I was recently comissioned to produce a short film for National Insect week, working with the Royal Entomological Society and presenter Dr Tim Cockerill. It was an absolute blast to shoot and a wonderful location, filming inside the colourful bug houses of insect breeders Janice and Graham Smith! I think I may get one as a pet!
The final video piece produced during a week long artist residency in Margate.
Building on the ideas explored in the previous piece, I decided to evolve the square framing and slide-like presentation to include simple shots of shapes and colours I found around Margate. However this time worked with a centre division in the frame, juxtapositioning two different shots.
When I was out shooting I did have this in mind, so I concentrated mainly on rectangle and square shapes, lining shots up in a way that would work with this format. The edit was more a proof on concept, it’ll be interesting to see how I can expand on it and use it within something more substantial.
Over the last year at the Royal Institution we’ve published two series of a video project called ExpeRimental which aims to promote the practice of science based activities in the home with children.
Where these videos differ from many ‘try this at home’ series is that they place an emphasis on pedagogy, providing support to parents to help them encourage their children to behave like young scientists, in essence to get them hypothesising, changing variables and testing! Each activity featured also makes use of cheap and ordinary household items to make sure that they were accessible to everyone.
I worked closely with director and film maker Alom Shaha on this series who oversaw the development of the content and scripting. There were a lot of challenges we faced in the production of these films, most notably working with non-professional presenters (often parents) and of course featuring young children on camera!
We learnt that the most important element in keeping the young participants enthused was to keep the energy up but also to limit the time they had to spend on camera. As such we’d usually ask the adults to take the youngsters out for a walk whilst we set-up and it was also important that the kids knew nothing of the activities we were filming, so as to achieve as much a genuine reaction on camera as possible.
Naturally many of young children were quite camera shy to begin with, so I found a good way to reduce this was to allow the kids to take control of the equipment, allowing them behind the camera or to listen to the feedback of the microphones. I think this helped to normalise the pretty alien experience of having cameras and lights set-up and pointed at them in their home environment.
In order to edit these pieces successfully and to maintain a sense of ‘actuality’ we tended to shoot with a three camera set-up, including a ‘master-wide’ and two roaming handheld shots, one which would preference the adult and the other the children.
Where first series explored concepts and phenomena in Physics, the second explored chemistry and chemical reactions. A few of my favourite videos can be seen below:
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!
Fire breathing is not a hobby I’ve ever attempted to take up and that’s probably for the best – both for my own wellbeing and for that of those around me. However, I did recently have the pleasure of meeting Tim Cockerill – someone who has taken this up as a hobby and luckily is rather good at it. Actually, he’s ‘Doctor’ Tim Cockerill, because he’s also an entomologist, that’s correct, a fire breathing entomologist!
Anyway, we decided to make a short and simple film exploring the science behind his act, also known as the ‘human volcano’ – essentially a film that would look at the process of combustion and how this relates to the methodology of fire breathing.
We also made good use of our GoPro and strapped it to his head to get some awesome point of view fire breathing shots – you can see these in full below:
There was a bit of a struggle in deciding how to explain burning, we wanted to avoid the use of the ‘fire triangle’ – (often taught at school) because we didn’t want to make something resembling a dry educational film, but at the same time we didn’t want to get too bogged down in the chemistry of oxygen and how this relates to its reactivity.
In the end we settled for explaining what ‘burning’ really means – I think the word often leads us away from understanding / remembering what it means to burn something. Essentially it’s just the name we give to the chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel, a reaction occurs and new products are formed (and energy is given off in the form of light and heat). In this case the fuel Tim is using is a hydrocarbon which he reacts with the oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide and water (and the fire ball!)
So yes, we haven’t gone into the chemistry of oxygen and why it’s so reactive – but I think our explanation is sufficient for the purpose of the film – we wanted to attract people with the thrills of fire breathing and use this as an in-route to explain some of the underlying chemical principles.
I think it’s really easy to forget simple things like this and we often assume we know what we mean when we use an everyday term like burning. It’s only when someone calls you out and asks you to explain what’s going on that we may stumble and realise we don’t actually know as much as we assumed we did. The YouTube Channel Veritasium does a great job at highlighting common shortcomings and misconceptions when it comes to explaining everyday phenomena (watch the video ‘Misconceptions About Temperature’).
Recent video shot and produced for the Ri Channel, featuring Professor Neil Shubin who discovered the remarkably well preserved fossil of the transitional organism Tiktaalik roseae.
This monumental find, is believed to bridge the gap in our evolutionary history between sea dwelling and land living organisms, occurring sometime in the late Devonian period (around 375 million years ago). As a tetrapod, Tiktaalik was able to support itself on limb like structures and along with basic lungs was able to make the big move from sea to land.
Essentially, Tiktaalik is the fish that finally got off it’s gills and made the effort to have a wonder about on land, for which we must all be thankful.
Shot on a Panasonic AF-101, with the Lumix GX Vario 12-35mm lens, close up stuff shot on a Tamron 70-200mm.
One interesting piece of media I came across today (whilst reading about the origins of cinema) was an early piece of footage shot by the Lumiere brothers in 1896:
The silent film depicts an unnamed dancer quite hauntingly perform Loie Fuller’s Serpentine Dance. Each frame was hand coloured to help vividly depict the striking motion conducted by the dancer.
Auguste Lumière and Louis Lumière were among the earliest filmmakers in history and produced some of the most pioneering and influential films of their time. The brothers are best known for producing their series of short ‘actuality’ films, which captured everyday events on film. These ‘actuality’filmsare considered by many to represent the earliest incarnation of the documentary film.