Go Behind an Epic 40-Day Shoot for National Geographic’s Origins Series

National Geographic: Origins Case Study with Evolve Studios

Published on in Director's Cut

Evolve partnered with Aslyum Entertainment and show creator John Boswell to co-produce this un-scripted series for National Geographic. Origins: The Journey of Humankind, is an eight-part hour-long series that tells the story of human history from the beginning to present day.


What began as a cold call from National Geographic and Asylum Entertainment became an epic, end-to-end production enterprise that called on the greatest efforts from all phases of our creative team at Evolve. 

The task: help tell the story of human existence, from the earliest stages of man to this present moment, in 90 days.


Origins, one of National Geographic’s most ambitious and expensive projects ever, is an eight-part series that chronicles the journey of mankind. Through a blend of expert narration and cinematic storytelling, each episode focuses on a primal theme – such as fire, war, medicine or currency – that explores how we evolved into the creatures we are today.

Initially, Nat Geo and Asylum called upon us to leverage archival and stock footage to create short-form storytelling montages, or what they referred to as symphonies, several in each of the eight shows.

But following our production proposal, the approach to crafting these symphonies quickly evolved from an editorial execution to producing a massive archive of footage – from scratch.


What ensued was a 40-day, worldwide, live-action shoot that charted thousands of years.

We cast topnotch actors, employed wardrobe and makeup worthy of a summer blockbuster, shot on-location battle scenes, drew blood, set fires, built sets and more – all with scripts constantly in flux, and rewrites dropping into our laps with only a moment’s notice.

In some instances, scripts were so broad that we were forced to create metaphoric sequences to fit the budget and encapsulate the copy, which at times leaps through centuries in a sentence. For example, a silk dancer gliding in slow-motion through a silk-dressed set became a visual meditation on the long history of the Silk Road.


Origins challenged us to find ways to tell stories in the smartest, strongest way possible. Even a concept as broad as war, we learned, has its economic visual solution.


Our sprawling yet strategic production resulted in hours of content, which we licensed to Nat Geo to make it work for their budget. This content is all at once very pointed, speaking to the specificities of each Origins symphony, but also broad enough to be used in other facets of the show and beyond.

In the end, half of what users saw on screen was created by Evolve, and, in addition, we came away with a fully licensable catalog of compelling, original footage that lives forever in our archives.


Throughout this ambitious production, our relationships with Nat Geo and Asylum continually evolved.
As we exceeded expectations over and over, more and more was asked of us. 
So, after bringing home all the cinematic storytelling footage we were initially commissioned to shoot, we were then asked to design and build eight unique settings, in which Origins host Jason Silva could deliver his on-camera narration. Each host setting was a world unto itself, an interactive, living environment, with LED walls, atmosphere, and VFX augmentation tailored to the specific theme of each episode.

Subsequently, we were tapped to conceive, design, and create the animation and graphics packages for the series, and our titles were submitted by the network for Emmy consideration.

We pride ourselves on being a creative solutions partner, and in the end, as one ask led to another, the running joke was, "what else did Evolve do on this show?"


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About the Author

Evolve Studio
Evolve Studio
Evolve is an independent, award-winning content studio founded by brothers Joel and Jesse Edwards. A unique full-service studio, Evolve produces a diverse range of premium content from original episodic series, branded & commercial content, documentaries, promos, title sequences, digital films, and immersive VR content. In-house turnkey production capabilities feature original & branded content development, live-action film production services, editorial, VFX & complete post-production. Evolve partners collaboratively with distributors, television & VOD content networks, brands, creative agencies, marketing teams, producers and entertainment companies to tell authentic, compelling stories in a strikingly visual fashion.

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