How Mushroom Time-Lapses Are Filmed: A Glimpse Into the Pioneering Time-Lapse Cinematography Behind the Netflix Documentary Fantastic Fungi

Mush­rooms are hav­ing a moment, thanks in part to pio­neer­ing time-lapse cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Louie Schwartzberg’s doc­u­men­tary Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi.

Now stream­ing on Net­flix, the film has giv­en rise to a bumper crop of funghi fantat­ics, who sprang up like, well, mush­rooms, to join the exist­ing ranks of cit­i­zen sci­en­tistsculi­nary fansweek­end for­agersama­teur grow­ers, and spir­i­tu­al seek­ers.

Schwartzberg, who ear­li­er visu­al­ized pol­li­na­tion from the flower’s point of view in the Meryl Streep-nar­rat­ed Wings of Life, is a true believ­er in the pow­er of mush­rooms, cit­ing funghi’s role in soil cre­ation and health, and their poten­tial for rem­e­dy­ing a num­ber of press­ing glob­al prob­lems, as well as a host of human ail­ments.

Fan­tas­tic Funghi focus­es on sev­en pil­lars of ben­e­fits brought to the table by the fun­gal king­dom and its Inter­net-like under­ground net­work of myceli­um:

  1. Bio­di­ver­si­ty

A num­ber of projects are explor­ing the ways in which the myceli­um world can pull us back from the bring of  deser­ti­za­tion, water short­age, food short­age, bee colony col­lapsetox­ic con­t­a­m­i­nants, nuclear dis­as­ters, oil spills, plas­tic pol­lu­tion, and glob­al warm­ing.

  1. Inno­va­tion

Mush­room-relat­ed indus­tries are eager to press funghi into ser­vice as envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able faux leatherbuild­ing mate­ri­als, pack­ag­ing, and meat alter­na­tives.

  1. Food

From fine din­ing to for­ag­ing off-the-grid, mush­rooms are prized for their culi­nary and nutri­tion­al ben­e­fits.

  1. Phys­i­cal Health and Well­ness

Will the hum­ble mush­room prove mighty enough to do an end run around pow­er­ful drug com­pa­nies as a source of inte­gra­tive med­i­cine to help com­bat dia­betes, liv­er dis­ease, inflam­ma­tion, insom­nia and cog­ni­tive decline?

  1. Men­tal Health

Researchers at Johns Hop­kinsUCLA, and NYU are run­ning clin­i­cal tri­als on the ben­e­fits of psy­che­del­ic psilo­cy­bin mush­rooms as a tool for treat­ing addic­tion, depres­sion, anx­i­ety, PTSD and sui­ci­dal ideation.

  1. Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty

Of course, there’s also a rich tra­di­tion of reli­gions and indi­vid­ual seek­ers deploy­ing mind alter­ing psy­choac­tive mush­rooms as a form of sacra­ment or a tool for plumb­ing the mys­ter­ies of life.

  1. The Arts

Direc­tor Schwartzberg under­stand­ably views mush­rooms as muse, a fit­ting sub­ject for pho­tog­ra­phy, music, film, poet­ry, art and oth­er cre­ative endeav­ors.


With regard to this final pil­lar, many view­ers may be sur­prised to learn how much of the 15 years Schwartzberg ded­i­cat­ed to cap­tur­ing the exquis­ite cycle of fun­gal regen­er­a­tion and decom­po­si­tion took place indoors.

As he explains in the Wired video above, his pre­ci­sion equip­ment excels at cap­tur­ing devel­op­ment that’s invis­i­ble to the human eye, but is no match for such nat­ur­al world dis­rup­tions as insects and wind.

Instead, he and his team built con­trolled grow­ing envi­ron­ments, where high­ly sen­si­tive time lapse cam­eras, dol­lies, timed grow lights, and more cin­e­mat­ic light­ing instru­ments could be left in place.

Set dress­ings of moss and logs, cou­pled with a very short depth of field helped to bring the Great Out­doors onscreen, with occa­sion­al chro­makeyed panora­mas of the nat­ur­al world fill­ing in the gaps.

Even in such lab-like con­di­tions, cer­tain ele­ments were nec­es­sar­i­ly left to chance. Mush­rooms grow noto­ri­ous­ly quick­ly, and even with con­stant mon­i­tor­ing and cal­cu­la­tions, there was plen­ty of poten­tial for one of his stars to miss their mark, shoot­ing out of frame.

Just one of the ways that mush­rooms and humans oper­ate on rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent time­lines. The direc­tor bowed to the shrooms, return­ing to square one on the fre­quent occa­sions when a sequence got away from him.

Pro­vid­ing view­ers an immer­sive expe­ri­ence of the under­ground myceli­um net­work required high pow­ered micro­scopes, a sol­id cement floor, and a bit of movie mag­ic to finesse. What you see in the final cut is the work of CGI ani­ma­tors, who used Schwartzberg’s footage as their blue­print.

Net­flix sub­scribers can stream Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi for free.

From Octo­ber 15 — 17, film­mak­er Louie Schwartzberg is host­ing a free, vir­tu­al Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi Glob­al Sum­mit. Reg­is­ter here.

You can also browse his col­lec­tion of com­mu­ni­ty mush­room recipes and sub­mit your own, down­load Fan­tas­tic Fungi’s Stoned Ape poster, or have a ram­ble through a trove of relat­ed videos and arti­cles in the Mush Room.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

John Cage Had a Sur­pris­ing Mush­room Obses­sion (Which Began with His Pover­ty in the Depres­sion)

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

The Gold­en Guide to Hal­lu­cino­genic Plants: Dis­cov­er the 1977 Illus­trat­ed Guide Cre­at­ed by Harvard’s Ground­break­ing Eth­nob­otanist Richard Evan Schultes

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Brood X Cicadas are her mush­rooms. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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