Picks and Pans Review: How Did They Do That?

updated 07/18/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/18/2005 01:00AM

March of the Penguins For 13 months, three Frenchmen braved Antarctica's bitter cold to film emperor penguins as they hunted, mated and raised their chicks. Codirector of photography Jérôme Maison, a marine biologist, explains how they captured their remarkably intimate footage.

HOW DID YOU GET SO CLOSE? The penguins aren't afraid, because they have never been hunted by humans. At first we stayed a distance away. Then when we approached them, they encircled us. After a week or two we were able to live among them. They accepted us while ignoring us a bit. On the other hand there were two who approached us more closely. They liked to put themselves in front of the lens, sometimes to the point that we weren't able to film the others.

HOW ABOUT THE UNDERWATER SCENES?

We mounted a camera at the end of a pole to film under the ice. Later I dove underwater with the penguins. But I had the same silhouette as predators that hunt them—seals, sea lions—so I frightened them.

HOW MUCH OF A HARDSHIP WAS THE COLD? One day this wind took us by surprise when we were filming far away from where we were living [in a French research station]. So we had to stay 11 hours in temperatures from -68°F to -158°F and we got frostbitten. We were on the verge of exhaustion when a rescue team came to get us. I've lost the feeling in the fingertips of my right hand and I can no longer feel my right ear. But it was one day of suffering for a year of happiness.

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