VIDEO: Thursday – Dispatches from Margate

 Thursday

Continuing with the residency in Margate, here’s the third installment:

Thursday was spent largely working inside, so for this piece I decided to detail some of the rich textures within the house we’ve been staying in. The property is a large 4 story townhouse, which is currently mid-renovation, with exposed wooden floorboards and cracked walls with exposed plaster.

Detailing the tapestry of patterns, colours and uneven surfaces I wanted to pull out the aged aesthetic of the house in the presentation of the film – so I played with aspect ratio to present images in a format closer to 4:3 rather than a modern widescreen format. I also enhanced the square images with 35mm film grain and rounded off the corners to mimic the look of old slides, adding in projector sounds to support this look.

Finally the music loop was recorded in the afternoon on an old electric keyboard found in the living room, which we were experimenting with on a separate audio work. I processed the recording by slowing it down and detuning it, to further enhance the ‘aged’ aesthetic of the film.

Shot on a Sony A7s.

View the other pieces in the series below:

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VIDEO: Wednesday – Dispatches from Margate

Wednesday

Continuing with the residency in Margate, here’s the second short video piece:

I wanted to provide a different perspective on Margate from yesterday’s piece, so as the tide receded I spent time down in the harbour capturing the orange and blue tones of the sunset set amongst the beached boats.

I was drawn to one boat in particular, named Sea Horse, which featured a curious Seahorse shaped ‘S’ on its stern.

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It was a beautifully clear evening, so as the sun set, the sky was awash with intense oranges that slowly gave way to deep, inky blues. In terms of grading, I wanted to preserve these colours so I enhanced the contrast and deepened the blacks, but did little else. When shooting these scenes I shot in a flat profile and exposed to the right so that I could pull down the blacks in post and maintain the deep blues of dusk.

Finally, I decided to add in some sound design to play off the mostly static shots. The sounds of lapping waves, gusts of wind and creaking boats are suggestive of motion and act almost like ghostly echoes of movement.

The piece was shot entirely on my Sony A7s, using two old M42 lenses:

  • Pentacon 135mm f/2.8
  • Carl Zeiss MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4

Watch Tuesday here.

VIDEO: Tuesday – Dispatches from Margate

I’m currently in Margate on a week long artist residency (PRAH Foundation) producing work that is responsive to the local area.

I’ll be focusing on both video and audio outputs and as part of the project I’ve tasked myself with the grand challenge of producing (and publishing!) something each day…

Here’s Tuesday’s effort:

On my first day, I spent a couple of hours walking around the waterfront with my camera and was particularly drawn to the dull tones of the Arlington House tower block. This drab, monolithic structure looms, rather oppressively, over the recently refurbished Dreamland fun park below (hoping to pay that a visit later in the week).

The colours from this scene influenced the overall grading of the piece, producing a rather muted colour profile throughout. I really liked the contrast of the blue sheds that emerge half way through, with the glimpse of the ferris wheel in the distance – neither of which can quite break free from the muted, sombre tones of their surroundings.

I shot this on my Sony A7s, which I haven’t really had much chance to experiment this year. I also wanted to test out a couple M42 lenses that I’d recently picked up on ebay:

  • Pentacon 135mm f/2.8
  • Carl Zeiss MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4

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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: Slow motion chemistry and explosive BBQs!

Some recent work shot over the summer:

Slow Motion Contact Explosive

Working with nitrogen triiodide is pretty nerve racking stuff – it’s prepared wet and left to dry, after which it becomes an extremely sensitive contact explosive. So with some careful tip-toeing about we set-up some high-speed cameras to capture the violent, but undeniably beautiful reaction in extreme slow-motion.

Extreme Physics BBQ

What happens when you pump mains electricity through a piece of steak? We teamed up with the BBC Brit Lab channel to cook meat using some extreme physics, including bottle rockets to grill prawns and parabolic reflectors to sear meat – the results were surprisingly delicious!

Event: Some Like Dark

Image: Eleni Kalorkoti

Over the last month I’ve been collaborating with Astrid Alben and Hester Aardse of PARS to produce a listening experience for their ‘Some Like Dark‘ event that runs over the May bank holiday weekend at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The listening feature is made up from a collection of interwoven readings, poems, sound pieces and interviews that explore light from different perspectives.

Let your imagination loose on an in-the-dark journey with the work of theatre maker Jan van den Berg, lighting designer; Jennifer Tipton, physicist; John Pendry, sound poet; Jaap Blonk; and many more.

Image: Recording in the Wellcome Collection's audio studio
Image: Recording in the Wellcome Collection’s audio studio

The event promises to be a magical and immersive experience featuring science demonstrations and an animation produced by Eleni Kalorkoti entitled ‘Moonlight in a box’ (top image).

Tickets are free and can be booked online or in person over the weekend! The event runs all weekend as part of the larger ‘On Light‘ event taking place at the Wellcome collection – check it out!

Friday 1 May 2015

19:15-20:00

20:30-21:15

21:45-22:30

Saturday 2 May 2015

13:15-14:00

14:30-15:15

15:45-16:30

Sunday 3 May 2015

13:15-14:00

14:30-15:15

15:45-16:30

Monday 4 May 2015

13:15-14:00

14:30-15:15

15:45-16:30

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.

Audio: Oxford Sparks – Big Questions Podcast

The University of Oxford’s Big Questions podcast which I’ve been producing is now available online to listen to!

Each episode features narration from Chris Lintott and explores a ‘big theme’ in science, from matters of scale to hidden worlds. Featuring interviews with scientists from the University of Oxford the series incorporates music and colourful sound design to bring concepts and details to life – have a listen to a couple of my favourite pieces below!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or through their Soundcloud page. Episodes are available both in feature length (30 mins) and as individual parts (three per episode)!

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

Video: The Magic of Consciousness

A short, meditative film I directed and produced with Professor Nicholas Humphrey exploring the scientific significance of consciousness and the problems we face in understanding its existence.

After working with each other last year Nick and I were keen to explore consciousness in a short form piece – quite the challenge considering the complexity of the subject matter.

Our intention was not to be too heavy handed with the facts and figures, but instead to present the viewer with some of the key questions and problems that scientists face in understanding consciousness from the perspectives of evolution and neuroscience.

One of the greatest challenges with this piece was always going to be in constructing compelling images to go alongside the narration and pieces to camera. It was with this in mind that we chose the Botanic Gardens as the lush and colourful backdrop in which to explore these ideas against.

The film was shot primarily on a Canon 6D over a couple of days, on location at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens and at the Royal Institution. I was really impressed with the footage coming out of the 6D (aside from a few moire problem) and it received very little grading. I also paid a little extra attention to the audio, mastering it outside of FCPX and in Ableton Live – just to give it a bit more polish!