A world of insects required “a whole lot of wingflaps,” according to Sound Designer Gary Rydstrom. Wingflaps helped convey the characters' personalities, and Rydstrom found himself mixing the sounds of everything from wet paper towels to World War II airplanes to a real dragonfly they found at Skywalker Ranch, which made “a huge and amazing sound.”
Capturing the world from a bug's perspective is no easy task. So Pixar's creative team watched "bug cam" footage—shots of flora and fauna from an insect's point of view. They found that a single clover looked like an enormous tree. Cracked mud resembled the Grand Canyon. But most impressive was the translucency of the bug world. When the sun was out and an insect walked on a leaf, its shadow could be seen through the leaf from below. This stained-glass effect inspired the film's vibrant colors.
Most of A Bug’s Life takes place within a few hundred square feet. The filmmakers got to know the tiny idyllic island “like a live-action set,” said John Lasseter. It was also home to a cast of thousands. The filmmakers had to contend with 400 crowd scenes, ranging from 25 to 1000 ants in each shot. In a first for animated film crowds, each character is unique, fully animated, and clearly acting.
Flik’s epic adventure had to lead to somewhere exciting, and the perfect contrast to a pastoral island was a city teeming with exotic insects. In a rare acknowledgement of human presence, the Pixar team created a bustling metropolis out of a garbage pile. It’s here that Flik encounters P.T. Flea’s Circus Troupe. According to Co-Director Andrew Stanton, the inspiration for a multinational flea circus“was the first thing that really felt like us, felt like Pixar.”
Garbage can be useful, particularly when you're trying to think of ideas for a bug-scaled circus. By rifling through trash, the artists transformed everyday objects into a miniature scaled version of a recognizable circus. Egg cartons stacked together looked like a grandstand. A broken umbrella, if painted pink and white, had the exact pattern and shape of a circus tent. A thimble looked big enough to serve as a pedestal for a flea. Prop by prop, a circus came together as if assembled by bugs.
The filmmakers had always seen Hopper’s herd of marauding grasshoppers as a motorcycle gang. An abandoned sombrero became a south-of-the-border hideout where the gang could party and Hopper could nurse his grudge. When the grasshoppers take to the sky bent on revenge, the sound design included motorcycle engines mixed in with the flapping wings.
The Pixar team quickly realized that Mother Nature is a terrific artist. Early in the process, Production Designer Bill Cone crawled on his stomach with a camera for a closer look at the vegetation that would become the film’s architecture. Art Director Tia Kratter spent a year painting natural objects. Their efforts came together in“The Leaf Bridge Test,” a scene that used sophisticated lighting to capture the translucence of a leaf and served as visual inspiration for the film.
A colorscript is a sequence of small pastel drawings or paintings used to emphasize color in each scene and establish a film's visual language.
There were three ways to think of color in A Bug’s Life, says colorscript creator Bill Cone: What season is it? What time of day is it? And what does the story require—gloom, sunshine, or threatening shadows? From glowing mushrooms and shafts of daylight in the ant’s bunker to the late afternoon lighting scheme for Flik and Atta’s romantic encounters, the colorscript set the tone.