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  • Writer's pictureCogito

220410 Journal Entry: Cogito's Journey's First Video Project

Hey, Cogito here. It's been quite a while since I last posted. After the last few posts on prebiotic sugar synthesis, which is the research I am most familiar with, I realised how little I know.

I have come across many different aspects of origins of life research, all of which are interesting topics that would make great posts. However, being simply aware and understanding something in enough detail to be able to explain it in a simple yet accurate manner are very different. As I stared at the list of topics I wanted to cover, such as hydrothermal vents, hot springs, and the reductive TCA cycle, the realisation of how out of my depth I am combined with not wanting to spread wrong information have become somewhat of a mental block.

It also doesn't help that the need to get experimental data resurfaced after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted; time to sit down to read (and reread) papers, write, edit, and make figures/illustrations does not come by often.

Yet another reason happens to be the topic of this post. That is... I have been working on a video project documenting the ongoing research at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA).

In this post/journal entry, let me share some of my experience behind the scenes and give you some sneak peeks of the product our team have been working so hard on.


No doubt the biggest undertaking of the past few months, and arguably my life thus far, is a video project for the ACA, of which I am a member. For a bit of context, I got funded to make a documentary describing the ongoing research at the ACA in late 2021. Although I was confident in our abilities to troubleshoot and learn as we go, proposing a 30-min video for my first project with a two-person team (myself and the designer for this blog, Q.A.) and no prior experience was rather ridiculous in hindsight. Since then, Q.A. and I have been constantly switching hats between our different roles, occasionally taking on new ones.

The writing involved constructing an engaging narrative covering the work of six research groups spanning many different disciplines (astrochemistry, prebiotic chemistry, geochemistry, and microbiology) which.....was surprisingly not too bad.

One of the main challenges, however, was balancing the pace of the documentary while showcasing how the research was conducted. The original vision was to feature a member from each of the six research groups explaining their project and conducting relevant experiments interjected by animations and stock footage to illustrate scientific concepts. However, it did not take long for me to realise putting a focus on the experiments will require much more time, coordination, and editing efforts. For this project, I decided to only use footage of experiments as B-rolls.

Striking the balance between pacing and details was also a dilemma when trying to convey scientific concepts accurately. Jargon is useful for condensing endless textbook paragraphs to a few words without sacrificing accuracy (in most cases). Stock footage and animations were crucial tools in aiding explanations while keeping the audience visually engaged. Q.A. and I sourced as much stock footage as we can from Envato Elements and made our own animations using Blender and After Effects for what we couldn't find. While sites like Shutterstock and Getty Images might have had what we needed, it was outside our budget. Plus, one of the long-term goals for Cogito's Journey is to share with research groups how to make their own quality content to communicate with the public. The first step to achieving that goal is learning it and testing it ourselves.

Breslow's formose reaction scheme animated by Q.A. using Adobe After Effects

In order to fit the budget, I embraced mobile photography and see how far I can push it. Experiments and interviews are filmed using a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with a 58 mm Moment lens attached. Filmic Pro and Filmic Remote proved quite useful for monitoring and adjusting sharpness and exposure. Footage of experiments was shot with the phone+lens was stabilised on a DJI OSMO 3 gimbal. While the gimbal could handle the phone by itself relatively well, the phone + case + lens + counterweight (to balance the weight of the lens) was too much and the gimbal motors heated up and/or gave way occasionally.

For video editing, we use DaVinci Resolve. My understanding is that the program has been the industry standard for colour correction for a long time and is now becoming a major player with regard to the rest of the editing process. Davinci Resolve consists of a free version and a one-time payment premium version, the former is capable (if not overcapable) for most general uses, including science communication.

Experiment B-roll shot using Galaxy S21 Ultra on an OSMO 3 Gimbal stabilised using DaVinci Resolve.

The video project also presents the opportunity to play around with Blender and finally Grease Pencil (one of Blender's functionalities that allow for 2D animation in Blender's 3D space). For anyone who wants a streamline method to make 3D models of molecules in Blender for use in publications or content creation, I find this tutorial quite helpful. Here are some YouTube channels catering towards scientists who want to learn Blender here: Brady Johnston, Luminous Lab, and CG Figures. As for Grease Pencil, I find Sophie Jantak's tutorials a great place to start (watch the bonsai video first). Other Grease Pencil channels include Dantti, Kevandram, and Dedouze.

Spinning human ribosome animated using Blender. Model Credit: S.Duce

Now that the documentary is close to finishing, I wanted to document some of the obstacles we faced as a way to share my experience with you and as a journal entry for future me to look back on. I hope some of the information here will be useful especially if you are trying to make science communication content yourself.


Thanks for reading. While I'm aware this is not my best-written post, I figured it's better to not simmer it any longer and start fresh on a new post asap. Thanks for bearing with me.

One of the best feelings ever was when one of the fellow members of my research group resonated with what I wanted to achieve and offered to help out!

And with that, I will see you in the next post!


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