Filming Micro Monsters 3D

Posted by Aaron Corcoran on January 11, 2013 at 4:30 PM

I'm on a plane on my way back from London, England  to Trinidad, California (my home for the spring), finishing what will be 42 hours of travel time for 44 hours in London. I just finished being filmed talking about my research on sonar jamming moths for an upcoming series, Micro Monsters 3D, featuring David Attenborough (no, to my chagrin i did not get to meet him). The nature documentary will be on 3d tv channels and IMAX theaters at certain locations around the world. Yes, that means if you are in one of those locations you will likely be able to see me in full 3d on IMAX. That's kind of a scary thought, and it was the absolute last thing I'd let myself think about while being filmed yesterday for about 8 hours (which I'm guessing will turn into 2-4 minutes of screen time with the high-speed video of bats and moths I provided added in). I had to wait in the morning while the crew filmed a wasp capturing a roach, laying eggs in the roach's body and and dragging it into a hole to bury it (this is called egg parasitism and a large wasp called a tarantula hawk does the same thing to tarantulas). The wasp's eggs will hatch days later and then feed on the still living body of the roach. Apparently the crew had been trying to film this a whole day before I arrived without luck. This morning however, the wasp was ready. I didn't get to see much of the footage, but I could see a large widescreen 3d television showing a live feed of the set. With my 3d glasses on I caught a glimpse of the wasp emerging from the hole where it would soon bury its roach. It was like I was looking straight down on the scene with my head inches from the wasp. The ground alone was fascinating enough that I spent minutes examining each bit of leaf, twig and seed that protruded from the intricate texture of the soil. I hadn't seen 3d video like this since watching the Avatar movie.


This was the same level of detail that would soon be captured of me, explaining the extraordinary adaptations of moths evading hungry bats. In the studio (one that neighbored studios where Bond movies and Harry Potter were shot) they had constructed a highly detailed biology office. My office.

"My" office for a day. Looks pretty real doesn't it?


My desk had two large monitors much like the ones in my real office. Between and around them was clutter galore -- bits of electronics, microphones, audio mixing equipment, used coffee cups and coffee stains and a custom notebook that I happily filled with research notes (for a page at least). Some of the details around the office were uncanny. Reel-to-reel audio tapes just like the ones my PhD advisor recorded moth sounds on two decades ago and still has laying around the lab, an oscilloscope just like the one in my office cabinet, a 10-foot fishing pole that reminded me of one that I had used for dangling moths from a line to entice attacking bats. This was 'my' office, at least for a day. This was a good thing, because as I sat at my office operating familiar programs for visualizing sounds and playing high-speed videos of bats and moths on the two computers, I could almost forget that around me a dozen people including a cameraman, Albert the  sound guy, two producers Tim and Paul, and several support staff, were all watching me. Not to mention the lights, boom mic, and giant 3d camera on a crane that was sometimes brought to what seemed like inches from my face. But those things were imaginary. This was just another day at the office. I just happened to have a visitor (Tim, the main producer) who was very curious about my work, and I was showing him my clips and telling him about a great mystery to science I and my colleagues eventually figured out. This visitor just happened to stay in my office all day and kept telling me how I could say what I was saying in an even more clear and concise fashion.

Breaking down the set minutes after wrapping up

Amazingly, the day flew by. My cold that had me talking like a frog in the morning cleared out of my throat in time to talk on camera. My anti-jet lag diet of the last four days had worked and I felt reasonably refreshed despite an eight hour time change. On the spot and with the help of Tim, I was able to describe the story of discovering  sonar jamming. I flubbed my lines my fair share of times, but somehow I got through it. Next thing I knew we were done and they were tearing down my office to turn it into a set for a mock autopsy that would be done the next day. And I was hopping on a train to downtown London to sightsee and get fish and chips and a pint for a few hours before catching some sleep and a flight, where I am now. And a part of me cant help wonder, was all that a dream? Did I fall asleep in my office and imagine all those people and lights? I guess in about nine months I may be able to go to an IMAX to find out.

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