their technical knowledge and human sensibility revealed a side of the penguins entirely unknown to the public,” says Jacquet.

Most of the dives were done beneath a thick sheet of ice in complete darkness, with only the divers’ lamps for light. The divers visited 20 different sites.

Jacquet shot about 20 minutes of footage for every minute of finished film. At the end of each day — which was hard to discern considering there were 24 hours of sunlight daily during their two months there — the team would retire to the Dumont d’Urville station and screen the dailies their data manager had processed.

Even Jacquet was impressed by what he saw. “It’s very hard to be concerned about the artistic side of shooting in these extreme conditions,” he says, “but these guys made some really amazing pictures.”

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