Storm Petrel Studios LTD – Filming in aquarium tanks

igu-award-adm | July 23, 2020

I am a wildlife cameraman specialising in underwater cinematography. I have spent the last 25 years working on productions such as Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet for the BBC natural History Unit and more Recently Our Planet for Netflix.

In recent years as a supplement to traveling to locations to film animals underwater, I have started to film underwater animals in science facilities and more recently in my home tropical marine aquarium studio.

Filming animals ex situ allows for greater control, higher magnification photography and the use of specialist techniques to elucidate exciting parts of animals morphology and life history in ways not possible in the wild. Simply, we can wait longer for animals to behave and study them in far greater detail. It is not a replacement for filming in the wild but a wonderful supplement to it.


Filming in aquarium tanks offers unique problems for wildlife filmmaking. The levels of resolution and stability required for effective photography in either high magnifications or over long periods of time requires high quality actuators and motors and for those motors to be controlled in ways that allow us to quickly set up shots and effect them. Simply, animals cannot be told that we want to “do it again”.

On top of this Aquariums tanks are highly varied in shape and size dependant on what we are filming, so the motion control system has to be modular and quickly and easily changed in configuration. The whole process of setting up filming shoots in aquarium systems in many ways feels like a continued rolling rapid prototyping typing exercise.

To achieve effective control of the camera I knew I needed a high- quality modular room gantry.

I looked to what was available in the conventional filmmaking motion control market and nothing was remotely suitable for our purpose. I knew I needed to find a company from outside my field of filmmaking to help with this problem.

I found igus and immediately realised I had struck gold.

Working with the team at igus UK to develop my filming room gantries has been an amazingly gratifying experience and I can say without any doubt that what I have achieved professionally in the last year in my cinematography would not have been possible without them.

The Team walked me through the first principles of the igus technology and we quickly came to decisions on actuators, robolink, gears and motors based on the degree of resolution I required and camera payloads in my room gantries. We worked through the detail of room gantry design through the drawing and revision process and quickly finalised our design. The parts were delivered to me quickly and everything worked out of the box first time – a testament to the skill and attention to detail of the company as a whole. I simply couldn’t have been happier with the service and the process.

At a cost level I simply could not have built what we have in any other way – and ongoing as we add and take away actuators and motors depending on the required configurations these cost savings will continue to happen over the coming years as I grow this business.

Efficiency is a strange word to use for it as I guess the igus room gantries I use have made my work more efficient but really it is a more binary situation. With igus equipment I have achieved new progressive photography and cinematography in my work and without igus equipment not of this would be possible.

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