In the new BBC series The Planets, trusty Professor Cox takes us on a planet-to-planet tour of our Solar System, mapping out the drastic events that have shaped our worlds over billions of years. But how exactly do you go about making such a complicated show from concept to creation? HEKKTA delves deeper to find out the method behind the production of such an amazing show.

It’s very easy to sit back after a long day, watching the telly and forget that everything you watch has gone through a huge process of production. From the birth of the concept all the way to the finished product, shows such as The Planets are a creative and meticulously planned process.

So where to begin in telling the tale of our Solar System? And how on earth do you recreate it realistically?

“From the violent formation of Saturn’s rings, to the beautiful water world that was once Mars, the series is filled with extraordinary moments that have never been seen before”

Andrew Cohen, Executive Producer

Well, intially the storyboards need to be drawn out.

To do this, they worked together with expert planetary scientists to figure out the most important events to depict, such as the Late Heavy Bombardment or the birth of the sun.

Once they knew what part of history they wanted to tell, they had to double check with the scientists it was all correct!

Then there comes the creative part.

The Planets
This is one of the original storyboards from the Late Heavy Bombardment sequence in The Two Sisters film. Shots very similar to 001, 002 and 004 were filmed and made it into the final film. Shot 003 was dropped at the storyboard stage.

Trying to imagine what these events would have looked like, alongside advice from the experts, the production team created detailed storyboards depicting the events.

During the early stages of the edit, the drawings were then combined with voiceover, music and filmed elements to begin to construct the sequences more thoroughly.

All drawn by hand, like the one pictured above, the team begun to visualise how each shot would look on camera. They drew out how they wanted the shot to look, and then it was up to the DOP (director of photography) to recreate it!

Recreate Mars, here on Earth?

That’s a pretty tough brief!

However, it’s easier than you might think. Just needs a little imagination.

To create the images, the team found the closest replicas that could be found right here on Earth.

They travelled to Iceland, to Reynisfjara Beach near Vik to imagine the environment for the Late Heavy Bombardment on the surface of Mars.

Iceland as Mars / The Planets
Iceland as Mars / The Planets

“the dramatic coastline of Southern Iceland, provided an evocative setting for visualising one of the most violent periods in the Solar System’s history”

Stephen Cooter, Series Director
Iceland as Mars / The Planets
Iceland as Mars / The Planets

Iceland was also used to depict Saturn’s moon Eceladus and the Dwarf planet, Ceres, as it was 4.5 billion years ago and allowed us to journey to the surface of Pluto.

The black-sanded, volcanic environment of Lanzarote also proved useful for the producers of the show, acting as the surface of present day Venus and young Mercury.

While Stromboli, an active volcano off the coast of Italy, became Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io and Jordan’s Wadi Rum became the surface of Mars.

After each location was decided, it was time for filming. Capturing the shots was simple enough, with director of photography Julius Brighton and camera operator/drone pilot Olly Meacock at the helm.

Knowing the shots would act as a backdrop for the CGI to bring them to life, the filming had to be very precise to allow for what they were trying to achieve in post-production.

To give the shots a cinematic feel, portable tracks and jibs were used to move the camera and a drone used to get an aerial perspective.

Below the team are attempting to recreate Mars in Wadi Rum in the Jordanian desert.

The fact that our own world can double as our neighbours’ and distant relatives so effectively, certainly provides interesting food for thought.

It makes you realise that we are all part of the same ginormous family, and as alien and strange as Venus or even Saturn seem, we are far more similar than we are different.

“Wadi Rum in Jordan is a truly other-worldly place. There were times while we were filming I felt we really could be standing on the surface of Mars”

Stephen Cooter, Series Director

Now all the real, location filming has been done, this is where it gets really exciting.

You would not be foolish to assume that the whole TV show is one big computer generation, and there is certainly a lot of that, but the amount of wacky, creative production processes used to recreate the explosions and collisions within the series are truly fascinating.

Blowing up balls of flour with a huge gun and capturing it on super slowmotion cameras is just one of the several out-there methods the special effects team used.

Hours upon hours are spent in the studios, trying to recapture these historic moments with some of the most every day items they can get their hands on.

The video below shows the creative process, using clever techniques.

Building the Planets was certainly no easy undertaking, and a glimpse behind the process certainly opens your eyes to the meticulous and pedantic development from storyline, to filming to computer generation and then blending them all together in the editing process.

What they were left with is a truly mind-boggling show, which leaves you gawping at the television pondering what all this really means. Taking you all the way from Mercury, through to Earth, to the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, and then finishing off in the icy worlds on the outer edge of the Solar System, The Planets is a fascinating watch from start to finish.