What a wonderful way to start class! I'd been excited for 20.219 ever since the ad for it first popped up in my mailbox. I've always wanted to make educational videos, so it seemed like a perfect match.
Navigating the Internet is a highly complex task. I started a blog this summer, and way too many books and articles and blog posts offered advice on how to best do so. Thus, taking a class on making educational videos seemed like an easier option. Really, I couldn't go through another one of the tedious "How To" books. The Internet is puzzling and complicated. Full of marvelous opportunities, yes, but not for those traveling alone.
Anyway, that's my reason for taking 20.219, and so far it has totally lived up to my expectations. I can't believe that I may soon create a video of my own! That is, for lack of a more appropriate word, awesome! Also, I'm happy to expand my YouTube horizons beyond SciShow and Vi Hart. I enjoyed watching other online science videos. VSauce may be my favorite so far (though second to SciShow). I enjoy both channels for the hosts' personalities. I can't quite explain why, but their quirky attitude and fast pace grasp my attention the best. Surprisingly, Bill Nye's videos, though also quirky and quick, do not carry the same appeal. Mr Nye seems to be more of a "brand name" than anything, and, since I grew up in Ukraine, devoid of access to his work, I do not have any connection to this character from my childhood. Now, it's too late to start. I wonder, though, how a host can position himself so highly in a culture? Everybody around here seems to know The Science Guy.
Lastly, I'm happy to say that I was actually able to start my video! And, yes, I am still thrilled to continue. Luckily, I was able to find a topic I love, and one that has not been featured on YouTube channels before. I searched for a video on it recently to show to a friend, but wasn't able to find anything that explained it well in under an hour and in layman terms. So, the task is doubly interesting because it is practical.
Unfortunately, iMovie has failed me, and green blobs obstruct the view of my pitch. I'll attempt to eliminate them immediately. Thus, excited for the next day of class, I shall end this first entry.
Two (five?) hours ago, I firmly resolved to go to bed at a time that would leave me a sufficient number of hours for sleep. Ha! Like that could ever happen. Writing a script was way too fun (oh, and, oops, it's not quite 300 words). For perhaps the first time in my life I brainstormed ideas on a piece of paper. One piece became two, and then the letters grew smaller, until at last I decided to stop the thinking. I had enough "mathematical superpowers" down for a whole season of Math Woman's adventures.
I am still constantly amazed at new mathematical wonders I discover. Today especially, after some research (incidentally, the non-scientific Cracked.Com provided the most insight), it was hard to believe that some abhorred the subject. There are so many cool things you could bring up! And not just for kids. Latest research can help adults propose, find the perfect spouse, calculate how to make good sexual choices when drunk, predict the next hit song, and so much more. Then there's also the more useful math research on finding the most probable location of a terrorist's bomb, or which gang committed the crime. Game theory can predict Iran's next step. We may soon be able replace lab rats with lab computers. So Much Cool.
Now, I'm not a huge fan of applying math. Formulas are nice to look at and plug in numbers, but it's the mind-blowing concepts of infinity, homeomorphism, multiple dimensions that make me happiest. Mathematicians are able to do things that no other subject allows, like quite literally transcending infinity. So to me, math kinda seemed like a superpower. That's how Math Woman came along after a conversation with Jaime on what I like and how I can make those concepts more concrete (which totally helped with inspiration!). I can see Math Woman evolving into a pretty cool character, and a different one, too.
So that's the script thoughts. As to the class, i absolutely adored talking to the kids. I could talk to them for hours, just learning what they like and what gets them most excited. None of the ideas for Math Woman's powers would've appeared without their input. Robots are way cooler than just math, of course. And who knew that Kurt Godel's name sounded very much like that of KFC's founder?
Children age 12 and under are my favorite age group to work with. They are open and willing to try new things. Some time in middle school, students seem to begin rejecting their ability to do well in all subjects, especially math. But 6th graders are still very receptive, and open. Also, I can kinda pull off being "cool" around them. That's a bonus.
In summary, being around children was awesomely entertaining and useful. And, I learned many lessons from BioBuilder, as well as from brainstorming and discussion.
As always, excited for next day.
While the trailer is uploading to YouTube, let me try to remember class today…
I loved it! In general, I always enjoy class discussions. And, I like to be critiqued. I could tell very clearly that my video was, well, off. I needed help, and help was there. I got to listen to some fantastic ideas and input, and understood better what exactly a "point" of a video is, and what kind of writing / hosting is expected from us (though I certainly haven't mastered it yet).
I realized, too, that mathematics (the "cool" kind) lacked concrete examples. Except fractals. And fractals are beyond awesome. I found myself digging deeper and deeper into research, unearthing MIT Tech Review articles from over 10 years ago, and learning so much about the wonderful Chaos Theory in the process. I expected fractals to be a fun topic to research and discuss, but it exceeded my expectations splendiferously. And, in a marvelous turn of events, all the research on fractals began with an MIT meteorology professor, Edward Lorenz, and his Butterfly Effect, which started the mathematical Chaos Theory (that Newton would surely abhor), and led to more fantastic discoveries when Mandelbrot (who also at one point taught at MIT) came along with his images of fractals.
The story of Lorenz and Mandelbrot (and MIT!) is a fascinating one. It took me 33 story-telling on camera tries to condense the trailer from 8 minutes to 30 seconds. A lot of words! Oh, and settling the lighting was a quest on its own. I hope we can learn that later in class, because so far, I'm not sure how it works. What started as one lamp became a lamp covered with a napkin, which was soon joined by my roommate's lamp, until a flashlight sticking out from the top mattress covered in tissue seemed to be the best option. My room isn't the brightest, but I felt that the chaotic poster on the wail was somehow essential to the clip about chaos, and did my best with it. Point is, I'd love to learn how to work a camera, and lamps.
Back to the class. It has challenged me to try again and again. Today I researched a totally new topic, one I had very little experience in previously. And it was good. Also, I never enjoyed feedback / critique / discussion as much. It's great to know that we're all learning together, and from each other. Before Monday, I'd be terrified to read through the script in front of everyone, but now I'm actually excited for next Monday's read-through.
The feeling of the evening: still thrilled.
I'll make this brief this time. I have about one hour left of sleep, so, well, brevity is key at the end of a long long (endless) night.
I have just completed the script and scene one storyboard. it's the fourth idea I've had to work on in this week because, as I found, math is not very abundant in concrete examples. At least not the kind of math I can do and enjoy, because perhaps Statistics and Probability would be more "doable" topics for a video.
In addition to lacking a concrete concept, I found that I wasn't really a mathematical expert. I've heard about fractals, and I'm excited about the concept, but it wasn't until I started learning more about them that I realized exactly how prevalent they are in nature. I dug deeper and deeper into that fascinating world, and eventually came up with yet another overly broad topic. I just wanted to share all those cool things I found! Alas, I only have 5 minutes.
Now, fortunately, I have distilled the script to about 5 minutes, with explanatory animations / images intended. I'm pretty happy with it because, even though it's far from perfect (and I'm anticipating a lot of good critique later), I was able to cut down 11 pages of precious material to the appropriate 750ish words for 5 minutes. That's only 2 pages. It got easier to delete words and concepts as I went along. At some point, I realized I'd cut out enough material to make a whole other video. It's nice to have such extras. And, regardless of whether the material is ever filmed, I enjoyed learning about it.
As to today's class, I found it very useful. I'd been focusing on the script, unaware of how much the visuals really mattered, and how words connected with pictures. The ideas studied in class helped me better visualize my own script. The storyboard wouldn't have happened without today, and not just because of the tips from the powerpoint. Discussion and Q & A is perhaps the methods of learning that help me best in this class. I love learning from other peoples' perspectives.
Once I got a good mental idea of what the point of my video is, creating a draft of the script was almost easy. I was simply telling a story about some cool things I learned to friends. Then I cut off the extra pieces, remembering the density example we went over yesterday (when we chose to delete a sentence for clarity). That was a great way to see what can be useless in a video, even if the concept seems essential in life. Thinking back on that exercise, I shortened the stories, definitions, and later replaced some explanations with on-screen animations, another lesson learned in class.
I look forward to the Monday critique session. Now I really wish I'd had a script back when we first analyzed writing. Revising is almost as much fun as writing. In fact, it usually takes up about 75% of my time working on a piece. I like having a concrete structure and idea, then tweaking the sentences and painting over inconsistencies and gaps.
The class today was quite technical, which further deepened my understanding of how little I know. I don't mean that in a bad way, though. Seeing how much work is done behind the scenes is fascinating. And it's empowering to know that I'm not the only one putting a lot of time and effort in the production. In fact, I'm not doing nearly as much work as a professional team.
On a similar note, yesterday I accidentally clicked on a SciShow video by Hank Green from 2012 while trying to find inspiration for the script. How horrific it was! I had to check whether the host was indeed Hank in the description, twice. There was none of the wacky spark, or the confidence, or the quick narrative. The camera didn't really move much, and tiny images popped up in the corners without really adding much to the video. Oh, and the jokes were awful! Or at least they weren't delivered well by this slower, quieter version of Hank. The example was helpful, because it showed how much a producer can improve. Here is the video: The Sex Lives of Early Humans. I still shudder seeing how very awkward and scared Hank Green looks in front of the camera. Now, however, SciShow is my favorite science YouTube channel. Hank Green is my favorite host.
The start of filming today went quite poorly. One location had great lighting but a dreadful echo. Outside, the wind blocked out almost every word. A lot of my shots are meant to be done by the Charles River, and I doubt now that this can be done. The wind is a regular occurrence these days. I'm considering a new location already.
Seems kind of odd that I won't be working on the video as much this weekend. I'll look at the script again tomorrow maybe, but I remember it so well by now that I can't make any major modifications. With the fast pacing of the class, I don't really have time to let thoughts settle, so I'll have to go with what I have. And that's a good thing, too, because normally I wait for "creative inspiration" to compose anything. This week I've had to think by the deadline. That's another useful skill acquired.
This video is courtesy of Yuliya Klochan on YouTube and is provided under our Creative Commons license.
This video is courtesy of Yuliya Klochan on YouTube and is provided under our Creative Commons license.
12:30 am. Stata Center. A student in a blue jacket creeps through the doors, humming a song that started in the winter air. Blue, yellow, red backgrounds are all around her. Will this shot work? Will the lighting cast ugly shadows? All are important considerations. But the student must hurry, because Stata Center is creepy so late at night (and very, very empty).
2 am. Final shots are done, and I, the student, am happy with anything but more reshoots. I wonder what the janitorial staff thinks of me, talking so loudly in an empty echo-y building. I'm no longer afraid of the silence, the vast emptiness of the building, and the loudness of my footsteps. The shooting that started with voiceless practice has grown in volume, until I stopped caring who may hear me (helpful thought: Elizabeth said my script is good).
Back home, I watch all the new videos (always a delight seeing the work of the day on the "big screen"). I approve of the lighting. So much that I get an urge to restart the video, do the same motions, but properly this time, with better lighting, locations, more experience. Alas, I have two days (Two Days!) to finish everything. And I don't want to creep out the facilities completely, crawling quietly late at night through the building with a tripod every day.
I enjoy the late night walks though. Sometimes I bring a friend to appear less crazy with the camera (and also to play foosball later in the CSAIL lounge). Now that I have completed my morning class, 4 am is the optimal bedtime. I can do so much in the extra productive hours before that, including Stata filming sessions!
Feedback was good in class. I was quite sick of watching the video and had no idea whether it made sense. But it was nice to know that I don't have to redo it all (although I want to now!). I'll work on more fixes later. And, I appreciate the music commentary. Searching for music is the best part of re-editing, as many songs sound funny along with the video, which is good.
Lastly, I loved the way my partner's projects turned out! I enjoyed watching everyone's videos, but Paul's and Kenneth's were most familiar. It was wonderful to see the multiple takes all morphing into one great story. I was looking forward to seeing their finished product, and they did not disappoint.
With happy thoughts, I'll rest. Then edit some more. And more and more tomorrow.
The production of the fractal video has been completed. I'm thrilled to see the final product. I hope the video's soul is not gone after its bits are pieced together after tens of repetitions. I did my best to keep the meaning of the phrases as I said them again and again.
The original for-grade production was quite different. My directors, Paul and Kenneth, did their best to apply the principles learned in class, but with the poor quality equipment, limited resources, and time constraints, we couldn't explore a variety of angles and deliveries.
If I could alter the video, the first part I'd change is the sound. My voice sounded high-pitched and unnatural in many places, and, as I realize now after the professional production, that can be quite distracting. Also, the music levels were off in most places. After multiple conversions and adjustments, many parts of the video only featured percussion, which wasn't my intent. Sound levels (video vs music) are a tricky part to adjust. If I had more time, I'd definitely experiment with various levels of ducking. After all the video clips were divided into small cropped segments, adjustments were impossibly long (especially on my old version of iMovie which had the most annoying slider tool).
I would also ask my groupmates to change the filming angle. In many shots, the camera is filming from below. Much of the attention is given to my chin rather than, say, eyes. Also, I tend to look up while talking, which doesn't help when the camera is underneath. I'd prefer if the camera was above eye level. This would be most helpful in the in-shower scene as well as the one where I sit on the windowsill and talk. That part was borderline condescending because of the angle (though the background was cool).
Having better animations would be awesome. I wasn't able to do too much with those because my computer didn't have the capabilities, and I could only transfer the video to another computer as one full clip, with no necessary breaks. For example, the phone image in the beginning looked odd because it had a white border around it and was different in shape and framing from the snowflake. Fortunately, the timing worked out well for those, and if the pictures were better, it may seem like I'm actually sliding them onto the screen.
The timing didn't work that well for the image of the Menger Sponge. I intended to use the zoom in feature to cover up the odd shower transition (when I turn on the water for no apparent reason). The idea was for the Menger Sponge to slide out gradually as I turned the knob, as if I was "turning on" the sponge. The zoom would stop at the next section, and I'd have a static sponge for the next clip, until it disappeared quickly at the next transition (where I was centered). And I was able to achieve that, but for some reason, iMovie didn't upload it to YouTube that way (which was heartbreaking, because the zoom in as I turn on the water part was probably my favorite part of the video and accomplishment).
On the topic of the Menger Sponge, I wish that I'd considered the animations more when filming. The part where I first introduce the fractal looked odd because I held up the hand to receive the sponge too close to the right edge, leaving lots of space on the left unused. To hide that flaw, I zoomed the Menger Sponge to full screen instead. Similarly, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to animate a hedgehog from an iPhone. The hedgehog clip I found on YouTube was a cute replacement, but not the best fitting piece of the video (and it took a long time to make it look sort of natural).
Lastly, I'd adjust lighting. The first / last scenes by the Stata mural looked the best. i didn't even need to adjust the color levels. The lounge scene was also pretty good. I would, however, rethink the other locations. iMovie video editor helped a lot in covering up the odd shadows (and the bathroom stall), but if I'd had more time, I'd put more thought into good lighting from the beginning.
On a positive note, I am pretty happy with my final product. The final idea was way more concrete and clear than the first (I'm still shocked at how I ever thought Godel's Incompleteness Theorem would appeal to middle schoolers). And, I learned a lot about fractals, which is great, because now I notice them around me, while before I knew very little on the subject. The video itself looks generally acceptable. With the limited time and resources I had, I can't imagine making a better product. And, I never expected to learn so much about editing in a month!
In fact, I didn't expect to learn so much about anything in a month. The class has even changed my outlook on life. For example, now I can't watch movies without considering how much time was put into them, especially after the professional filming part. I never would've thought that making lighting look "natural" required so much "artificial" equipment. I shudder when I think at the incredible amount of time editors, producers, and directors put into piecing everything together, noticing the little details and making adjustments, and just generally creating the movie. I respect even the worst films now. I watch a greater variety of videos on YouTube, and learn from them.
However, I did learn that being an actor and having to say things over and over isn't too bad. I enjoyed trying different deliveries. I do hope that professional actors get the lines right sooner (in fact, I'm pretty sure they do). It's a skill I would love to have. And by the end of filming, I did feel more comfortable with delivery. I memorized the lines better and practiced on my own, tried to keep my voice down and not go high pitched, have smoother transitions between sentences and phrases (without pauses and weird emphases), vary the intonation in the most casual way possible, and, most importantly, keep imagining that I'm not doing a show, but rather telling a story.
Overall, I had a great experience, great month, and a wonderful filming time. It definitely made for a cool IAP. Thanks a bunch to all the instructors, guests, and students for making it so!