When I was a kid I wanted to be the next David Attenborough. In fact as an undergraduate doing Zoology that was the dream of most of my course mates as well. Still, as I got older I realised that it was time to let go of such silly ideas and focus on being one of the people who pedantically points out the flaws in wildlife documentaries instead. So it came as something of a surprise last Tuesday to find myself on the set of an actual wildlife documentary carefully herding insects into position for the camera.
The story starts a couple of weeks ago when my supervisor was contacted by a researcher from a film production company. They are currently making a documentary on Arthropods filmed entirely in 3D. They knew my supervisor worked on sexual behaviour in insects and wanted him to bring some down to their studio in London to be filmed. Unfortunately for him* he was too busy to go, so instead my lab mate and I found ourselves drinking complimentary coffee while watching a professional crew laboriously film a succession of weird and wonderful animals on an incredible 3D camera. I’ll admit that, up until now, the 3D craze has left me rather cold, but seeing insects and spiders up close in HD 3D was a revelation. Even familiar species like our wasps and seed bugs appeared in a whole new light.
Filming in 3D is no small task however, the field of focus is limited, the lights are hellishly hot and the subject matter is profoundly uncooperative. After assuring the crew that my bugs would mate on camera “no problem” and that they “never flew” they then proceeded to fly into the backing sheet and mate on that while steadfastly refusing to mate on the branch we had provided for them. This was overcome by allowing them to mate in petri dishes before transferring them to the branch with the use of several twigs. The wasps were eventually successfully filmed with the help of a lot of furniture polish (it temporarily knocks them out) and a very steady hand with a paintbrush. Despite all this the shots looked amazing. We won’t know for certain what will make the final cut until the show comes out, but fingers crossed when it does my name will be there in the credits, in tiny tiny font, but there nonetheless.
*but fortunately for us.