Documentary | Post Production
The Great Rhino Robbery
In 2011, regional museums and auction houses across Britain are hit by a bizarre crime spree. Despite holding millions of pounds worth of precious artefacts, only one item has been targeted during each robbery: rhino horn. As this strange crime wave sweeps through Europe and beyond, rhino numbers are shrinking as their horns become more valuable than gold in the dark, illegal, world of animal poaching and trafficking. This documentary unpicks the story behind why the Rhino is facing extinction and the race to catch the people responsible - before it’s too late.
The Great Rhino Robbery is produced by the BBC Studios Documentary Unit in association with Sky Studios; read on to find out more about how the Sky Post team brought the production to our screens.
Post Producer - Vickie Mansell, said, "A huge success all around for Sky Post, especially considering this was in Post Production for over a year, and with an enormous volume of rushes and archive footage. As expected, everybody went above and beyond and the measure of our success is in the gratitude from Will Lorimer, the Executive Producer. None of this would have worked as well as it did without the stellar contribution from the whole Edit Ops team, along with the Workflow Supervisors Naman Davda and Liam Stiles."
Our team explain the creative and technical processes involved in delivering this exceptional documentary series;
Liam Stiles – Workflow Supervisor
The long-running timeframe of the production required careful management from Edit Operations, to provide the continuity which would underpin the whole production. As it was heavily archive dependent, we had to be dynamic in our approach and to touch base with the Producers consistently throughout to give help and guidance and to continuously ensure that everything was being labelled correctly before reaching the edit.
Tom Nursey – Audio Mixer
I knew in advance that this was a docuseries incorporating drama recreations alongside extensive archive footage. Anticipating this, I requested preliminary cuts to understand how these differing content styles would interweave within the show's context. This allowed me to start the planning process ahead of my allocated days and to begin strategizing the mix techniques to integrate these elements. I entered this project armed with a wealth of reference points, drawing inspiration from acclaimed productions such as "Nail Bomber: Manhunt" and "Don’t F*** With Cats."
My objective from the outset was to craft a polished docuseries with two primary goals. Firstly, to ensure crystal-clear dialogue as, given the multiple story arcs spanning the three episodes, it was crucial for viewers to easily absorb the information and to keep pace with the narrative. The dialogue and interviews served as the primary drivers of the story, magnifying the need to obtain as much clarity as possible from the source recordings. My second aim was to breathe life into the archive footage, particularly concerning the representation of rhinos. A significant portion of the archive arrived without sound, necessitating extensive sound redesign efforts to run alongside the masterful music composition by Sheridan Tongue and his team.
In this project I experimented with some modules from iZotope’s Neutron 3, particularly focusing on preserving weight and body in the dialogue. For sound effects searching, manipulation, and spotting, I utilized Soundminer—an exceptionally powerful sound library manager that enables swift editing while seamlessly handling media management tasks in the background. Soundminer proved to be immensely valuable, especially in managing foley-intensive rhino shots and archive sections, significantly reducing time investment. The heavy use of silent archive footage and drama re-enactments provided a great opportunity for me to fully explore my sound design and foley expertise. This involved a deep dive into our sound effects library in search of highly specific sounds. In instances where a specific sound could not be found, I set up a microphone and recorded foley myself—a creative freedom and luxury!
Working on The Great Rhino Robbery stands out as a significant highlight in my career journey so far.
Mark Mulcaster – Colourist
The brief from the client was to try and harmonise the various interviews so that they felt consistent across the series, between themselves, and with each other. In addition, the reconstructions needed to feel atmospheric and to give a sense of location. Scenes from northern Europe were given a cooler grade than the scenes from Africa, which were given a dusty warmth, whilst those around the bars in China needed to feel a bit seedy without ever feeling dirty. Law enforcement interviews that took place in the UK, Ireland and Europe were given a steel-blue look; skin tones were neutral leaning towards a slight warmth with highlights erring towards a cooler blue tint, with cobalt midtones to everything else. Interviews based in or around museums were given an earthier feel and we tried to bring out the warmth from wooden desks and furniture whilst trying to maintain neutral skin tones.
After the look for each interviewee was locked down it was a case of working through each episode in a systematic way. I tend to grade all the interviews first in one pass then go back to work on the reconstructions and finally the archive. The interview grades were straightforward in that I was asked to give prominence to the subject by darkening areas of the shot using power windows and applying selective sharpening where needed.
The quality of the archive material varied considerably. The story is set in the early 2000s and both the CCTV and hidden camera footage needed improving. I mainly sharpened the image to enhance important details rather than grade each shot stylistically, which would have compromised the already questionable quality.
This was a really enjoyable and rewarding project to work on. The production team were receptive to ideas and allowed the grade to develop along with the story.
Chris Hay – Online
There was an enormous amount of archive footage in this project and a large part of the online consisted of ensuring that it was the best available and that it had been converted correctly. A lot of the archive was amateur footage and a great deal of it was fairly old, so making sure it was acceptable as possible for the viewer was important. I spent a lot of time removing blanking errors and repeated frames as well as ensuring that aspect ratios were correct. Sharpening pictures and stabilising shots were also key aspects in the online process.
I used blurring extensively throughout the series as it was necessary to prevent key contributors and vulnerable people from being identified. For the best viewing experience there is a very fine line between the extent of the blurring, to protect the individual, and maintaining the integrity of the footage without undue distraction.
This is a trip into the darker side of human nature and the extent that some will go to in order to profit from human and animal misery. There are some harrowing and thought-provoking scenes in this series - it is a moving piece of film making.
The Great Rhino Robbery transmits on Sky Documentaries and NOW from 3rd January 2024.