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The Making of BUGS 3D! (Interview)


Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: May 2003

BMZ recently caught up with the BUGS team of filmmakers -- Producer Phil Streather, Executive Producer Jonathan Barker, Director Mike Slee, and DP Sean Phillips -- and gained some insight into the remarkable new Big Movie BUGS.


Category: Interviews

BMZ: How did the idea for a Big Movie on BUGS originate?

Phil Streather: I was at my sister's house and with my two nephews. They had books all over the floor -- books on dinosaurs and books on bugs. I asked them about the bugs, as dinosaurs is pretty obvious, and they were so enthusiastic. "Bugs are way cool Phil, look" said one, as he thrust a jar of stick insects in my face. "Look at them, they look like they come from another planet!" Right there I thought, well there has already been a Large Format film about dinosaurs but not one on Bugs. So I got on the phone to Peter Parks, the only man on the planet with the tools to do the job, and the whole thing got going.

BMZ: Why is it a good topic for the Giant Screen?

Jonathan Barker: This film provides a great opportunity to do what large format films do best -- take audiences to places they can't normally go. While insects dominate the planet, to most people the world of bugs is in alien universe. Bugs! immerses audiences in this fantastic environment -- and does so in a fun and engaging way. This is a perfect topic for the giant screen for the same essential reason that space and underwater films have been great topics for some of the most successful and satisfying large format films.

BMZ: Why does 3D add to the equation?

JB: We made the film to be successful in 2D and 3D, and we are delighted with the result. 3D adds to the equation in two ways: first, it provides a unique and even more immersive experience to the audience, and second, it expands the potential reach of the film to include a number of additional screens.

BMZ: The film's been quite a long time in the making … what were some of the obstacles to getting the project moving, both technologically and from a business standpoint, and how were they overcome?

PS: From a technical point of view, this is one of the most complicated films ever made in the format. I approached Peter Parks first off and together we soon realized that what we needed hadn't been built yet. This is often the way with Large Format films, you are often having to build what you need as you are constantly trying to put cameras in places they are not designed to go! Starting from scratch on complicated things like optics obviously has it's time scales; a blind alley here, a testing phase there, a re-build over there! So, as you can imagine, getting from prototype to finished tool, was complicated and time consuming, but the great thing is we got there and the pictures look amazing!

JB: Apart from the technical obstacles, of course all large format films have huge business obstacles -- pulling together the funding -- and 3D even more so. We overcame the obstacles in several ways: having major theatre partners get behind the film with significant commitments; working hard with sophisticated feature film industry investors to give them an understanding of where the opportunities are in large format; benefiting from British incentives for the film industry; and finding a sponsor willing to think outside the box and get behind the film for both its production and release.

BMZ: Though it's undoubtedly a documentary, I understand the film develops "characters" and follows somewhat of a storyline? Can you explain the story, and why you chose to go this route?

Mike Slee: Humans love stories -- always have, always will, and film is one of the best mediums on which to spin a yarn. Unfortunately large format has been in the past, in general, inept at story telling and therefore disappointed audiences.

Spectacle is simply not enough, so as we developed BUGS! we relentlessly looked for ways to take the stunning natural history images that we planed to shoot and integrate them into a story that would genuinely engage an audience, whatever their age or disposition.

We succeeded -- we worked hard, but we were also lucky because it doesn't get much better in storytelling than to have birth, life, death, sex, violence and tenderness to play with.

Next, though, you have to find your giant screen setting. For us it was a creaking ruin in the lush dramatic tropical rainforest of Borneo. And finally, and most important of all, your characters. A machiavellian looking yet cool dragon and an ugly duckling who turns into a princess and finally gives her young the ultimate gift ... both surrounded by an eccentric bunch of memorable 'walk ons' and extras.

Bugs! of course is an upstanding, blue chip natural history film that tells the extraordinary life story of two of the rainforest's most fascinating insects … but with a little imagination, the right camera moves, sound effects and a music score and narration that truly touches your emotions, then the amazing world of BUGS! can become a gripping tale -- a struggle to survive that moves you to smile and cry. Of course if you just want the best and biggest 3D insect images ever filmed we got them too!

BMZ: I understand the macro- and micro-photography techniques were somewhat revolutionary … can you explain them in some more detail?

PS: About half the film was made using special snorkel optics designed by Peter Parks of Image Quest 3-D. Peter has perfected the 2D versions of these systems over the years but we had to go back to the drawing board for 3D and particularly the most useful and revolutionary tool, the Mirror Fronted Snorkel. (We secretly hope Peter gets his third technical Oscar for this one!). This gadget allowed us to get really close to the bugs, have a very small gap between the lenses and have a relatively large depth of field. All vital stuff for making the audience feel like they are "right there".

Sean Phillips: There were certainly a lot of 'firsts' on BUGS! After an initial round of tests, Peter Parks created a new stereoscopic snorkel rig, in addition to his other unique optical rigs. On my request and input and with Principal's backing Iwerks Entertainment built a stereo macro system using two Hasselblad 135mm Macro lenses and a smaller, compact beamsplitter. This modification worked with their existing 3D rig. Many of the rigs were placed under computer control to create the very fine moves needed for macro photography.

All told there were eight different rigs used to shoot 3D for BUGS! The goal was to be able to shoot exterior scenes that were miles wide to scenes the width of your little fingernail. The tricky part was doing that stereoscopically. One of the central creative aims of the film was, for the first time, to immerse the audience in the world of bugs by using a giant screen that eliminates the traditional stereo window. However, to perceive stereoscopic depth, you have to be able to comfortably see two slightly different views of a scene. Human eyes (usually two per person) are typically 2.5 inches apart, and most traditional 3D movies are shot with lenses about that far apart. However, when you place a camera very close to things like bugs, that distance, called the interoccular or interaxial, must be dramatically reduced. Otherwise, you just can't cross your eyes enough to fuse the two images. That means you now have two lenses, (not to mention the two cameras) that somehow have to be placed in space 1/4" apart--or even less. As there are currently no large format cameras and lenses that small, the solution lies in the use of mirrors. In some cases front-surfaced mirrors allowed two snorkel type lenses to be placed as close as 1/4" apart. In other cases beam splitters, or 'two way mirrors,' were used to allow larger lenses to be placed as little as zero inches apart. Here one lens looks through the mirror, and the other looks down into a reflection of the same scene. For one shot Peter Parks had a rig that actually created a 1mm interaxial by splitting the light from a single lens into a stereo pair. In all we shot with rigs that went from six feet interaxials to zero. Each system had strengths and weaknesses, and all were necessary to tell the story Mike and Phil wanted to put on the screen.

BMZ: Terminix, an insect-repellent company, is the film's corporate sponsor. Is the film pro-bug or anti-bug?

JB: The film is definitely pro-bug! Terminix helped fund the film and is providing tremendous marketing support. Their message is simple -- bugs are great -- just not in your home. They absolutely recognize the vital role bugs play on earth and this film is just one of a number of ways the company supports entomological science and education.

BMZ: Any classic gross-out moments?

PS: I thought the praying mantis eating the head off a house fly was pretty close to the edge. But when I showed my 8 year old daughter, Polly, a rough cut and asked her what she wanted to see more of she said, "More insects eating other insects please." What a polite and well adjusted child!

BMZ: What do you hope both kids & adults will learn from BUGS?

PS: Something pretty simple, really. I hope audiences learn to respect insects. Firstly, because they have been shown how fascinating they and secondly because they have realized, that despite being small, they are so important in the great scheme of things.

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