While Appearing

Well, yesterday evening turned out to be very interesting. I went to two things, my main mission being to get the chance to stand up in front of the groups of students and tell them about the USC Science Film Competition. The first was at the Academy for Polymathic Study (what better set of students to interest in this than the ones signed up to do things in the spirit of polymathy?), during the late afternoon “Polymathic Pizza” series. (I’ve presented in that very series myself, talking about the idea of “Play” in science and how important it is for creativity and discovery.) Happily, my friend and colleague Tara McPherson from the School of Cinematic Arts was presenting, and so after I told the students about the competition, I sat and listened to her presentation, since I had some time before the next thing. It was marvellous, and the students were very engaged. Tara took them through the arc of her academic interests over the years of her career, showing how she morphed from (mostly) traditional humanist to someone who researches and explores the role of all kinds of media in popular culture, helping to explore and create new forms of journal, new ways of presenting data, and studying the impact of media. I recommend looking at the journal Vectors for an example of a journal that is designed to present works that would not work as well in traditional print (e.g., being able to have a scholarly discussion of a piece of video media is helped a lot by being able to show it alongside your argument – not so easy in a print journal), and then head over to Scalar, created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (which Tara directs) which is collaborating with a number of University presses on various approaches to new platforms for new media in academia. She also mentioned various examples in the scientific side of things with regards using distributed media for things like crowdsourcing important data.

I had to leave before she finished, so did not get to ask her the question on many of your minds: what is the origin of the (playful?) choice of names Vectors and Scalar?

Then I went over the School of Cinematic Arts to meet another friend and colleague, Eric Hanson, who is a specialist in visual effects and scientific visualisation (I learned not long ago that he collaborated with my friend and co-presenter on the Universe, Laura Danly of the Griffith Observatory, to create one of their latest planetarium shows)… Eric was hosting two guest speakers in an evening seminar series, and before the main evening events started, he let me stand up and tell the students about the competition, and answer a few questions about it. I was happy to see some of the students who entered films last year in the audience. Some of them are interested to participate again this year, they say, so that’s encouraging.

Well, I was supposed to dash off, after announcing, to something else, but it turned out that the two guests from the Industry (who’ve worked on a ton of films you’ve probably seen) were talking about a topic that interests me a great deal – Steroscopic 3D film, and so I stayed. (You’ll recall that with the History Channel and Sky I was involved in some early 3D science TV work – it actually turned out to be the first full length science documentary program on TV – and I spent a lot of time talking with the DP about 3D. We later filmed a whole short season in 3D, which aired this year….)

One of the most pleasing things about the whole thing was that one of the presenters, a seasoned practitioner who has trained the most experienced directors and directors of photography in the industry in how to understand and use Steroscopic (3D) techniques from the set right through to post-production, was as stunned and entranced by Wim Wenders’ film Pina as I was. I regard that as a landmark film, showing fully – finally – that 3D in film can be integral to telling the story, and not just a gimmicky add-on, as is the case in so many more mainstream products. I was blown away (as they say) by it last year, and as I think I’ve said here before, I recommend it to you if you see it on in any decent 3D theater (whether you care about dance or not).


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