Premiering tonight on Disney+ is an original series produced by James Cameron, SUPER/NATURAL. Narrated by Oscar nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch (“Doctor Strange”), this series utilizes the latest scientific innovations to reveal the secret powers and super-senses of the world’s most extraordinary animals, inviting viewers to see and hear beyond normal human perception to experience the natural world as a specific species does — from seeing flowers in bee-vision to eavesdropping on a conversation between elephant seals to soaring the length of a football field with glow-in-the-dark squirrels.
SCINQ discussed the series with Executive Producer, Tom Hugh-Jones.
Super/Natural is such a fantastic take on animal behavior and what animals can do. Where did this idea come from?
We were really interested in making a series that revealed the natural world in a way that would blow your mind, to take you beyond your own perception and show you that there’s things going on in the natural world and things that animals can do, that you don’t really understand and you can’t see but they have these amazing hidden superpowers. We wanted to use the latest camera technology and scientific research to bring the amazing abilities of animals to life.
The scene and that shot to the fireflies. It’s so dark, but then you were able to capture all those little bits of light flashing on and off. How did that come together? Were special cameras or lenses used?
We collaborated with a guy from the States actually whom I found on YouTube. He made his own short film about fireflies, and I got in touch with him. He was really keen to get involved and he knew this place in Mexico, quite close to Mexico City, where there’s this phenomenal firefly display. Everyone goes to Tennessee and those kind of places but it seemed like no one else knew about it.
We’ve been working with the very latest low light camera technology, things like the Sony A seven s mark three, and how you can process the imagery afterwards to bring it to life. We worked with him and brought some of our filming expertise and he brought his knowledge of the area. Together we went out and captured it. It was absolutely phenomenal. I totally agree.
I think people have filmed a bit of fireflies in real time, but normally it’s done in time lapse or something like that because it’s too low light conditions. This is something completely different and I think the most impressive bargain by display I’ve ever seen.
Shooting animals it’s hard. Were there any animals in particular in this series that were difficult to capture?
God, yeah, there are lots and lots of animals that are so hard to capture that they hit the cutting room floor during post-production. For example, the sequence about the vampire jumping spider was difficult. Trying to film things on that degree of macro is really tricky. You’ve got to work with some real experts.
Building the mannequins in the jungle which we filmed in high speed is really tricky because you know the higher your shot the more light you need. In the jungle, that’s pretty difficult so they had to work really hard.
Also, slowly get the animals more and more used to there being cameras present presented another challenge. Our aim was to push things and get that bit further and to almost see the world through the animal’s eyes. At every level we were trying to really push the envelope so we used a lot of remote cameras to get close to the animals. Whether it was in their nests or spying on bears when they’re rubbing on trees. We really tried to go that extra mile.
What did you learn while working on this series?
Working on this series reminded me to try to do things differently. I think a lot of natural history films fall into the same kind of tropes, have the same type of voice, the same type of music. Working with James Cameron and FDA, they really wanted to make something different, something that went that bit further in terms of kind of revelation and information.
You’ve worked on a lot of great projects. What do you look for before getting involved?
A new perspective. Whether it’s how you capture things or whether you’re telling a story in new ways, something that doesn’t just feel like we’re going to do the same thing that you’ve done before.
How much pre production you do before?
Let’s say the average for a blockbuster like this has a three year lifespan. I would say we probably do at least half a year of just planning before we even begin. Then that represents so many shoots, going off to so many different places throughout this long period. We’re kind of pre-producing throughout the production period as well.
Of course with animals, you never know what you’re going to get. Some shoots completely fail, whether it’s the weather or the animals don’t turn up or some deliver something you’re not expecting. You’re always having to adapt your plans accordingly. So, in some ways, the freedom production never stops.
IMAGE CREDIT: National Geographic for Disney+/ChrisWatts.