Animation: Marie Tharp – Revealing the Secrets of the Ocean Floor

Mapping the ocean floors

An animation I produced last year with animator / illustrator Rosanna Wan for the Royal Institution.

Rosanna’s distinct visuals incorporate a hand drawn style that tell the story of cartographer Marie Tharp, whose work helped to detail the complex geography of ocean floors around the world.

Her maps helped to demonstrate that the ocean floor was in fact a complex assortment of peaks and troughs – which went against conventional wisdom at the time. Despite fierce opposition, she stuck fast to her findings and as more data was collated, the tide of opposition turned, paving the way for our modern understanding of plate tectonics.

Directed and animated by Rosanna Wan.

Produced and scripted by Ed Prosser.

Narrated by Helen Czerski.

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VIDEO: The Story of Zero

Here’s a short animation I wrote and produced with animator / illustrator Andrew Khosravani.

The piece is narrated by Hannah Fry and tells the story of how zero became a number. We were very happy about it getting a “Staff Pick” on Vimeo!

The scripting for the piece was tricky, it took several weeks to wrap our heads around the subject and then boil a significant amount of history down into around 3 minutes… inevitably details had to be cut and even after recording the voice-over with Hannah we had to make some difficult decisions to make further cuts. All in the name of reducing animation time – which was significant for a piece like this – Andrew did an incredible job!

Oh and the chapter numbers are obviously all in binary.

VIDEO: The Risks of The Everyday – with Jared Diamond

Over the summer I worked with the talented artist and illustrator Andrew Khosravani on what will be the first of a series of animated shorts for the Royal Institution’s digital video channels.

For sometime I’d wanted to re-purpose content from our long-form lecture videos by excerpting audio clips and using these as the basis for animations. Other organisations have had great success doing this in the past, particularly the RSA (check out their RSA animate videos) and so it struck me as a no-brainer when Andrew recently joined our team.

In choosing the right clip, it was important to find an excerpt that was fairly self-contained and that would stand-alone outside of the context of the longer event video. For this first project we decided upon an excerpt from a Q&A event with the Pulitzer prize winning scientist and author Jared Diamond, filmed back in 2013. In the excerpt, Jared discusses how insights from the lifestyles of far-removed cultures can impact the way we think about our own lives, particularly in the context of our approach to risk – an anecdote that has always stuck with me since filming the event.

After trimming and pruning the audio clip to get the flow as tight as possible Andrew set about story boarding the piece and after we were agreed on the direction he set about creating the artwork assets and animation. As you’ll see from watching the piece, the attention to detail is pretty breathtaking, Andrew writes on the Ri Blog,

“Because of the density of the vegetation in the animation, some of these scenes were created with upwards of 1000 layers of illustration.”

All this serves to creates an incredible visual feast, one that really pulls the audio into a rich and colourful visual medium.

Once the animation was finished I worked on the sound design to tidy up the audio clip and add a little more depth and weight to the piece. As you’ll hear it’s all fairly subtle, which was necessary because the visuals are definitely leading here and there’s a lot going on in the frame already.

The aim of this project was always to blend scientific content with an artistic aesthetic in an attempted to reach audiences that don’t traditionally engage with our more science heavy content. The piece was subsequently awarded a ‘staff pick’ on Vimeo and was picked up by several art and design sites around the web, so we were obviously pretty chuffed about that!

We’re now working on our second piece, which sets visuals to an audio piece I made, featuring British astronaut Helen Sharman discussing her dreams about space. We will be releasing this piece in the lead up to the Christmas Lectures – so stay tuned!

Video: X-rays reveal dance of electrons!

Short animation I produced in collaboration with Design Science and Dr Adam Kirrander from the University of Edinburgh.

The piece explores work being conducted by Adam’s team which hopes to ‘freeze’ the rapid motion of electrons. The principles at play here are not dissimilar to those used in early high-speed photography, but in this case involves measuring how atoms diffract rapid pulses of x-rays. The technique is hoped to revolutionise the ways in which we study and understand chemical interactions, such as the breaking and formation of bonds.

This was my first full scale animation project and I learnt a lot in the production process – individual scenes were animated in Apple Motion and then exported and compiled in a FCPX timeline. There are lots of hand drawn elements within the piece, some of these were drawn on paper and scanned in – while others were drawn in photoshop with a graphics tablet – the leaves and eye at the end were drawn multiple times and then animated – that was a lot of fun!

There were some little touches that I found made a big difference visually, such as adding a subtle background texture and applying a faint vignette with blurring around the edges of the frame – this helped to draw attention to the centre.

The voice over was recorded on a Marantz PMD 661 with an AKG D230 – it wasn’t recorded in the best environment, so I had to work to tidy it up in Ableton Live. Subtle sound design also helped to bring a bit more depth to the animated scenes, this was also composed and produced in Ableton.

Video: Why science is NOT ‘Just a Theory’

Short animation we just put out at the Ri, written by Alom Shaha and narrated by Jim Al-Khalili.

Art / animation by Jack Kenny and I did the sound design.

Video blurb:

There’s an important difference between a scientific theory and the fanciful theories of an imaginative raconteur, and this quirk of semantics can lead to an all-too-common misconception. In general conversation, a ‘theory’ might simply mean a guess. But a scientific theory respects a somewhat stricter set of requirements. When scientists discuss theories, they are designed as comprehensive explanations for things we observe in nature. They’re founded on strong evidence and provide ways to make real-world predictions that can be tested.

While scientific theories aren’t necessarily all accurate or true, they shouldn’t be belittled by their name alone. The theory of natural selection, quantum theory, the theory of general relativity and the germ theory of disease aren’t ‘just theories’. They’re structured explanations of the world around us, and the very foundation of science itself.

There’s an extended blog post on the project here: http://www.rigb.org/blog/2014/november/its-just-a-theory