National Geographic’s latest documentary takes a unique approach to capturing on camera the almost “supernatural” animals of the world.
Created by Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron and narrated by Academy Award-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Super/Natural invites viewers to see and hear beyond normal human perception to experience the world as a specific species does. From a bee’s-eye view of flowers to a deftly executed sequence that follows a goss hawk’s flight through dense canopies, the filmmakers bring us closer than ever to the natural world and the resourceful animals that reside within it.
Using the latest cinema technology such as infrared cameras and cutting-edge VFX, Cameron and his team weave a narrative that is as entertaining as it is informative.
“All the cameras are showcased within a sequence, whereas in other series, you only have one or two cameras at a time,” said executive producer Tom Hugh-Jones. “We almost tried to not film anything which didn’t have some sort of aspect of revelation.”
The result is an in-depth, high-definition product that draws viewers into the action while an intricate story unfolds.
“We wanted to get away from the ‘Voice of God’ format and bring viewers closer to the action,” said Hugh-Jones. “It took a lot of patience and collaboration and research from scientists in different fields.”
According to Hugh-Jones, the key to getting candid sequences is “finding that person who’s specifically working with a group of animals who has worked out a way to habituate them and get close to them.”
Cinematogrophers’ ability to capture rare animals in their natural habitats without disturbing them is not an easy feat, which is why in addition to the core team of more than 30 working on the series, Hugh-Jones estimates more than 1,000 people ultimately contributed to the project.
While high-speed cameras and drones did much of the heavy lifting, capturing the chaotic mating dance of the white-collared manakin and showcasing the triumphant leaps of Mexico’s devil rays, VFX was utilized to show the newly discovered relationship between fungi networks and tree roots. The visual enhancements augmented the shots of forests to help viewers better understand how trees communicate with one another through the subterranean “wood wide web.”
Cumberbatch is a fitting choice as narrator, not only for his considerable voice acting skills but also because he conjures images of the popular Dr. Strange. The mystical, fantastical theme of the Dr. Strange franchise carries over to Super/Natural, giving the series an eerie and otherworldly ambiance.
“It goes that bit deeper and further into animal abilities and I like the slightly trippy feel that it has. It really fits with the Benedict Cumberbatch ‘Dr. Strange’ vibe. We’re going to show you things that will blow your mind and go beyond your perception.”
As technology allows us to dig deeper and uncover the mysteries of the world around us, we are getting more unprecedented footage of the animals and ecosystems that developed eons before our species called our blue planet home. Super/Natural offers a more detailed glimpse into those systems than ever before.
The new series is available to stream on Disney+ starting Sept. 21.