The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is a research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for developing emerging technologies for military use. The agency partnered with Launch Media to produce an accessible science video telling the story of its Insect Allies project. The Insect Allies project provides new capabilities to protect the United States’ ability to respond rapidly to food supply threats such as massive insect contamination, drought or bio warfare.
The program consisted of three phases and included research teams from University of California Davis, University of Minnesota, Boyce Thompson Institute, Cornell University and the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, Launch Media entered the project collaboration at the end of phase three, essentially missing three-and-a-half years of potential footage.
We knew we needed to make up the lost time. So, we traveled to all of the schools and labs to document the process, interview the researchers and professors involved, and show the student scientists at work. The core of the project consisted of infecting insects (aphids) with a pathogen, introducing them to a crop of corn in a contained greenhouse area, and then introducing other insects with an additional virus to then destroy the original contamination.
Despite missing three years of the process, Launch had to figure out how to tell this complex story in a compelling, digestible way. In addition, much of the work was top secret at the time. And, we knew we would be working in extremely high-security labs with high-tech equipment.
For one sequence our director of photography was the only one allowed to shoot in a contained area. He was permitted inside with a hazmat suit. But, his equipment had to remain behind for a month to ensure no contaminated aphids made it out into the world.
In the end, we told the story through an extremely cinematic, documentary style. This allowed us to illustrate the in-depth research in a simple form to make it accessible for a wider audience. This was an amazingly important collaborative research project between some of the country’s leading minds and premier facilities, and Launch Media was proud to be a part of telling the story in a captivating science video.