Twenty years have passed since Lad Allen produced a short film about butterflies, and he still cannot get their designs out of his head.
The filmmaker, who has spent the past decade following the Intelligent Design movementa field of science that shuns the traditional, randomly undirected theory of evolution for the idea that the universe was carefully orchestrated by an intelligent causehas returned to the fluttery roots of the caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly in his latest project, "Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies."
"You realize something special is going on here, even if you don't understand all the nuts and bolts," Allen said of the transformation process initiated by caterpillars. "Butterflies were perfect for this because they are beautiful and everyone has an interest in them because you are exposed to their story at a very early age."
As producer and director of the film, Allen said he believes the documentary will prove to be a powerful tool in the cultural debate over evolution. Though critics of Intelligent Design dismiss the concept as merely an extension of creationism, its proponents counter it has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with science.
"There is absolutely a plan and a purpose in the origin and the development of all life on earth, the producer said, adding that he believes there is no species on earth that provides definitive proof for evolution.
"Nothing is developed randomly, nothing is developed by chance or through an undirected process."
Tapping scientific research
That science, Allen said, has developed through contacts they have developed through the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank specializing in Intelligent Design and its cultural impacts. Much of the research cited in the film is derived by scientists affiliated with the institute.
"It's more than this random chaos that ended up planets and people," he said.
Coupling that science with high-quality cinematography, photography, computer animation and magnetic resonance imaging, Allen said, creates a stunning argument for Intelligent Design. Those arguments, particularly how they relate to the life of a butterfly, are featured in the film's script.
"Our objective is all about the science of the movement and presenting the evidence in such a way that even someone who is skeptical of design would stop and think about it," he said. "We desire to create films of a technical or artistic quality that can measure up to films shown on PBS, but with an eye toward ID."
The latest film project compliments a trilogy of documentaries produced by Allen's company, Illustra Media. The trilogy, a seven-year effort explores ID through the lens of chemistry and microbiology in "Unlocking the Mystery of Life;" physics, astronomy and cosmology in "The Privileged Planet;" and the fossil record in "Darwin's Dilemma."
The series and several others in the Illustra Media ID arsenal have sold more than 1 million copies worldwide and have been translated into dozens of languages.
"The last 10 years we have built up a strong following of our films all across the world," he said.
In producing the new film, the Illustra team traveled to Mexico, Ecuador and the University of Florida's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Fort Lauderdale's renowned Butterfly World.
"We try taking the material and distilling it down to something that is more accessible to a general audience," he said.
The films have been popular among high school and college students, where the filmmakers believe they have the greatest opportunity to impact conversation around the topic.
"We like to bring it to accredited institutions because it always brings a lively debate," he said.
Children, he said, also seem to appreciate the message, even if they do not understand all the technical aspects of the process.
"They can still see the metamorphosis from the cocoon to a butterfly, and they get it," Allen said. "They see it and intuitively know it's special."
The director admits the ID films are not viewed as special in many academic circles, which have limited access by saying Intelligent Design is not science.
"People aren't always going to agree," Allen said. "This is one of those timeless questions that has burned since man began. We are taking on one of the great, great worldviews ever presented and challenging it in a way we feel is most effective and that is creating a case for design."
The "Metamorphosis" film, available on DVD or Blu-ray, may be purchased on their website or at Amazon.com.