“Macro filming proved to be a real challenge. We formed a special team, first turning an abandoned factory in Austria into a purpose-built studio, where we were able to work with 15 bee colonies. As a result we produced 105 hours of macro footage in 35 days.
Important experts were of course, Attila Boa the cameraman, but also a “bee-whisperer”.
Because you can’t really direct bees, tell them, what to do, we filmed in April and May (European spring) where most important things take place in the life of the bees, anyway. We had a long list of scenes we wanted to show in the film like “handing over nectar in the hive”, “storing pollen”, “building wax” or the “birth of a queen”.
The “bee-whisperer” checked in which colonies such an event might happen. At the same time we prepared things in the studio: a well-lit empty honeycomb around which we could place the appropriate camera and all the other necessary technical appliances. Then, he brought in the comb with the bees and we could only sit and hope that things he had observed in the hive would happen again in front of the camera. Of course, this meant that we used up endless amounts of material, especially because we filmed with 70 pictures per second. Finding the right bee with the tiny focus of an endoscope or macro lens already takes a lot of time. Sometimes totally different things happened than what we had expected and we had to change everything around in a hurry. Rarely we were able to help trigger certain events.
The heat caused additional difficulties. High-speed needs much more light. The higher the speed at which you want to film the more light you need, and that was a challenge because we were working with wax and the bees should not suffer. Whenever possible we worked outdoors and used mirrors, because the sun shines lighter than headlamps.
We had to experiment a lot to find the right speed, until we found out that at 70 pictures per second the bees moved at about the same speed as human beings. The viewer should not get the impression of Slow Motion. It should seem natural to watch the bees. At 70 pictures per second you can see what they are doing. When they are filmed with 24 pictures per second everything is so fast, the scrambling of the little legs, the tongues, antennae, wings, that it is impossible to perceive the details.
We filmed flying bees with 300 pictures per second. The wing movement seemed most natural at this speed. The wings move at 280 beats per second. For men, 24 pictures per second give a smoothly moving picture. For the bees, however, a smoothly moving picture happens between 250 and 280 pictures per second, because each individual lens of their compound eyes perceives a different image, and the next one another one, and so on. I was told about the fact after our decision to film the flying bees at different speeds. Therefore, at 300 pictures per second the bees and humans see the wing movement as a flowing movement and not as a stroboscope effect anymore.
Looking at all this effort in hindsight, it is not surprising that we needed to spend April and May of a second year until we got all the necessary footage of the bees in their diversity.”
Translated from an interview with Markus Imhoof published in the German press release
This post is also available in: German