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TED2014

Louie Schwartzberg: Hidden miracles of the natural world

Filmed:

We live in a world of unseeable beauty, so subtle and delicate that it is imperceptible to the human eye. To bring this invisible world to light, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg bends the boundaries of time and space with high-speed cameras, time lapses and microscopes. At TED2014, he shares highlights from his latest project, a 3D film titled "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which slows down, speeds up, and magnifies the astonishing wonders of nature.

- Filmmaker
Louie Schwartzberg is a cinematographer, director and producer who captures breathtaking images that celebrate life -- revealing connections, universal rhythms, patterns and beauty. Full bio

What is the intersection
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between technology, art and science?
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Curiosity and wonder,
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because it drives us to explore,
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because we're surrounded by things we can't see.
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And I love to use film
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to take us on a journey
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through portals of time and space,
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to make the invisible visible,
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because what that does,
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it expands our horizons,
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it transforms our perception,
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it opens our minds
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and it touches our heart.
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So here are some scenes
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from my 3D IMAX film,
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"Mysteries of the Unseen World."
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(Music)
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There is movement which is too slow
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for our eyes to detect,
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and time lapse makes us discover
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and broaden our perspective of life.
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We can see how organisms emerge and grow,
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how a vine survives by creeping from the forest floor
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to look at the sunlight.
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And at the grand scale,
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time lapse allows us to see our planet in motion.
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We can view not only the vast sweep of nature,
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but the restless movement of humanity.
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Each streaking dot represents a passenger plane,
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and by turning air traffic data
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into time-lapse imagery,
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we can see something that's above us constantly
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but invisible:
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the vast network of air travel over the United States.
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We can do the same thing with ships at sea.
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We can turn data into a time-lapse view
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of a global economy in motion.
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And decades of data
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give us the view of our entire planet
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as a single organism
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sustained by currents circulating
throughout the oceans
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and by clouds swirling through the atmosphere,
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pulsing with lightning,
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crowned by the aurora borealis.
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It may be the ultimate time-lapse image:
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the anatomy of Earth brought to life.
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At the other extreme,
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there are things that move too fast for our eyes,
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but we have technology that can look into that world
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as well.
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With high-speed cameras,
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we can do the opposite of time lapse.
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We can shoot images that are thousands of times
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faster than our vision.
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And we can see how nature's
ingenious devices work,
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and perhaps we can even imitate them.
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When a dragonfly flutters by,
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you may not realize,
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but it's the greatest flier in nature.
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It can hover, fly backwards,
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even upside down.
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And by tracking markers on an insect's wings,
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we can visualize the air flow that they produce.
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Nobody knew the secret,
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but high speed shows that a dragonfly
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can move all four wings in different directions
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at the same time.
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And what we learn can lead us
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to new kinds of robotic flyers
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that can expand our vision
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of important and remote places.
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We're giants, and we're unaware
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of things that are too small for us to see.
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The electron microscope fires electrons
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which creates images
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which can magnify things by as much
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as a million times.
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This is the egg of a butterfly.
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And there are unseen creatures
living all over your body,
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including mites that spend their entire lives
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dwelling on your eyelashes,
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crawling over your skin at night.
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Can you guess what this is?
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Shark skin.
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A caterpillar's mouth.
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The eye of a fruit fly.
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An eggshell.
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A flea.
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A snail's tongue.
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We think we know most of the animal kingdom,
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but there may be millions of tiny species
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waiting to be discovered.
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A spider also has great secrets,
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because spider's silk thread is pound for pound
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stronger than steel
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but completely elastic.
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This journey will take us all the way down
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to the nano world.
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The silk is 100 times thinner
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than human hair.
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On there is bacteria,
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and near that bacteria, 10 times smaller,
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a virus.
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Inside of that, 10 times smaller,
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three strands of DNA,
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and nearing the limit of our
most powerful microscopes,
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single carbon atoms.
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With the tip of a powerful microscope,
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we can actually move atoms
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and begin to create amazing nano devices.
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Some could one day patrol our body
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for all kinds of diseases
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and clean out clogged arteries along the way.
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Tiny chemical machines of the future
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can one day, perhaps, repair DNA.
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We are on the threshold of extraordinary advances,
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born of our drive
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to unveil the mysteries of life.
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So under an endless rain of cosmic dust,
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the air is full of pollen,
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micro-diamonds and jewels from other planets,
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and supernova explosions.
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People go about their lives
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surrounded by the unseeable.
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Knowing that there's so much around us
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we can see
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forever changes our understanding of the world,
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and by looking at unseen worlds, we recognize
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that we exist in the living universe,
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and this new perspective creates wonder
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and inspires us to become explorers
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in our own backyards.
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Who knows what awaits to be seen
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and what new wonders will transform our lives.
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We'll just have to see.
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(Applause)
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Thank you. (Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Louie Schwartzberg - Filmmaker
Louie Schwartzberg is a cinematographer, director and producer who captures breathtaking images that celebrate life -- revealing connections, universal rhythms, patterns and beauty.

Why you should listen

Louie Schwartzberg is a cinematographer, director and producer whose career spans more than four decades of providing breathtaking imagery using his time-lapse, high-speed and macro cinematography techniques. Schwartzberg tells stories that celebrate life and reveal the mysteries and wisdom of nature, people and places.

Schwartzberg's recent theatrical releases include the 3D IMAX film, Mysteries of the Unseen World with National Geographic, narrated by Forest Whitaker, and the documentary Wings of Life for Disneynature, narrated by Meryl Streep. Mysteries of the Unseen World is a journey into invisible worlds that are too slow, too fast, too small and too vast for the human eye to see, while Wings of Life focuses on pollination and the web of life. Schwartzberg also directed Soarin' Around the World, an international update to the original Soarin' ride now showing at Disney Parks in Anaheim, Orlando and Shanghai.

Designed to inspire, educate and evolve our perspective on the world, Schwartzberg creates and curates Moving Art videos, which can be found on your smart phone and Netflix. The Moving Art series will be expanded from six to thirteen videos in early 2017.

Schwartzberg's Gratitude Revealed series of shorts were launched on Oprah.com. Supported by the Templeton Foundation, with science and analytics by the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, the series explores the multifaceted virtues of gratitude. Schwartzberg is the first filmmaker to be inducted into the Association for the Advancement of Science and the Lemelson Foundation’s Invention Ambassadors Program.

For Schwartzberg, the greatest satisfaction is creating works that can have a positive effect on the future of the planet. "I hope my films inspire and open people's hearts," he says. "Beauty is nature's tool for survival -- we protect what we love. Nature's beauty can open hearts, and the shift in consciousness we need to sustain and celebrate life."

More profile about the speaker
Louie Schwartzberg | Speaker | TED.com