Documentary Storytelling

In the Science Filmmaking workshops that Jeff Morales and I teach, we are always hammering home the importance of STORYTELLING. Our students get tired of hearing us say, “yes, but what is the STORY?”. But, we have to keep driving this point home, because Story is what makes strange, complex, esoteric, and reductionist science accessible to the general public. I’ve told our students that if they have a good story, they can make a great film with their iPhone.

I found a great book about storytelling for filmmakers, and I just had to pass it on. I’ve read only the first chapter, but I know that it is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to understand how to tell stories with a visual medium. Check it out:

Documentary Storytelling, Third Edition: Creative Nonfiction on Screen

Documentary Storytelling

Fun with ‘miniature faking’

For the last month or so I have been having some fun with making scale models of my surroundings. I’m not actually breaking out the glue gun and paintbrushes, I am using a neat photographic technique called ‘miniature faking‘ that makes photos appear as though they are taken of miniature scale models. This technique mimics the use of expensive specialty ‘tilt-shift‘ lenses that alter perspective by being able to, you guessed it, tilt and shift the glass elements of the lens relative to the focal plane of the camera. These lenses serve to distort perspectives in strange and wonderful ways that make scenes look like they are miniaturized.

In more simple terms, and in a more simple approach, we can trick our brain into thinking that we are looking at scale models. Three factors come into play. 1) If we blur the outer edges of the photo, this invokes the look of a macro lens. 2) If we shoot looking down on a scene, it looks as though we are looking down on a scale model, and 3) if we saturate the colors of the image, it removes what is known as the ‘atmosphere effect’. In the real world, if you take a picture of faraway objects, the colors of the object tend to dull with increasing distance. If you were looking at a scale model, there would be no atmosphere effect. That’s it, there is no real distorting of the image. Neat!

Check out this example:

Miniature Fake Example

So how can you accomplish this easily? I have been using the iPhone application “TiltShiftGen”, which is a great way to create these images when you are out and about. There is also a tutorial about how to do this with Photoshop, which can be found here.

To see more of my fake miniatures, check out my Flickr page. Enjoy!

Great music by Daniel Lanois and Black Dub

I’ve long been a fan of Daniel Lanois, both as a musician (see his albums ‘Acadie’ and ‘For the Beauty of Wynona’) and as a producer (U2, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and now Neil Young). Some of Daniel’s most recent albums haven’t captured my attention, but his new project, ‘Black Dub’, is not to be missed.

Along with Lanois on guitar and vocals, Black Dub features vocalist/keyboardist/drummer Trixie Whitley (who sings with style and passion that seem way beyond her young 24 years), star drummer Brian Blade, and bass player Daryl Johnson. Black Dub are ambient, rocking, soulful, and fun to watch. They have no albums out yet, just a series of live videos filmed in their rehearsal studio. I watch them all the time, here is one of my favorites:

Kelp stretching video with GoPro HD

I co-teach an ‘Ecological Adaptations of Seaweeds’ course each autumn in Bamfield. One of the fun labs that we do involves figuring out how much force it takes to break a kelp stipe. These giant algae are remarkably stretchy and can withstand quite a lot of force. I made a video to show what we do, so check it out. This was filmed at 720p (60fps) with a GoPro HD Hero helmet camera, and edited in Final Cut Pro. I converted the native GoPro format to the ProRes 422 codec for editing.

Kelp Stretching BMSC Fall Program 2010 from ScienceFilm on Vimeo.