Video editing in the ‘vertical’ dimension

In the last chapter of his book In the Blink of an Eye (Viking, 2001) film editor Walter Murch explores the possibilities inherent in the digital future of  film editing. He predicts film editors will be able to manipulate moving images in much the same way sound editors manipulate many layers of sound:

Up until now…[motion]picture editors have thought almost exclusively in the horizontal direction. The question to be answered was simply, “What’s next?”…that’s complicated enough–there are a tremendous number of options in the construction of a film. In the future, that number is going to become even more cosmic because film editors will have to start thinking vertically as well, which is to say: “What can I edit within the frame?”

Last week Adobe previewed a new technology called a video mesh that looks an awful lot like Murch’s “vertical” dimension.  It allows the film editor to extract 3D elements from live 2D video and ‘re-shoot’ certain aspects of the scene (e.g. depth of field). It is even possible to reposition characters and objects within the scene once the 3D landscape has been defined.

In the future, video meshes and other technologies like light field photography may completely change the way we think about 2D images and how best to capture them. Will these new possibilities lead to innovative filmmaking or will too many options lead to a kind of self-conscious paralysis? As Walter Murch says, we already have a “tremendous number of options” at our disposal.

Lizard bite force

Here is a fun and informative video by scientist-filmmakers Neil Losin and Dan Nappen on the bite of the crested anole–a lizard native to Puerto Rico which has invaded South Florida. Neil is researching how the transplanted anole has adapted to its new environment by measuring its bite force, an indicator of food preference and level of competition with other lizards. The video has a great sound track and engages us with simple motion graphics that help elucidate where the research is taking place and how the Florida anole compares to its island-inhabiting progenitors. You can watch more of Neil and Dan’s videos on the website of their production company Day’s Edge Productions.

(Thanks to Bora Zikovic @BoraZ for the tip.)

How to make a viral science video

Image: hitthatswitch/Flickr
Image: hitthatswitch/Flickr

Ever wondered what makes a video go viral? As an online science video producer I’m constantly mulling over this question, trying to figure out the right formula of content and style to create a popular video.

Some students of YouTube claim that viral videos have common characteristics.  Kevin Nalty, a professional marketer and “weblebrity” with over 187 million views on YouTube, thinks he has the formula at least partially figured out. He writes in his  book “Beyond Viral: How to attract customers, promote your brand and make money with online video” that viral videos tend to include these types of content:

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Is crowd-sourcing the future of science and nature documentaries?


Thanks to the web everything’s being crowd-sourced–from encyclopedias (see Wikipedia) to science (see FoldIt) to journalism (see iReport) to political campaigns (see Obama’s, 2008). So it was only a matter of time before filmmakers caught the zeitgeist and started producing crowd-sourced documentaries.

The most ambitious such project, from director Ridley Scott, debuted last Thursday at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. “Life in a Day” is a 94-minute film that documents the lives of regular people across the globe. Shot by amateur filmmakers at different times and on different continents, the film was edited down and arranged into the chronology of a single day.

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A few of my favorite science and nature documentaries

David Attenborough in "The Life of Mammals"
David Attenborough in "The Life of Mammals" Image: BBC Worldwide

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on

It’s 2011 and one of this year’s goals  is to relaunch this blog. When I started back in ’09 my goal was to build and grow a “portal” website that would cover a lot of different areas of science. But this is a fool’s errand unless you have limitless time and resources to play with.

So is back with a more personal bent and  a new focus, which is to explore the intersection of science, journalism and multimedia. Or in other words, I’ll  mostly be writing about how we tell true stories about the natural world using all of the modalities of multimedia available to us in the 21st century…whew! Don’t worry–I promise it will be fun.

So with that, let me start by sharing with you some of the science and nature documentaries that have made an impression on me over the years and continue to be a source of inspiration as I create my own body of work.  If you think I’ve missed an awesome movie or three let me know in the comments.

Death by Design:Where Parallel Worlds Meet (Friedman/sBrunet, 1995)

This is a documentary about apoptosis–a.k.a. programmed cell death; a topic most documentary producers wouldn’t touch with a very long stick.  But it’s  artfully pulled off  by Jean-Francois Brunet and Peter Friedman (a microbiologist and film director, respectively) by blending archival footage of Hollywood musicals with microcinematography of cells committing suicide.

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Ten Must Read Science Stories of 2009


If you are looking for an exhaustive, comprehensive list of 2009’s best science stories–you have come to the wrong place. If that’s your cup of tea, I’ll direct you to Scientific American’s incredibly complete and insightful slide show of the year’s biggest stories.*

Instead, what follows is a compendium of the ten stories that I personally found interesting, culled from the mysterious depths of my Facebook and Twitter accounts. These are articles that, for one reason or another, I deemed compelling enough to share with my friends and colleagues–and now with you. And just like the seconds counting down to 2010, we’ll start with number ten and work our way down to number one.

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VIDEO: A Profile of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, may be the most underdiagnosed health problem in America today. Health officials estimate more than two million Americans  suffer from it, but only a small fraction of cases are ever diagnosed.

In the spirit of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Science of the Times brings you the story of Kelly Courson, a 37-year old receptionist who was confronted with a bewildering array of symptoms in her early twenties. After years of misdiagnosis by doctors,  she recognized her illness as Celiac disease and began treating herself.

Now she helps other Celiac sufferers adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle through her website Celiac Chicks.

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CSPI “Riskiest Foods” List Misleads Public

Based on cases reported in the CSPI Outbreak Alert! database:

A Seattle Times headline caught my eye on Wednesday, stating that leafy greens are the number one “riskiest” food item in terms of food-borne illness.  I found that surprising, as you would expect most food-related illnesses to arise from improper handling of meat and dairy products.

The Times article was based on a “riskiest foods” list compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog group that pushes for  nutrition and food safety legislation. They compiled the list from their own Outbreak Alert! database, which contains data from outbreaks as far back as the early 1990s . The “riskiest list” was created by looking at the FDA-regulated foods with the largest number of outbreaks and reported cases. The key word here is “FDA-regulated.” The FDA regulates just about every food product–except meat.

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