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Looming spider: a hunt like no other

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Matt Walker Matt Walker | 10:40 UK time, Monday, 6 June 2011

A scene from the movie Loom, depicting a spider and moth (image: Polynoid)

A scene from the movie Loom, depicting a spider and moth (image: Polynoid)

Talk about inspirational.

I want to share a short film with you – one that has been inspired by nature. If you love the natural world you should love this.

The film itself is also inspirational – to filmmakers, natural history documentary makers and people like myself who enjoy looking at nature in as many original ways as possible.

The movie is called Loom, and it tells a simple story - of how a moth is captured in a spider’s web, and how despite its best efforts to wriggle free, it succumbs to the spider which feasts upon it.

It’s just over 5 minutes long, and you can view it here.

Loom from Polynoid on Vimeo.

I think it’s a stunning piece of production, as too have the judges at numerous film festivals. They have given it a series of awards since the film was completed in 2010.

I’ve been in touch with the makers of Loom to find out more about why they made the film and how they went about it.

According to Jan Bitzer, one of Loom’s directors, they started out by watching a number of clips of spider behaviour filmed by the BBC’s own Natural History Unit, to which BBC Nature online is affiliated. Jan told me:

“It helped us a lot in studying the dynamics of insects in a web-like structure."

Jan and colleagues Ilija Brunck, Csaba Letay, Fabian Pross and Tom Weber, among others, are members of Polynoid, a Berlin-based film-making collective.  

The team then studied how natural history documentaries are made, researching the camera angles used. For example, when shooting nature documentaries it is sometimes tricky to keep the action in frame and focus, since the animals naturally move unexpectedly, say the team.

So they kept that in mind when setting up their scenes, adding a bit of imperfection to the camera movement and focus to simulate a "life-like" feel to it.

Loom of course does not depict a real spider and moth. After they had done their homework, the filmmakers recreated everything from scratch in CGI (Computer Generated Images). This involved modelling the insects, painting their surfaces and defining the materials they consist of, plus animating them using software. The self-styled Polynoid crew then lit them to achieve the desired look and used a cluster of computers to calculate the images.

This homework has paid off, as the interaction between the two arthropods does look and feel extremely life-like.

The film really succeeds though in offering a new perspective on wildlife and wildlife film-making.

In Jan’s words:

“We like taking on 'everyday' happenings, in this case a spider catching and digesting a moth, and adding our point of view. We try to put a whole new perspective on something that each of us had to study in biology class while still in school. There is a lot of fascination hidden in little tiny details, and by finding the right dynamics of storytelling we want to bring those details right up to the front, for everyone to enjoy.”

Enjoy it I did. I hope you do to.

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