A Real Bug’s Life Brings Pixar’s Sensibility To A Natural World Series
The series flies from the African savanna to other episodes that look at the Costa Rican rainforest, a British farm, a Texas backyard, and into big city life where bugs live amongst the densest populations of humans. Part of landing the right tone was finding a narrator that could put their own spin on the material. They secured that in casting actor and comedian Awkwafina, whose star only continues to rise after the success of her Comedy Central series Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, an award-winning lead turn in A24’s critical darling The Farewell, and appearances in recent major studio releases, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and Renfield. “Using Awkwafina brought her own magic and own words to the read,” Markham says.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the series’ African-set episode, “Land of Giants,” that juxtaposes tiny creatures and their David vs. Goliath battles against the areas’ famed “Big Five.” That episode highlights the crux of the challenge for the filmmakers.
“People love a cuddly mammal with big eyes,” he says. “A lot of people overlook [bugs]. We focused on charismatic and engaging bugs that we could relate to. Really good stories and good drama. This was going to be our challenge. We knew Awkwafina would appeal to people and bring in a new audience.”
While hiking in the Ngorongoro Crater, I came across one of the show’s “characters” from the episode “Land of Giants” firsthand: a dung beetle in the finishing stages of neatly packing an impressively round ball of… poop. Normally the hike would have continued onwards, but I had gained a new appreciation for the dung beetle’s role in the wider ecosystem. They are nature’s little waste management experts.
“Bugs are thought of as cold-blooded and unsophisticated but [dung beetles] actually warm their wings up so they can use them more efficiently,” he says. “You’ve seen it yourselves. During a safari it can be freezing cold, which is surprising on your first trip to the savanna. But these dung beetles want to get ahead of the competition and get to the food first so they warm their wings up and they fly as fast as they can to breakfast.”
The “real” innovation behind A Real Bug’s Life is the series’ ability to utilize new camera technology to get viewers down to ant-level. In some instances, like a scene where acacia ants are working together to defend their territory against an elephant, the crew is using 45-degree lenses that enable them to point downwards towards the ants, and then upwards at their foes. “It was important to us to see the world as an ant would,” he says.