A drone video of a bear chasing a man went viral Friday morning. Is it real? GearJunkie tapped a bear expert and video effects specialist to find out.
Is it real? To find out, GearJunkie contacted a CGI expert as well as a bear expert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In the 19-second clip, a drone dives between snowy pines into a trail. There, a man appears to flee from an average-sized brown bear. The camera approaches the chase head-on and then doubles back once it passes the bear. The bear appears to notice the drone, turning to glance at it before resuming the chase.
Now, the internet wants to know whether the chase is real. SPOILER ALERT: almost certainly not. But that might not mean it doesn’t show a real man running away from a real bear.
Watching the video, several Reddit users pointed to some red flags:
- Capturing a bear chase while out flying a drone seems almost impossibly coincidental — especially in winter when they tend to hibernate.
- The snow on the trail is deeply trampled, which could suggest staging or multiple takes.
- If a bear is chasing you, it will catch you.
To the first point, Jerry Kobalenko, founder of ExplorersWeb, noted that it’s not beyond possibility this encounter could happen in winter.
“Grizzlies do come out in snow, both in the middle of winter, if there’s a spell of mild weather, and in spring,” he said, adding, “That looks like white spring light to me.”
To the second point, if this is a highly trafficked hiking or snowshoeing trail, it’s not unusual for tracks to be heavily laid down. But this doesn’t prove the video’s authenticity, as we found out.
Drone Video Bear Chase: Experts’ Take
Chris Servheen, co-chair of the IUCN’s North American Bears Expert Team, pointed out that bears can run up to 35 mph. If you’re running away from one that wants to catch you in the snow, you have no chance.
His opinion? “It’s all organized, somehow. Somebody spent a lot of time doing this,” Servheen said. “A human can’t outrun a bear. When we teach bear safety, we say ‘do not run’ because that can provoke a chase response, and a bear can easily catch you if it wants to.”
Acknowledging that the video is too low-resolution for him to tell whether or not the bear is a CGI rendering, Servheen landed on the possibility that the bear is a trained or captive animal. He pointed out the powder kicking up from its paws as its runs.
Elsewhere, special effects experts weighed in. Some focused on the kicked-up snow with the angle that it suggests CGI. Whether or not it looks “natural” is up for debate, but again, low resolution makes a conclusion difficult.
However, one expert familiar with CGI says the footage initially had them fooled. “By the looks of the shadows, the bear turning after the drone flies by his head, his footprint in the deep snow after the turn and the snow kicking up it would be hard to believe this was fake,” said Nate Maydole, Lead Creative with Don’t Blink, a “visual experience content creator” in Minneapolis, Minn. “Then I chatted with someone smarter than me — my VFX Supervisor, Jason Hadley — and he said, ‘It’s 100% VFX. That’s what motion blur will do for you!’”
Another proposal is that lowering the video’s quality could be an easy way for an editor to hide evidence of CGI that would be obvious in high definition.
Finally, some say that the audio points to a fake. Snopes’ research dug up one version of the video with comments from the creator that seem to claim the audio is a “voiceover,” possibly added for comedic effect.
The outlet also seemed to identify that the video originated in Russia, through Google Images cross-referencing. One version showed up on pikabu.ru on January 23, about a day before it first surfaced on Reddit.
While the internet rumor mill continues to churn, Servheen issued a statement about the video’s problematic wildlife safety implications for bears.
“Anything that makes people fear bears and think they’re going to chase you through the woods is really harmful to bears,” he said. “It’s not a positive image for bears. Bears aren’t always trying to attack people, but when [a video] like this pops up, it tends to make people think that they are. These things can reduce public support for bear conservation and erode public understanding of bears.”
He reiterated that the last thing you should do in a bear encounter is run. Regardless, if you’re heading into bear country, be sure to bring — and be familiar with — bear spray. And if you’re a runner, check out these safety tips for trail running in the backcountry.