Welcome To Earth’s Producer on Will Smith, Glowing Squirrels

Most humans spend their entire lives on Earth. But the planet we live on still holds many secrets. New National Geographic series Welcome to earth Reveal some of those secrets with a little help from Will Smith, humanity’s most famous rap and alien punching Fresh Prince. He joins several researchers and explorers to investigate the hidden corners of the world and the incredible sights, sounds and other sensations that allow us to perceive them.

The six-part series on the Disney + streaming service premieres December 8 and spans adventures in 34 countries, across seven continents, spanning nearly 2 million miles of voyages around the globe to immerse yourself (sometimes literally) in the hidden wonders of the Earth. . Bleeding-edge technology is used to record what the equipment discovers. Producers on the series include Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and former Discovery Networks president and BBC2 controller Jane Root, whose production company Nutopia has delivered a long list of popular and critically acclaimed documentary series in recent years, including How we got so far and The world according to Jeff Goldblum.

Tips Clear spoke with Root about the process of persuading the Independence Day and star to walk through glaciers, explore the ocean in a plastic bubble, and hang out on the edge of a volcano, as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international production and the innovative technology used in the Serie.

Will Smith and marine biologist Diva Amon in a scene from Welcome to Earth.

Tips Clear: Jane, how did Will Smith end up climbing glaciers and exploring underwater caverns on the show?

Jane Root: Well we did a series [with Will Smith] before this called A strange rock. National Geographic gave the show the green light and introduced us to Darren Aronofsky. We needed a narrator for the series and Will Smith was suggested. So he did some storytelling and a bit of filming, just short snippets for the camera, caps, and tails. He really liked the series and said, “I will do it again. But next time, I want to go. “So it was all of him. He was like,” I’m leaving. You’re not going to stop me. I’m not sitting there talking about what it’s like to go to these amazing places and not go myself. Like this. take me “. And we said, “Okay!”

Was he aware of what he was getting into?

Well, I asked him: “Do you really understand how much travel is involved, how many days? Some can be really uncomfortable and even dangerous. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, I get it. I still want to do it.” So we embarked on it. The first place we took him was to the Serengeti to see the wildebeest migration, which he had been obsessed with since he was a child. He really loved it. We spent quite a short trip there, but we did get to see the wildebeest across the river, and it was amazing. Our showrunner, Graham Booth, who is a great natural history filmmaker, had never filmed that happening, and had been to the Serengeti many times. Afterward, Will said, “That was great, but I want to do more.” So we took more time to go even further, even more dangerous, more exciting, taking him to places that were more and more difficult to reach. And then the pandemic happened.

Explorer Albert Lin and Will Smith in the desert in a scene from Welcome to Earth.

How did that affect the production of the series?

We decided that what we had to do was keep filming, but we started going to much more isolated places. The segments in Iceland and Namibia were filmed in the middle of the pandemic.

You can’t distance yourself more socially than hiking a glacier in Iceland I guess.

Absolutely. So the situation became a kind of advantage, because it encouraged us to go to places where there was no one else, no tourists or people living there. We were in the middle of nowhere and we could control a lot of those elements. And in Iceland something amazing happened. We had about 120 people with us on that trip and we needed to test for COVID every other day for the entire crew. There was not enough capacity for the Icelandic government to do that, so we built our own laboratory in the basement of a hotel. We imported all the chemicals for testing and found that two of our research team had been chemists as undergraduate and graduate students, and they said, “We can actually do this. It is not so difficult. Just set up a test location. “

The Mily Way is reflected in the floodwaters of the salt flat in a scene from Welcome to Earth.

It seems appropriate for a project like this to have multiple chemists on the production team …

Right? It was like, “Does anyone here have a master’s degree in chemistry?” And several people raised their hands. So in that moment we think, “Okay! This is going to work! “

We had to import all the chemicals for testing because the government didn’t have enough, and then we set up a working COVID testing site. We then donated that site to the Icelandic government when we left. I think it is still being used.

Will Smith is wonderful on the show, but what about the team of scouts that accompany him on all these adventures? How was the process of assembling the team for each segment with Will?

The National Geographic Explorers are an incredible group of people. They are National Geographic sponsors to continue their research. We observed hundreds of people around the world, and every explorer is a great scientist, but we were also looking for people who were brilliant communicators. Look at Diva Amon, who is a native of the Caribbean, a woman of color and has an amazing enthusiasm for what she is doing. Hardly any woman is a deep-sea oceanographer, and she is one of the few women of color who does those things. Will was really scared on the journey he took with her, but his passion shines through the screen and makes everyone feel more comfortable around him. We found people like that, who were simply in love with what they do and yearned to communicate it to the rest of the world.

Will’s reactions to everything around him add a truly unique element to the show. Sometimes he seems genuinely scared and uncomfortable with certain elements, even though he gets over it. Not seen that often with famous hosts. Did that catch your eye while doing the show?

I sometimes describe Will’s willingness to panic as his superpower. Many people who do what he does for a living: he was one of the Men in blackAfter all, they are not comfortable admitting that they are scared. There’s a point in an episode where he’s playing games and he says, “I have my superhero face ‘I’m not scared'” and he makes a face. But then he says, “That’s not really me.” You are prepared to admit that you are scared, and you are prepared to admit that things are out of your comfort zone. That is so important.

In one of the episodes, she says, “My grandmother always told me that the best things in life are on the other side of fear,” and then, “I hope Gigi is right!” That became a mantra for him: that his grandmother had said, “Do it!” Your willingness to be open to the experience is one of the wonderful things that I can see in the entire experience.

Explorer Dwayne Fields and Will Smith kayak in a scene from Welcome to Earth.

You have worked on so many great science and documentary series over the years. How do you make sure that each one offers something unique and they don’t all get mixed up?

Endless meetings! [Laughs] There are so many conversations, and so many conversations, even before the cameras start recording, and then until the end. There is a lot of talk about what makes this show unique. What is the new technology that we can use, for example? That is something important. We use military grade night vision goggles and cameras. [in Welcome to Earth] and night vision drones. A drone is quite difficult to handle, but a night vision drone is filming in the dark and you cannot see it while you are piloting it. That is another level.

Graham was the person who found a lot of those things to wear, and a lot of it came from the military. It is not used in movies or television often, if at all. So you are on the outer limits of what is possible, most of the time, and you are filming things that have never been filmed before. That is really exciting and it makes it special.

As you mentioned, the series features a lot of new features, from the technology you use to what you filmed. What were some of the highlights for you?

Well, there’s the slime sequence, which may sound like it’s not very interesting, but if you ask the crew what things they’re in awe of that they managed to film, slime was one of them. There is also the movement of the anemone running across the reef, almost like horses. That was so unique to see. Oh, and there are also the fluorescent squirrels, which were quite fun.

Iguazu Falls seen with infrared light in a Welcome to Earth scene

Yes! Who would have thought that some squirrels glow? It makes me want to buy an infrared light to use in my own backyard.

Right? Apparently, all over the world now, there are scientists pointing these special infrared lights at things, all because until recently, no one knew that squirrels did that. It never occurred to anyone to start illuminating squirrels with infrared lights. And we are discovering what can be seen with different lights. That’s the thing: you can find something miraculous right in front of your nose if you look at it the right way. Of course, then you have to figure out how to film it in a way that communicates how miraculous it is as well.

The show’s first season has six episodes, but are there plans to do more? After all, there is a lot of Earth to explore …

Absolutely. Will is already like, “Where do we go now?” So I don’t think anyone will stop it, and yes, there are places in the world that you still need to ponder.

The National Geographic series Welcome to earth premieres December 8 on the Disney + streaming service.

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