Science Video Workshop

Mohawk Media have pulled together an easy to follow Trello board on how to make a great science video. This was the base of the recent Science Video Workshop run with MESA. The workshop went down very well with the participants and generated a lot of enthusiasm for the 3MT video competition. Helen Baxter gave a great presentation, covering all the key steps from story-boarding to publishing; while giving lots of helpful tips from her personal experiences.

Read on to see the key steps and links from the Trello Board and how they link to what we learnt in the workshop. If you would like to dive straight in and start making a video I would recommend having a look at this video production Trello board.

Highlights

  • Story up, don’t dumb down.
    People are interested in the data and the conclusion, don’t try to simplify the details too much. You will be surprised at what people can understand.
  • Shoot wide and in landscape.
    Always get in a little more than what you think you will need in a shot. This lets you crop out the extra bits afterwards. You can’t use what you don’t shoot!
  • You can edit on your smartphone
    Speed up the editing and uploading process by making quick and simple edits on your smartphone.
  • Make a storyboard before you start to film.
    This will help in lots of area, but most importantly you will know what you need to capture when you start filming. There is nothing worse then going out to location and not coming back with what you need.
  • Creative commons.
    These are a great resource that let you build on what others have already put into the public domain. Google searches can even be filtered by content with the creative commons license.

Storytelling

Storytelling is all about keeping it short and relevant while sharing your motivation, but make sure you end with a call to action. What would you like people to do next? Remember story up, don’t dumb down.

When thinking of a story it is important to break it up into three acts, the order doesn’t matter but make each distinct so the message is easy to follow. Then surround the acts by the Intro and Outro.

  • Intro – short and captures the audience, why do they want to keep watching?
  • Act 1 – What
  • Act 2 – Why
  • Act 3 – How
  • Outro – Short summary, and call to action

Making the story can be hard, just like writing. But the key step is to get the ideas down, and worry about the order later. Making a storyboard helps with this process. But you can’t draw? You don’t need to be able to draw detailed picture, simple geometric shapes and stick figures (XKCD) are all that is needed to get your story across. Check out these two YouTube links below on some storyboard tips for people that ‘can’t’ draw.

Once you have some story ideas down you can have a look at “The Future of Storytelling” channel on YouTube. They have some great tips about how to tell a good story.

When you are putting together the story keep in mind the above pyramid. You want to put the important stuff in first when you are more likely to have the viewer’s attention, and then back fill with the extra details. This means making the conclusions upfront and then explaining how you got to it later.

Getting the bottom-line, why something is important out of the way first might seem counter-intuitive to a scientist, as journal articles normally start with an introduction then go through the discussion before coming to the conclusion.  But we can’t forget the abstract, this is what tells us the who, why, etc. Knowing what the who, why, etc is helps make the decision of if it is worth watching. It is hard to imagine someone sitting through a three-minute video if they don’t know what you are going to show and the big take home message. Remember people are curious, just because you tell them the conclusion doesn’t mean they won’t want to know the why or how.

Video Capture (Animation)

When it comes to making a good video, it is surprising to find that the video quality is not nearly as important as the audio. The audio is important to get the message across, if you can’t understand what is being said it becomes very difficult and distracting to the overall experience. Don’t worry too much modern smartphones have very good microphones, it’s just about making sure the room doesn’t have too much echo. To minimize the echo try to pick a room with lots of soft furnishing to prevent the sound bouncing around the room. If you can’t find a good room one idea is to isolate the microphone like in the below image.

Once the audio is sorted, think about the lighting. Natural light is best but you can always make do with what you have. If a person is the focus of the shot think about shadow, and remember any white surface (a whiteboard or refill pad) will reflect lots of light making it perfect for adding additional light sources.

Getting the composition right for a shot is important too, keep in mind the following to help your composition greatly:

  1. The rule of thirds. Place the subject on a line that is 1/3rd in from the edges. This helps with giving context to the scene (where is it, what is going on), and leaving room to put in descriptive text.
  2. Check the background. Keep in mind what can be seen in the background of a shot, you don’t want your hard work ruined by inappropriate images/object in the background.

Animation can form the majority of your video, supplement live-action shots, or maybe you don’t have any. Animation can be time-consuming and hard to get right. But if you do want to add it in I would have a look at VideoScribe and CrazyTalk. VideoScribe is a whiteboard-style animation tool, which is a hand drawing on a whiteboard. It is the perfect companion for explaining ideas and concepts with that familiar class room feel.  VideoScribe has a bunch of build in shapes and object but you can easily add more by making images in the SVG file format. Check out the video below to see how VideoScribe works.

Post-production

With all the individual shots and animation ready it’s now time to put it all together. Start with your story board and drop all the clips in the right order. There are lots of free tools available and all of them can get the job done, YouTube also has a good editing tool if you don’t want to download and install anything. Lifehacker has made a nice guide to get you started: The basics of video editing the complete guide.

When doing the post-production use only simple transitions; cut or fade is all you need. Fancy animations will suffer from a PowerPoint effect. You don’t want your nice video reminding people of those terrible power-point slide transitions.  The second thing is making it look authentic, people don’t need TV quality, in fact sometimes that can lose some of the personal charm. Don’t do too much post-production work, make sure the story is easy to follow and the audio clear. For a bonus see if you can follow the video with only audio, and then try with only video.

Tools

Below are some of the tools mentioned on the Trello board, and more that I have found while making my video. I’ll be adding tools as I use them so check back here every once in a while.

Editing

Animation

Storyboard

Conclusion

Making a science video is easy? I think so. Making a good science video is hard but with practice it is definitely possible. The rewards are great; you can communicate your science and ideas to lots of people in a short and easy to share format.

Thanks for reading! please leave a comment with any suggestion of tools you have used to make a video.

Now get out there and make those science videos.