A close-up of an elephant hawkmoth perched on a lichen covered twig
A leafcutter ant carries a leaf down a branch
Bill Markham has been wowed by wildlife throughout his twenty-seven years making nature documentaries (Night on Earth, Animal), but as series producer of A Real Bug's Life, he discovered that small is beautiful, too.
The new, five-episode National Geographic series, which premieres January 24 on Disney+ and narrated by Awkwafina, is an immersive tour of microsized insect worlds — from the Costa Rican rainforest to the African savanna to the streets of New York — all captured in mind-boggling detail. "The show came along just as filming technologies were reaching new peaks," Markham explains. "Low-light cameras meant our somewhat delicate subjects wouldn't overheat, and a new generation of probe lenses let us film extreme close-ups against wide, contextual backgrounds. We had the tools to change our perspective."
The bugs may not be cuddly, but they are surprisingly relatable.
"Scientists now believe that spiders dream, and there's a bee that gathers a cocktail of exotic scents to produce a perfume to attract lady bees — the only animal in the world apart from humans to create a bespoke scent," he says. "Big beasts are more obviously lovable and dramatic, so we had to work hard to make sure our beetles, ants and praying mantises were just as watchable and exciting."
Markham, who has already filmed Season 2, says he's barely scratched the surface. "There are estimated to be six million species of insects out there, and we've only focused on about twenty. The microverse is right under our noses."
A Real Bug's Life is now streaming on Disney+. This article originally appeared in emmy magazine #12, 2023, under the title "Bugging Out."