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!
Blood, rats and anticoagulants: The story of Warfarin
Warfarin is one of the worlds most widely prescribed drugs and its history is littered with the bodies of sick cows and poisoned rats. This film I produced for Nature tells the story of how a bloody beginning gave rise to the life-saving medication.
I decided to buy myself a new camera over Christmas and after much deliberation (including watching countless video reviews) I bought myself a Panasonic GH4. It’s a small mirror-less Micro-Four-Thirds DSLR that comes crammed with some incredible features, such as 4k internal recording and a 96fps shooting mode in 1080p! Oh and it’s a pretty cheap piece of kit for what it does.
I took a few walks out with my new camera and cut together a few bits of test footage – take a look below (I’m still getting to grips with the camera, so do excuse the shoddiness)
Both were shot with the Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 – it’s a fantastically sharp little lens with image stabilisation built in. The footage was cut together in FCPX and graded with the help of Impulz LUTs.
The camera isn’t perfect, but I’m fantastically happy with it – the 4k footage is beautifully detailed and can be downscaled in the edit for a 1080 export – providing some useful cropping options as well. Here’s an arty picture of me sitting on the ground in Regent’s Park, with my GH4:
I’ll likely post more test footage over the coming months.
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.
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.
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!
Tim Cockerill returns to take a look at some leeches in a short piece produced for YouTube’s Geek Week back in August. If you’re a bit squeamish this probably isn’t for you!
We couldn’t really make a video about leeches without showing off their impressive feeding apparatus, a Y-shaped jaw packing in roughly 300 teeth! This was a tricky shot to achieve, we had to persuade the leech to attach to a glass plate, holding it in position by hand, allowing us to shoot from below with a macro lens. It was a great sight to behold once we finally got it and it certainly helps bring something to the film that you hopefully wont have seen elsewhere.
We also had to get some footage of a leech feeding, so we set one loose on Tim’s arm, shooting a time-lapse to demonstrate how much they can expand during the feeding. Once it had attached to feed, we were very much at the mercy of the Leech’s hunger as we couldn’t shoot the final shots until it had detached. As Tim mentions in the film, it’s not a good idea to pull or burn leeches off as this may cause them to vomit their stomach contents back into the open wound – not a good idea if you don’t know what the leech as been feeding on previously. The best course of action to take is to let detach when it’s good and ready.
We also wanted to dispel a common myth about leeches using anaesthetics to dull the pain the sensation of pain whilst feeding – as Tim reports there’s little scientific evidence to support this and he certainly reports to feel a stinging sensation as the leech feeds on him.
After about 3 hours the leech was finally full and very happily detached from Tim’s arm – during ‘the feeding’ the leech utilises an anti-coagulant (called hirudin) and as you can see in the film this prevents the blood from clotting, causing the wound to bleed profusely four a couple of hours after it’s detached!
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.
Last year I interviewed sound recordist Chris Watson on the subject of noise for a piece exploring the use of birdsong at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.
Chris is one of the worlds leading sound recordists and is well known for his work with the BBC Natural History Unit, including the recent Frozen Planet series.
There was a lot of interesting discussion during this interview about the nature of noise pollution and the considerable threat it poses to our quality of life. Worrying still, it appears that our noisy modern world is drowning out the natural soundscape and interfering with species of wildlife that rely on sound for communication.
What seems to be most alarming is that we’re largely ignoring this problem – our world certainly isn’t getting any quieter – and with more of us living in urbanised environments, noise pollution is fast becoming a significant health problem.
As only a portion of this interview was included within the Alder Hey piece, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the additional material. The interview was recorded at FACT in Liverpool, back in April of last year and explores some of the causes and concerns towards noise in the modern world.
Further reading on the health effects of noise: a WHO report on the burden of disease from environmental noise
Nature on BBC Radio 4 is recommended listening if you want to hear more of Chris and his stunning wildlife recordings.
Touch Music also releases sound work by Chris, you can browse his collection here.
I was interested to read today about a new research project being undertaken, to investigate the psychological impacts of exposure to birdsong. In particular the project will look at how birdsong affects our psychological state, including its effect on mood, attention and sense of creativity.
The research is being conducted as a joint collaboration between the University of Surrey, National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust. Researcher Eleanor Ratcliffe, highlighted that there was a real a lack of evidence on the effects of birdsong, stating:
“A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong. However, currently there is a lack of scientific research on the psychological effects of listening to birds.”
For me the sound of birdsong offers predominantly positive associations. Living in London, I’m now surrounded by a largely synthetic soundscape, which is strongly connected to the stresses and frustrations of city life (the daily commute, working long hours and a persistent sense of fatigue).
Living amongst this hubbub has unsurprisingly increased the value I attribute to natural soundscapes. Standing in binary opposition to the din of urban living, natural soundscapes offer potential for escape, not just from noise, but from all the negative associations paired with it.
It may be that natural sounds can help us escape from a chaotic lifestyle or at least provide a restorative effect from stress. Understanding the psychological impacts of birdsong will allow us to better understand how we respond to such sounds and perhaps learn more about this relationship. If birdsong really does improve our state of mind and / or sense of wellbeing then it could have real potential in it’s application as a therapeutic tool.
Birdsong as a therapeutic tool?
Back in April / May – I produced a radio piece which looked at the use of Birdsong in the healthcare environment. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool has been experimenting with the use of birdsong to improve the experiences of it’s young patients.
Installed in the central corridor is a sound installation playing the beautiful birdsong recordings made by Chris Watson and Alder Hey patients. These recordings are also used with patients during traumatic and painful procedures, often as a way of calming them down or taking their minds off the situation.
Speaking to the hospital’s Arts Coordinator Vicky Charnock, I found out that there was already tremendous anecdotal evidence in support of birdsong as a therapeutic tool. They were also interested in setting up some form of trial in which to test the potential therapeutic benefits of birdsong.
An experimental sound piece which takes recordings made during a vist to Bury St Edmunds and weaves them into a surreal narrative, morphing between lakeside walks, market criers, street performers and birdsong.
Recordings made using a Zoom H4n, edited and assembled on Ableton Live.