Five minutes with… Stephen Fry
Dinosaur lovers young and old are in for a treat with Stephen Fry's new Channel 5 series, which sees the actor and comedian transported to a prehistoric world full of history's most magnificent beasts.
Using the latest CGI technology, Fry, 65, is seen to interact with the remarkable creatures in Dinosaur With Stephen Fry, immersing himself in landscapes from hundreds of millions of years ago.
He comes across the colossal diplodocus, the terrifying T. rex, the wily raptors and his personal favourite, the triceratops, and is joined by dinosaur experts in using new scientific experiments to solve some of the greatest mysteries about these ancient beasts.
Ahead of the series launch, we chatted to Fry to find out more about his love for dinosaurs and the technology that has made this impressive programme possible.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE IN THIS SERIES? YOU'RE HOSTING, BUT ALSO JUST SEEM VERY EXCITED TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DINOSAURS?
Yes, an enthusiastic guide hoping to pick up more information and get excited by the possibility of being so close to these creatures – at least in an augmented reality way.
I'm very keen not to present myself as an expert, because that would be quite wrong. I have the odd trilobite or ammonite fossil, the little curvy ones that are pretty common.
Naturally, like all children, when I got hold of one I thought it was worth a million pounds and was rather staggered when I was offered sixpence by somebody – and that's an old sixpence, two-and-a-half pence.
So, I quickly learned that fossils were for enthusiasts, and they were not going to make me a fortune!
WHAT WAS THE FILMING PROCESS LIKE? IT'S AMAZING TO SEE YOU IN AMONG ALL THE DINOSAURS, IT'S LIKE YOU'RE REALLY THERE…
The amazing thing is that it is all in real time. You are there, and as far as anybody in the gallery and the upstairs editing area is concerned they see me next to the creature, whether it's flying through the air or on the ground with me.
I was kind of aware that things were moving fast in the world of computer graphics and the possibility of real-time interactions. For Dinosaur I was in a green studio surrounded by green walls and green surfaces and told where my eye-lines were going to be.
So far, so like CGI has been for the past 20 years or so – but the big difference with this is that if I looked at the monitor, I could see the dinosaur and me in the picture.
Obviously, I couldn't see it in the studio literally, but it was there, and it could be moved.
WERE THERE ANY PARTICULAR INTERACTIONS BETWEEN YOU AND THE DINOSAURS THAT YOU REALLY ENJOYED?
It's quite fun to feed them. In the natural history trade when you are filming in the real world, they call it behaviours. That's the phrase they use. Behaviours usually mean stalking and killing the prey that you eat, or avoiding being eaten if you are a nice little ungulate, a little deer or a dik-dik in the Savannah being chased by cheetahs and leopards.
The other obvious behaviour is the mating rituals, the giving birth, and the raising of children. Those are the behaviours we like to see in living animals as we film them around the world in the marvellous way that technology has allowed us to do. So we have tried to reproduce that exactly with dinosaurs and these are the questions you don't often see answered.
Did they pull down trees to get big branches? How did they avoid being eaten if they were a likely dish for a T. rex? And if they were a T. rex, did they hunt in packs?
Maybe the velociraptors hunted in packs in the way that jackals do. You are always comparing them to the kind of animals you know now. What evidence do we have? Has anyone ever found groups of fossils with lots of eggs that suggest a hatchery of different animals living together? That would be a clue.
ARE THERE ANY RECENT DINOSAUR DISCOVERIES DISCUSSED IN THIS SERIES THAT HAVE SURPRISED YOU?
There is the relatively new discovery (that) they were actually feathered.
When I was young, I always pictured them as lizards because they seemed lizard-like, and ‘saurus' is the Greek word for a lizard. Dinosaur means terrible lizard. Brontosaur means thunder lizard. All these kinds of discoveries in the past have been subjects for books and descriptions. You are told this information.
What is so wonderful about the technology we are using is that we can show it. We can sort of see it happening and I can be with it as a representative of our time and our species present in the Cretaceous or the Jurassic or whatever period we are in.
What we have found is a way of telling the dinosaur story, which is such a great story, and like all great stories is ultimately about us.
Even though we weren't anywhere near there at the time, it's a way of looking at what evolution really means, what hunting and grazing and all those things are about and how nature can push size and variation into the most fantastic kaleidoscope of colours and shapes and all these remarkable polymorphisms.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE DINOSAUR?
I would say triceratops because one of my absolute top three favourite animals in the modern world is the rhinoceros. The triceratops has something in common with the rhinoceros. It looks fearsome and armoured, but I think triceratops, like the rhino, is underneath it a very friendly, gentle creature.
Dinosaur With Stephen Fry starts on Channel 5 on Sunday February 12.