Archive for April, 2010

What you see is as good as it gets

April 20, 2010

Global Astronomy Month

You live in a galaxy. As you look beyond our galaxy you see – guess what? – other galaxies. This 4 minute video is about getting the most out of your telescope, binoculars and/or naked eye. It explains why the views you have from within our own Milky Way galaxy are probably as good as, and probably similar to, those anyone could get anywhere else in the Universe.

This video mainly uses the techniques made popular by Ken Burns of still images animated by pan movements and transitions. Another well-known video that uses still images and text is ‘Shift Happens’. Points to discuss:

  • The ‘Ken Burns Effect’ in cinematography – what can be done with still shots through panning and movement
  • use of text as in ‘Shift Happens’
  • whether music is essential, extraneous, and/or noticeable by its absence in a purely documentary video
  • constructivist potential for this topic -ie- using the web or real-life astronomy images to test the theme that things look pretty similar across the Universe
  • contrast with sci-fi concepts

How to Read a Star Map

April 15, 2010

For Global Astronomy Month or anytime. Telescopes have a narrow field of view. Without a map it is hard to find even famous objects in the sky. This 4 minute video overviews the most common star map/atlas legend symbols.

Unlike most of my videos this one focussed on content rather than media. It is intended as a stimulus for a school , club or scout/guide exercize. Star map reading tends not to be part of any curriculum.

Even those sophisticated in Earth maps may not have grasped the true layout of objects fading off into the Milky Way star clouds – Why would they? It took humankind until the 20th Century to work this out. It’s not obvious.

Participants can easily create the standard set of astro-symbols using PowerPoint and make up their own psuedo-starcharts. Instead of drawing the map an alternative could be to take the camera out under the night sky and film then map some bright area of the sky. But my video exercize is more practical for use during the school day as the Web provides countless examples, photos and drawings of the main map features such as globular clusters, galaxies etc. and all that is needed is some black paper. One good way of drawing astronomical images is with spattered white paint from a toothbrush. Some software also draws good star images and foggy nebulae.

Points to look for and discuss:

  • created in a PowerPoint as a slide show
  • NASA and Google animations inserted to give a bit of variety and speed production.
  • The main technique used here was fade-in overlays. These can be done in many ways but PowerPoint animation is easy to control when you want multiple elements entering at different speeds.

Below are still shots of the items needed to do the map drawing exercize. Make sure to use black & white drawings only:


Legend for drawing exercize


sample pseudo-map on which to base drawing

Global Astronomy Month – April

April 12, 2010

The Best Views of the Universe are from our own Backyards

A 9-minute movie with a dual purpose: demonstrate quick movie-production techniques combining puppetry and 3D animation while offering food for thought about astronomy.

This script started life as a children’s book manuscript. However, I got a good response from an article on this theme: 

So the challenge was to translate this into the much more band-intensive medium of a movie. Many techniques were employed. Puppets were not used to be ‘cute’ or to appeal to younger children. Rather, they were much easier to use with a one-man-&-a-laptop movie studio. A puppeteer can read the script off-camera in real-time, not needing to memorize it. Note, however that the bear in the TV scenes is an iClone animation using the puppet bear’s face and in the final scene is a voice-synched animation (CrazyTalk) of a still shot of the puppet (against a blue screen). Animations are even easier to use when there are potential edits, revisions, and re-uses of the script.

Points to consider and discuss:

  • use of spoof (puppet as “1st bear in outer space ..”) to parody the notion that ‘experts’ are needed to discuss what should be ‘general knowledge’ for the human race -ie- our wherebouts in space.
  • animal puppets and alternatives – whether live actors, picture cut-outs, avatars, clay models, dolls, clip art cartoons or other character portrayals would be equally or more effective.
  • ‘rear projection’ technique live-filming puppets in front of still image and moving image screens.
  • ‘chroma key’ with talking head in final scene.
  • ‘integrated media’ -ie- carrying a character (astronaut) across multiple media -ie- puppet > 3D avatar (iClone) > talking head (CrazyTalk) avatar.
  • 3D character’s ‘space suit’ created from iClone ‘hero’ armour with colour brightened and de-contrasted.
  • helmets created from CrazyTalk ‘fun messenger frame’. 
  • voices using falsetto rather than digital pitch-shifting.
  • archival public domain movie and NASA space footage.
  • home photos of stars using ‘night shot’ feature of standard videocamera.
  • interior of house from 3D iClone sets.
  • videoscreen created from animated .gif of movie laid over a powerpoint image of room and TV created from Win Media Player screen shot.
  • song created with software and multitrack harmonies.
  • alternative ways of presenting same message -ie- 4 page text version, podcast…etc.
  • alternatives to ‘preachy’ message -ie whether some discovery method might better convey this message