Science Videos Improve Communication by Anupreet Kharbanda
Illustration by Anupreet Kharbanda

Science videos add an interactive and visually stimulating angle to science communication. Let’s discuss how motion, whether live-action or animation, can help improve science communication and when it’s necessary. Then I go on a small tangent about how to improve the sound quality of your recordings.

I started writing long-form stories as soon as I could put words into writing.

Why? Because I was sick of reading stories written by other people and had a lot of my own ideas. I still read, but I started spending time creating characters and putting them into tough situations. This morphed into a need to see them outside of my head, so I started learning to draw more seriously around the age of 10 so I could draw my characters in scenes from my stories.

Never one to settle, by high school, I decided that I need to see my characters in motion. So I started simple hand animations. Making my characters blink, wink, and speak.

After high school, I attended a fine arts university for film school and took animation classes. I learned more on my own, too, because I can’t get enough of video! Even today, I often look for cool YouTube channels to watch (and study). I love reading about different storytelling modalities. And yes, I still write, draw, and animate stories! (I’m actually hoping to publish something this year. )

But when is motion absolutely necessary? 

I think it becomes necessary when a topic is about motion or change. You can use arrows to imply motion, but actually showing the motion just makes sense. Especially when things get complex.

I also think motion helps visualize things in 3 dimensions. Seeing a 3D design (not necessarily 3D animation, but just seeing things from more than one angle) in motion can really help to solidify a concept.

Humans are drawn to motion. Our eyes and attention are pulled to it, and science videos are no exception. But why? Let’s talk about how motion helps when telling stories.

Science videos show the action

You can see someone walk across the room. It conveys the motion, but also the emotion of the person. All without any words attached.

The context of motion can tell you a lot. You know based on the motion whether you’re looking at a cop drama bringing in a prisoner, or you’re looking at a heist with criminals robbing a bank. You don’t need words or sounds to get a general idea.

In fact, while I was in film school, we had several projects where we had to do silent films. I learned a lot about conveying ideas without words as well as how to edit video in order to push a story forward.

This is true for science videos as well. Instead of just reading about a concept, being able to see it in action allows the audience to fit concepts together into one bigger picture.

Motion transforms a 2D image into a 3D world

When you see something from one angle, it can be misleading. How often have you seen a picture of someone online, and then when you meet them and see them in motion, they look somewhat different? We intuitively know that still images don’t always reflect the reality of 3D objects.

Science videos are transformative, turning an idea into a fully developed concept map inside the heads of our audiences.

With motion comes sound!

Can we take a moment to appreciate sound though? I think it’s totally under-appreciated!

In film school, I ended up working toward a minor in sound design. This is because sound can make or break a video. Typically, a person is much more likely to stop watching a video with annoying or poor sound quality than poor video. A hiss, background hum, popping sounds, overmodulation.

My skin crawls just thinking about it.

You can improve your sound in some simple ways

Reduce echo with objects that absorb sound so that it doesn’t bounce. Curtains or foam can do this. I’ve even been known to get under the covers in bed to record narration. (It’s comfy, don’t judge me.)

Our brains are very good at tuning out constant noise, but if you take a moment to think about it, you’ll hear all the noise that’s constantly around us. You can remove a lot of noise with audio programs, but it’s important to reduce as much noise as possible before recording.

Another tip for dealing with sound is to sit back at least a foot from the microphone, or purchase a pop screen. This helps with those popping Ps. But you don’t want to get too far away from your mic. Figure out what distance sounds best for your mic before you record.

The type of microphone you use can be important, too. Microphones come in different types, and one of the most important considerations is directionality. This is WHERE it records sound from. For example, a unidirectional mic only records from one direction.

Different mics work well for different scenarios, and you’ll want to think about the environment you’re working in before you start recording. 

A unidirectional mic is great for working outdoors or when there’s noise that you can’t control. A cardioid microphone works in low noise environments where you may just be sitting and talking (definitely want to beware of echo with these though). An omnidirectional microphone is best when you want to pick up a group or environment sound.

Hopefully this is motivation to get you started with exploring motion to communicate science!

Ideas for Next Steps

Go out and create. The best way to learn is to go out and try it yourself!

Work with a videographer to shoot a video of your science in action! Or shoot video yourself – you can start with your smartphone and an external microphone that works with you phone.

Collaborate with someone who can make animations or an animated video explaining your science! You can start by getting in touch with Lifeology members who have skills in video creation and/or animation!