VIDEO: Particle Accelerators and beyond

Two new videos produced recently for the Royal Institution that take you inside the ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility in Oxfordshire.

This is a scientific research facility that uses a high-energy proton accelerator to generate neutrons which are then used by visiting scientists to research the structure and properties of materials.

Find out about how they power the facility and an example of the cutting edge research taking place in the videos below!

Proteins and Particles

How to Power a Particle Accelerator

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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.

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VIDEO: Living in space – An Astronaut’s Perspective

Video produced for the Royal Institution, for the 2015 Advent Project “A Place Called Space”. The piece is composed from multiple interviews with astronauts that were recorded between September – November 2015.

The film features 4 astronauts (Dan Tani, Helen Sharman, Jean-François Clervoy , Mike Barratt) and uses NASA archive footage to explore the ins and outs of living in space (spoiler alert: it’s fun, but it ain’t easy!).

All interviews were transcribed and then common threads were grouped together and collected on an edit timeline. The audio segments were cut down and edited together, then brought into FCPX where they were combined with video footage. I spent quite a while searching and logging appropriate NASA archive footage. Once the rough form was assembled, I introduced some music and refined the edit to work with the tracks I’d chosen.

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VIDEO: The Lamp that Saved 1,000 Lives

I recently made a short film for the Royal Institution that tells a story of the miners safety lamp, also known as the “Davy Lamp” – invented by Sir Humphry Davy in the 19th Century.

The lamp was designed to allow miners to safely light their way in the mines using candles or oil lamps – which were previously at risk of igniting flammable gases that leaked from the coal baring rocks, often leading to devastating explosions and large loss of life.

Find out more by watching the video!

This is the first time we’ve explored an archive story through the format of Andy’s Tale’s From the Prep Room series and I really like how the historical narrative is combined with the usual demonstration elements of the series – it’s something we’ll think about doing more in the future.

Riffing off the film’s subject matter, I thought I’d experiment with shooting most of the film in candle light in a pitch black environment – which was made possible by the low light capabilities of the Sony A7s, combined with a very fast vintage lens (Takumar 50mm f1.4). I really love the intimate setting that this creates and it also helped to hide the fact that we shot this in a very dull location (the Ri’s windowless basement lab used for school workshops).

Slow motion footage was captured on the Panasonic GH4 at around 100fps – watching the flames billowing out of the gas filled tube is particularly mesmerising!

 

VIDEO: Friday – Dispatches from Margate

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.

Shot on a Sony A7s.

Previous pieces:

Tuesday (blog post)

Wednesday (blog post)

Thursday (blog post)

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:

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!