British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Lab, Camera, Action!

Making your own films to a professional standard is getting quicker, easier and cheaper. Andrew Steele and Tom Fuller describe their experiences producing their series of short, sharp science videos.

About the authors:
Dr Andrew Steele
is a physicist and science communicator based in London. He won FameLab UK 2012, and has explained physics on television, radio and online.
web: andrewsteele.co.uk / @statto on Twitter

Tom Fuller is an editor and graphic designer based in Oxford. Building upon a background in analytic philosophy, he is currently studying neuroscience. As well as working on Lab, Camera, Action!, Andrew and Tom recently launched the Scienceogram, a campaign raising awareness of how little we spend on scientific research: scienceogram.org / @scienceogram on Twitter

 

Web video is an exciting new frontier in science communication: no longer do you need a massive budget and a mountaintop location to tell an exciting story about the world around us. Making a series of science videos is something we had wanted to do for a while, and we were fortunate enough to receive some grant money to buy a minimal set of kit, and have a go.

Lab, Camera, Action! is a series of short, presenter-led online videos, which aim to inform and engage on a range of topics in physics. Currently, there are episodes covering spectroscopy, superconductivity and the transit of Venus (with a combined 40,000 views between the Lab, Camera, Action! and Oxford University YouTube channels), and there are a few more in the production pipeline.

The project grew organically out of Andrew’s science communication activities and some rather silly videos made in collaboration with Tom in the past. It was only a matter of time before we thought about putting some of the things we’d learned to more serious use. And there clearly is an appetite for science videos online: YouTube is full of footage of amazing experiments, from super–slow-motion bullets in flight to flowers frozen with liquid nitrogen being smashed to shards, but many of them are either camera-phone footage from the lab, or (sometimes self-consciously) produced in a lo-fi, self-shot style. We wanted, within our means, to put together something more polished, which wouldn’t look too out of place in a conventional science documentary. Thankfully, ever-improving technology has made video production much more accessible in terms of both cost and complexity.

Financially, we were fortunate enough to win a grant which funded the project. Since Andrew was in the closing stages of his physics PhD, he was eligible for the EPSRC’s ‘Doctoral Prize Scheme’, which aims to encourage students to further develop projects started during their studies. One component of this grant was outreach, allowing us to buy some video equipment and software.

Natural lighting from a sunset over Oxford is combined with computer graphics showing the orbits of Venus and Earth.

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