How to get research on the small screen


Cutting-edge science on TV -- film at 11!

Introducing MIT Video Productions (MVP), which regularly helps MIT researchers produce videos of their research. Why are such videos useful? How much do they cost? What are some tips for creating one?

Those questions and more were answered at a two-hour IAP session last week run by members of the MVP staff. The same session will also be offered Thursday, Jan. 14 from noon-2pm in Rm 9-057 and Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 4-6pm in Rm 9-057.

Why produce a video of your research? MVP Director Lawrence D. Gallagher gave several reasons. For example, a video can document a project over time. "People like to see in retrospect how the research has evolved," he said.

Videos can also be shown to sponsors, used to present the research at conferences or trade shows, and substituted for live demonstrations that can be time-consuming. Another use: videos can help "publicize and promote your research to a national (and international) TV audience." The latter works well in collaboration with the MIT News Office, which can develop other publicity materials (such as a press release) to accompany the video.

Last year the MVP, in collaboration with the News Office, produced a video of Cog, the humanoid robot being developed by Professor Rodney A. Brooks and colleagues at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The video has been used in many ways. For example, Brian M. Scassellati, one of the graduate students involved in the work, used the original 45-minute tape to create a shorter version for a conference on artificial intelligence.

The original tape has also helped the researchers handle media interest in Cog. Since last May it has been distributed to almost 40 TV outlets.

The cost of producing a video depends on the project. Videos that are scripted, filmed and edited by the MVP staff cost more than those in which some steps are completed by the researcher. For an estimate of how much a given video will cost, contact Mr. Gallagher at x3-0544 or ldg@mit.edu.

"Once I get [something] together, can I bring the patient to you to cure?" asked one audience member. "Yes," answered Jay F. Collier, MVP post-production coordinator/editor. "We have a system that allows us to work with tape produced from almost any system."

Among the tips Mr. Collier gave for shooting your own research video: don't use VHS. "It has several problems," he said. "It doesn't hold up well to copying; there are no digital numbers (time codes) on the tape, which makes it very difficult to edit; and it has a limited resolution."

A researcher can also ask the MVP to do the filming. Enter Craig R. Milanesi, MVP production coordinator, who also had some tips for the audience. "When I come in to your lab I need to know what you want to see [in the video]," he said. "Establish for me who, what, when, where and how."

Before the actual shoot, "I would encourage you to invite me over to look at your lab to evaluate the lighting and other factors." Cog, for example, was a difficult lighting situation due to such things as a bank of video monitors behind the robot. In such a situation, "it can take half an hour to set up the lights for a single shot."

See the MIT Video Productions web site for more information. The MVP site includes an online guide intended to help MIT producers prepare their research video projects.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 13, 1999.


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