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Where EAST meets the Northwest

A BUGíS LIFE. Bugs! ó currently showing at the OMNIMAX Dome Theater in southeast Portland ó follows the lives of a caterpillar/butterfly named Papilio and a green mantis named Hierodula in the rainforest of Borneo. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #30 (August 4, 2009), page 11.

Bugs! uses new technology to bring Borneo rainforest to life


Directed by Mike Slee

Produced by Principal Large Format in association with Image Quest 3D

Distributed by SK Films

Now playing at the Oregon Museum of

Science & Industryís OMNIMAX Dome Theater

By Allison Voigts

IMAX filmmakers have given moviegoers good reason to flock to their films ó and it isnít the dark, air-conditioned stadium theater, though thatís an obvious draw on a hot summer day. This time itís Bugs!, a major accomplishment in 3D microscopic filmmaking that explores the alien world of insects in the rainforest of Borneo.

Scripted like a feature film, Bugs! follows the lives of its stars, a mantis named Hierodula and a caterpillar/butterfly named Papilio, from hatching to death with plenty of conflict and romance in between.

Hierodula begins his life as one of thousands of slimy mantises sliding out of a single egg in a writhing mass. Papilio, on the other hand, chews her way out of her hard shell before launching forth into the forest as a lumbering caterpillar. One is a meat-eater, the other a plant-eater, making them natural enemies whose paths will eventually cross in a fateful encounter.

As the two main characters eat their way through life around an abandoned, dilapidated hut deep in the rainforest, a cast of supporting actors and actresses cross the screen, including bees, ants, tarantulas, beetles, millipedes, thorn bugs, and other prehistoric-looking creatures.

Two rhinoceros beetles battle with their enormous, tough horns for the affections of a female, who wags her hips (if insects had hips) on the sidelines. Meanwhile, another bug avoids confrontation by making a noise like fingernails running down a chalkboard.

In filming Bugs!, specialist photographer Peter Parks created a new way of photographing 3D, with a tiny mirror on the front of giant camera systems that allowed cinematographers to get close-up shots without losing focus on the background. The new mirror, along with miniature "snorkel" cameras, gives viewers a sense of immersion in each shot rather than a feeling of looking through a microscope.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than after a torrential rainstorm on the set (where it rains 120 inches a year), in which drops of water hit the earth like cannonballs and the insects must take shelter. When the storm ceases, an ant ventures out to drink from a water droplet. The antís miniscule body cannot pierce the droplet, and it flails on top of it like a human on a half-inflated air mattress.

This kind of "wow!" moment abounds in the 40-minute film, whether the insects are travelling in novel ways or disguising themselves in a number of surprising shapes and colors. They are "supreme survivors," says Judi Dench, who narrates the film ó partly because they are excellent at reproducing.

"After a few days I realized that insects arenít that unlike humans, in that they are mainly motivated by food and sex! Each scene was based around Ďwhat would this bug like to eat or have sex with?í" says director Mike Slee.

While this premise may sound too simple for a film, the tension surrounding the basic processes will engross viewers. Hierodula, the mantis, must approach his lover with caution lest she bite his head off. And Papilio encounters a hungry predator ó a scene in which one little girl in the theater cried, "No! Donít do that!"

If there is any disappointment in Bugs!, it is only in discovering that each spectacular scene was carefully engineered by IMAX filmmakers. Some of the insects featured in the movie are not actually natives of Borneo, but were included to represent a sort of "general Old World rainforest" (i.e. southeast Asian rainforest).

Many of the bugs, including Papilio and Hierodula, travelled to a temperature-controlled U.K. studio to film some of the crucial scenes, including Papilioís transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Learning the dramatic scene was shot under intense artificial floodlights instead of the natural environment that appears on screen may be disappointing, but at least we can give the Bugs! team credit for a seamless and gratifying viewing experience.

Bugs! shows daily through September 7 at 11:00am, 2:00pm, 4:00pm, and 6:00pm in the OMNIMAX Dome Theater at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, located at 1945 S.E. Water Avenue in Portland. To learn more, call (503) 797-4640 or visit <>.