Graduate works with BBC on Animals with Cameras series

A University of Plymouth graduate has worked with the BBC to create an array of lightweight underwater cameras used in the recent Animals with Cameras series.

Marcus Shirley, who graduated from the BA (Hons) Photography programme in 2009, designed and built 23 cameras that were attached by film crews to penguins, seals and devil rays.

The temporary cameras allowed the production team to monitor where the creatures went and how they behaved, revealing unknown aspects of their lives with the ultimate aim of giving conservationists a greater chance of protecting them in the future.

Marcus, through his company Mr ROV, was first approached by the programme makers in 2016 having previously worked on a range of broadcast and scientific projects.

He then spent several months producing cameras that would withstand being attached to animals in the wild, while capturing high quality footage that could be used in the show.

He said: “I have always been interested in using cameras to capture what the human eye cannot see, and achieving different perspectives on what’s around us. It’s something I developed during my studies and have taken forward through my work since. This project presented a whole range of new obstacles to overcome but the end results are amazingly clear and far better than I could ever have expected.
“With the cameras being attached to an animal, I had to make them extremely light – the penguin cameras weighed just 80g – but they also had to be rigid. I spent months designing them using CAD and producing components on a 3D printer, then testing different types of resin to ensure they stayed waterproof. It was a massive challenge but really worth it when you see the final footage.”

Since leaving the University, Marcus has worked with helicopter cameras but his main focus is now around capturing underwater footage.

This has included projects for the British Geological Survey and the University’s own Marine Institute, which saw him working with deep sea biologist Dr Kerry Howell to create high definition deep sea camera systems for the global research market.

He added:

“My journey since leaving the University has been an incredible experience, but none of it would have been possible without what I learned on the course. It was the starting point for everything I have achieved and the encouragement and advice I received continues to spur me on.”

The facts behind Marcus Shirley and Animals with Cameras

  • Responsible for building: Penguin-Cam, Seal-Cam, Ray-Cam
  • Total cameras manufactured: 23
  • Number of cameras lost or destroyed in the process: 7
  • Total number of hours needed to waterproof cameras: 924 hours, that’s 38.5 hours of watching resin dry!!
  • Length of solder used in manufacturing cameras: 65m
Read more about his work on the show

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