Sep 24

The small but mighty film ‘Hedgehog Close’ has been nominated for two Wildscreen Panda Awards: Impact (small budget) and Children’s Award. This 2-minute film is an engaging stop motion animation which shines a spotlight on the plight of the hedgehog in the UK.

We spoke to Film Director Tom Hooker, from Zest Productions, about making this film and the recognition it has received.

Hedgehog close is a really fun little film. What made you decide to get involved with this project?

I wanted to make something fun and different, but with a strong conservation message. After brainstorming a few ideas, I settled on Hedgehogs. They are declining rapidly but this downwards trend could still be reversed by very simple actions. There is an urgency to this and I felt that it could be addressed powerfully through video. Working with a small budget meant scaling everything down and the idea of building models to depict an ‘ideal’ hedgehog habitat appealed to me. This fitted the original vision to create something warm and charming and also seemed like a useful device to tell the story.

Being nominated for the Children’s Award means the film was a hit with our toughest judges: a group of 8-12 year olds! Was the aim at the outset to create a film for a younger audience?

It’s fantastic the film has been so well received by young audiences. This was definitely a priority from the outset and influenced every aspect of production. The most challenging part was writing a script that clearly communicated the key points without sounding too preachy……or dull! Beyond that, the models needed to look appealing and paying attention to small details helped make it more visually exciting. Lots of inspiration was drawn from the brilliant work of Aardman Animations who excel at captivating both young and adult audiences. The film is still being shown in schools around the country and many parents and teachers have got in touch to request copies and pass on positive feedback which has been brilliant.

The aptly named ‘hedgehog at fence obstacle’ shot | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

What does it take for a film to successfully engage with the intended audience?

I think it’s vital to weigh every decision and element against the intended audience. Whoever they are, and whatever age group, people have short attention spans and plenty of other distractions. It’s important to give people a reason to keep watching at every stage. In the case of Hedgehog Close which was distributed on social media, it needed to be short and to the point. There were other models and scenes which never made it into the film as it was a priority to keep it under two minutes. In the end, every shot, and almost every word, had a purpose! As far as the creative stuff goes, the visual style is important and music obviously plays a huge part too, as does the tone and delivery of the voiceover. I think it helped being mindful of all these elements from the outset.

We also created a dedicated twitter account for the film where we tried to push it out far and wide. It was important to me to get the film seen outside a traditional wildlife audience to avoid preaching to the converted. The language used around its promotion was also important so as not to turn people off.

How important was the presence of Gordon Buchanan as the narrator? What did he bring to the production?

Gordon’s voice was the icing on the cake and provided the perfect tone and feel. A warm, friendly voice that simply flows with the pictures without being over bearing or too ‘instructional’. For me, it was important to have a recognisable voice that was trustworthy and genuine. I always imagined it being read softly as a bedtime story before functioning as a powerful conservation film and I feel Gordon’s tone makes it work on both levels.

The film is made by stop motion animation, what is it about this style of filmmaking that lends itself to this particular film?

There are several reasons why stop motion felt like the right choice. For starters, we could make the hedgehogs move wherever we wanted and show this from any angle. I wasn’t too concerned about smooth motion and perfect technique as much of the film’s character lies in its rustic, home-made style. The model hedgehogs fit into the environment better than a computer generated version would have done and, crucially, it was also a lot cheaper! Stop motion also lends itself to a more nostalgic, family friendly feel that I wanted to capture. As a lighting cameraman, I enjoy lighting real objects in three dimensions whilst thinking about textures, shadows and how they interact. Consequently, I think it produces images that are more eye catching and engaging than a 2D animation would have been.

The main point in the film is about connectivity, illustrating the purpose of joining neighbouring gardens and allowing hedgehogs to roam. By using stop motion we were able to show this happening. With 30cm high houses, it was possible to film aerial shots and move between fence-lines without needing a huge crane, big lights and obliging residents! The resultant look hopefully has more charm and visual appeal too.

The whole set with camera on motorised slider | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

There is an incredible amount of attention to detail in the film, how did you go about creating all the scenes? And how long did the entire filmmaking process take?!

Adding the detail was definitely a lot of fun! The basic script just required a living room, shed and a series of gardens. It was only at the time of building them that they began to take on more character and interest……And absorb more time! The basic structures were made from cardboard and balsa wood although many other obscure items were also used, ranging from lolly sticks for roof tiles to coffee granules and tea bag contents for soil. Most of the wallpapers and brickwork patterns were created in photoshop and then glued onto card.

The houses under construction – tiles were individually added to provide texture and some realism | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

The model building process started slowly as it was important to establish the right scale. The models had to be large enough to be workable and allow the desired depth of field, but also not so large that we would have been forced to hire Pinewood Studios! Some sets were built to two different scales to enable certain shots.

Lots of time was spent on the internet browsing houses and gardens which helped inspire some of the designs. I wanted each house and garden to be individual whilst still being in keeping with the overall style. The alleyway was based on a familiar local alley, complete with wheelie bins.

The entire filmmaking process took about six months from start to end. This was from the original idea to the final release of the film during Hedgehog Awareness Week. It was helpful to have a deadline or it could still be going on!

Attention to detail: the hedgehog themed living room (above) and the scattering of moss, lichen and grass | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

In addition to two Panda Award nominations, this production has won multiple awards including People’s Choice at the Charity Film Awards. What has been the wider impact of the film since its release?

It would be great to know how many new hedgehog highways have been created as a result of the film! There’s definitely a few but what has also been rewarding is hearing from people who previously had no idea about the plight of hedgehogs and pledged to make changes following the film. I was conscious from the start that we needed to avoid preaching to the converted so found these moments very reassuring. It was initially shared on Facebook and twitter by BBC Springwatch, The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the RSPB but very quickly spread. It was great to see the film being retweeted and shared by various well known people outside of the ‘conservation circle’ including comedians, presenters and Aardman Animations Producer Peter Lord who praised its charm!

The film is still being distributed by the Hedgehog Society and shown within schools and educational settings which is fantastic. This will hopefully continue until a time when every street is like Hedgehog Close and their population begins to recover.

Many thanks for talking to us Tom, the film is available to watch below.

Visit the Wildscreen Festival website for more information and our full list of Festival speakers and screenings!

Hedgehog Close from Zest Productions on Vimeo.

Aug 16

This summer, environmental charities Earthwatch Europe and Wildscreen are looking for the UK’s best young environmental filmmakers. For the first time, the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition invites teens to create inspiring and informative conservation media to be shown at the world’s leading international festival celebrating natural history filmmaking – the Wildscreen Festival.

Open to UK residents aged 14 to 17, the competition calls for short, creative films highlighting any environmental issue and presenting a solution or action people can take to help meet the challenge. Steve Gray, Chief Executive of Earthwatch Europe, said: “Young people today will inherit a world shaped by our actions over the next decade, so engaging young citizens in environmental issues is key to a sustainable future for all. We hope the competition encourages young people to explore the natural world around them and inspire each other to find innovative solutions to pressing challenges.”

Through the process of making their film, participants will not only benefit from connecting with nature, getting creative and developing their communication skills, but will also play a valuable role in motivating their peers – the next generation of Earthwatchers.

“At Wildscreen we are passionate about nurturing the next generation of natural world storytellers and we are particularly eager to encourage a greater diversity of voices,” said Lucie Muir, Wildscreen Director. “The Young Earthwatcher Film Competition is part of this: a way for young people to explore and report on the environmental issues that concern them, inviting fresh ideas and new perspectives.”

The winner of the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition will walk away with a prestigious Panda Award – the ‘Green Oscar’ of the wildlife filmmaking world – and receive a Lumix DC-FT7 waterproof camera, courtesy of Wildscreen Festival sponsor Panasonic UK. Each of the runners-up will receive a Lumix DMC-FT30 waterproof camera. All competition finalists will receive an invitation to the Earthwatch event for the premiere of their films during the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol in October.

What are we looking for?

The film must:

  • – Introduce an environmental issue
  • – Present a solution or action that people can take
  • – Be no more than two minutes long

Further details, rules and registration can be found at

Dates for the diary:

  • – Competition deadline: 19 September 2018
  • – Finalists announced: 24 September 2018
  • – Earthwatch event at Wildscreen Festival: 17 October 2018
Jul 10

Wildscreen is the team behind Arkive! We’re also behind the world’s biggest festival of natural history storytelling. And we’ve now announced the nominees for the 2018 edition of international wildlife film, TV and content industry’s highest honour – the Wildscreen Panda Awards!

The ocean epic, BLUE PLANET II, leads the nominations picking up seven nods for the world-renowned BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, in recognition of its stunning cinematography and never-before-seen animal behaviour. Keo Films’ RISE OF THE WARRIOR APES, which brings a gripping investigative approach to natural history documentary, follows closely with five nominations, topping the craft categories for its technical excellence.

Intimate personal stories and the use of authentic voices, with them being integral to the over-arching narratives of a production, is a standout theme across the 17 categories. The expert testimony and passion of scientists is central to many productions including JANE and ONE STRANGE ROCK.

“Humanity’s relationships and interactions with the natural world is what truly stood out amongst the nominees this year”, said Lucie Muir, Wildscreen CEO.  “We’re at a point in our history where we either choose to protect nature or we all suffer the consequences. Storytelling is a powerful tool for positive change and it was so encouraging to see a particularly strong field in the Impact award category in 2018. It was so strong in fact, that we took the decision to double the number of nominees, creating two sub-categories – small and large budget – recognising that big impacts and change is possible on any budget. These stories share hope and optimism for the future of our natural world and our place within it.”

The 2018 line-up also sees the first ever VR contender in the Awards’ 36 year history, with THE PROTECTORS receiving a nomination for the Innovation Award.

Oscar-winning Dame Judi Dench’s, MY PASSION FOR TREES, sees her nominated for the Presenter Award alongside Chris Packham and BBC wildlife cameraman, Vianet Djenguet.

The shortlist features productions from 12 countries, including Qatar for the first time, with each of the 37 nominees standing out amongst nearly 800 entries to Wildscreen’s international jury of more than 40 world-leading producers, broadcasters and craft professionals. But it’s not just the industry that decides the outstanding productions of the past two years. The Children’s Panda Award nominees were chosen by a 30-strong jury of 8-12 years olds from Easton in Bristol and a school in León, Mexico.

The winners will be revealed at the Panda Awards Ceremony which will take place on 19 October at The Passenger Shed, Brunel’s Old Station, in Bristol. The gala is the climax to the Wildscreen Festival, the biggest global gathering of natural world storytellers, which sees over 900 of the world’s leading filmmakers, photographers, broadcasters and content creators convene in Bristol for a week of business, film premieres and an unrivalled programme of 120+ hours of content from more than 150 speakers from across the globe.

If you love the sound of the Wildscreen Festival 2018 and want to keep up to date with the latest news, why not visit to find out more!

Jun 7

To celebrate the launch of the inaugural Wildscreen Photo Story Panda Award at this year’s Wildscreen Festival, Arkive is getting to know the award’s amazing team and jury, who are themselves international photography professionals. Here we meet Neil Aldridge.

Neil Aldridge is the Technical Consultant for the Wildscreen Photo Story Panda Award. As a conservation photographer his images have won awards all over the world, including the World Press Photo environment category, the NPPA Best of Photojournalism award for environmental storytelling and the overall title of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. His work has also featured in Wildlife Photographer of the Year and he has twice been a winner of British Wildlife Photography Awards.

Neil is also a lecturer in Marine and Natural History Photography at Falmouth University and a trustee of the charities Animals Saving Animals and Poaching Prevention.

The return of the rhino | © Neil Aldridge

As a conservation photographer, was there a defining moment that led you to start documenting conservation issues?

I grew up reading Getaway Magazine in South Africa and I remember being inspired to want to tell stories with my camera, not just take single shots. But it wasn’t until I began researching African wild dogs while training as a wildlife guide at Antares in South Africa in 2005 that I realised telling conservation stories and engaging people in these issues was how I could best contribute to saving species and protecting our environment. It took me another three years to save up the money and throw myself into the world of photojournalism. I’ve not looked back since.

How does imagery help in conservation efforts? How do you think photo stories with a clear narrative affect audiences compared to single images?

While some iconic single photographs do tell a story in one shot, the most effective way to draw an audience into an issue, to make them care and, importantly for conservation, to make them take action is to take them on a journey – to show them what the issue is, where it is happening, why it is important, who the people are at the heart of the issue and what the solutions are.

When a company builds a website, they talk about the journey they want to take their web visitor on from when they land on that site. As a storyteller, it’s the same principle. By thinking about narrative, I’m thinking about where I want my audience to go when they open a magazine onto the first page of my photo story. This may sound logical but it’s not as easy to deliver as it sounds. Where narrative-led photography really is helping conservation efforts is the ability to connect the audience with real people – whether it’s rangers, researchers, vets or even the unfortunate villager who is having her livelihood impacted. Now that we have learned to stop banging the drum just about the big iconic animal and embrace the people who can save it, we are switching more people on to the importance of saving our natural world – because they can see that human lives depend on it.

Living with foxes | © Neil Aldridge

Over the years there have been a variety of photographic styles to document conservation stories: from hard-hitting and emotive imagery, to those showing the wonder of the natural world and the diversity of species. What do you think the role of conservation photography is in 2018 and going forward – to shock audiences or to send out positive messages about conservation and the environment?

Both. People take in information in different ways, even within audience demographics. Personally, when I’m looking at a story or watching a documentary, I’m still grabbed by the hard-hitting moments that some people find too much. Those are the moments that stay with me. And with the state that our planet is in, I don’t think that we can afford to filter or totally dumb-down our messages. People do have the choice to look away or turn the page if they want to, so I would rather see photographers still taking the pictures that have the power to stop an audience in its tracks. But, that’s the beauty of creating photo stories. You can include hard-hitting imagery alongside the solutions, the beauty of nature and the wonderful people dedicating their lives to stopping atrocities happening. That is what I have been trying to do with my work, I then work with an editor to decide what the best mix of images may be from a wider set to achieve the right impact and reaction.

The ‘plastic issue’ has clearly galvanised public opinion. What do you think are the other important environmental issues and challenges we now face?

I could sit here and say climate change or habitat loss but fundamentally our attitude towards the natural world has to change. How have we evolved to a stage where we think it’s okay to sell keyrings with live baby turtles sealed inside? We will never beat the trade in wildlife or protect key habitats and the species that depend on them if there is not the appreciation for what functioning ecosystems can do for us. Yes, policing illegal trade or logging is important but it’s like sticking a plaster over a gaping head wound. The real change has to come from ordinary people putting pressure on the decision makers to change policies – policies with a focus on sustaining life, not making short-term profits and winning votes. The plastic issue has been a positive example of this, but it’s still up to us to keep the pressure on governments to stay true to their words.

As a lecturer in photography are you seeing a shift in the topics that your students want to document or the stories that they want to tell?

I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the passion and broad knowledge of conservation topics within our student group at Falmouth. I get to learn about places, species and issues that I didn’t fully understand. But perhaps the biggest shift I’m noticing is in how young photographers are telling their stories and engaging their audiences. That’s what is really exciting. Yes the traditional, strong magazine stories or documentary films are there but we’re seeing installations, apps, 3D imagery and VR pieces. It’s an exciting time to be a young storyteller.

Underdogs – African wild dogs © Neil Aldridge

How can photography galvanise the younger generation into action? Is social media having an impact?

If I knew the answer to this I could be making good money advising major organisations on their engagements strategies. It’s a tough one because yes, smart devices have made it easier than ever for people to take and share incredible photographs of the world around them, but at the same time they are driving shorter attention spans, addiction to endless browsing and opening people up to targeted marketing and promotional campaigns with budgets that conservation causes just can’t compete with. But yes, the potential is certainly there for galvanising and mobilising people into action. I think we have seen some of this potential already in the activity that was stirred by the plastic scenes in Blue Planet 2.

Which environmental campaign has had the greatest impact on you?

I used to work on a BBC learning campaign called Breathing Places that drove action off the back of the UK-focussed BBC nature shows like Springwatch and Autumnwatch. The message at the heart of that campaign was ‘Do One Thing’. It was so straight forward, so simple for people to engage with. We just wanted everyday people to do something for nature, whether it was planting a tree, making a bug hotel, joining their local wildlife charity or getting out for a walk in the woods. As with everything, it was impacted by funding cuts when the BBC hit a crisis. I feel that we need something like Breathing Places to harness all of the positive energy that is created by the content we as photographers and filmmakers are producing.


Thanks to Neil for taking the time to share his thoughts. We’re really excited to see him and all the incredible photo stories at the Wildscreen Festival 2018!

You can find Neil on InstagramTwitter and Facebook, or visit his website

May 30

Wildscreen is partnering with the International League of Conservation Photographers at Wildscreen Festival 2018 where many of it’s fellows and associates will be speaking at the festival this October. We spoke with Susan Norton, iLCP’s Executive Director, about the organisation and their role supporting conservation photographers.

Tell us a little more about iLCP, your mission and your work.

iLCP was founded in 2005 by professional photographers who devote their lives to conservation photography.  Our mission is to promote environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography and filmmaking.  We have 107 Fellows and Emerging League Photographers based in 26 countries, working in more than 100 countries.


Can you tell us more about iLCPs Emerging Talent league and why it’s important to you to encourage early career photographers?

iLCP has an Emerging League Photography (ELP) program that selects up to three photographers each year who are just starting out as professional photographers. The ELP term is three years and each one has an iLCP Senior Fellow as a mentor.  This program is very important as we encourage and inspire early career photographers to join us in the effort to use their images to support conservation efforts.  As an ELP, they join a global community of like-minded individuals who use their work for the greater good.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a professional photographer?

Perseverance, passion and patience are key traits of successful professional photographers.  It is very important to understand the business side of photography and wonderful when someone decides to devote their lives to photography for a cause.  It is also very important to practice good ethics in dealing with any subject – whether human, wildlife or environmental.  Professional photographers should always stress the value of their work, and anyone wanting to use their images should appreciate the experience and professionalism that went into creating such compelling images and be willing to pay fair market value to use these.

What projects are coming up for iLCP and its Fellows?

We are excited to be working with a number of iLCP Fellows, Emerging League Photographers, Affiliates and Partners on eight different expeditions to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  These begin at the end of May and last until September.  The expeditions will involve photographers, filmmakers, artists, writers and members of the Gwich’in community.  The resulting images and text will be used to promote awareness of and appreciation for this important biodiversity and culturally rich area in the wake of plans to allow oil and gas drilling. #arcticrefugestories

A post shared by iLCP (@ilcp_photographers) on

We’re thrilled that iLCP is partnering with us on creating content for some of the photography content at the Wildscreen Festival 2018. Why is it important that Wildscreen and iLCP are working together in this way? 

Wildscreen has long supported and celebrated the very best wildlife and natural history filmmaking through the Wildscreen Festival and the PANDA Awards.  iLCP is delighted to be the conservation photography partner for the Wildscreen Festival 2018 with its new two-day focus on photography and the inaugural PANDA Photography Award.  It is more important than ever to educate the world about the value of ethical photography taken by dedicated professionals.  We welcome the opportunity to have our Fellows share their images and conservation projects with the Wildscreen audience and look forward to growing our partnership.


You can follow iLCP on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or visit their website


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