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Gilded Butterflies and the secrets of their scales DVD cover image

2013 52 minutes DVD (region-free)

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Starting from the material collected on film over the past many years, we here present the first-ever film account of the fascinating and amazing world of colour generation in, and on, the scales on the wings of the world’s butterflies.

Hardly ever described, though essential to survival, the butterfly’s colours and how they are made have become in our generation a significant area of research and application, one of the fields of biomimetics or reverse engineering, in which we try to understand such processes and then reproduce and apply them artificially.

Originally this film was to have been a sort of Retrospective designed to show a selection of the best pictures obtained over many years of butterfly-filming on every possible occasion, when not occupied with other time-demanding activities, domestic, official, national and international.

That concept became changed after some experimental colour manipulation on the computer, and even more, from reading about the nature of colour in animals in Andrew Parker’s excellent book “Seven Deadly Colours”. Then it got fertilized by extensive discussions with my close friend Zsolt Balint, who is responsible for the butterflies in the National Museum in Budapest. So it pupated, until it emerged transformed into a full-scale project designed to explain the role of colour in butterflies, and the extraordinary diversity of ways in which it is made.

Nadia Khuzayim then generously agreed to help with the project, contributing her electron scanning microscope skills, and up-to- date knowledge as a specialist in the science of butterfly colour generation and its potential industrial applications.

The work required was immense; our historic film stock ranged from digitised reels of 16mm Kodachrome film (up to 1995), through many reels of analogue video, to even more of digital video. Clips of butterflies in about 20 countries needed examination. Re-assessing all that so as to find telling material for interpreting colour, was a demanding first stage.

Negotiating access for Nadia to the Natural History Museum’s scanning microscopes (the “Science Facilities”) and guaranteeing financial responsibility for an unknown number of hours or days’ work on them was just another hurdle to be jumped.

Through many friends, and from many introductions far and wide made for us to colleagues by Zsolt Balint, we have had access to material and advice of many kinds.

We hope the resulting film will be a rewarding experience for butterfly-watchers of all ages. Making it has certainly changed the way we look at a butterfly's colours. Perhaps it will do the same for you!