Filming Commences

This week started with getting to grips with some animation software to start to produce some motion graphics, useful for transitions, backgrounds or titles. This involved wrestling with the notoriously challenging 3D animation software blender. After many tutorials and lots of practice, I was able to produce a few short transitions which I have to say, after the steep learning curve, I was quite proud of.

Also early in the week, we were given the opportunity to drop in on some video interview filming that was taking place on site. Here we got the chance to ask questions and learn from people far more experienced from us regarding the hardware and filming/interview techniques. This would prove very useful, especially because of the next challenge which faced us.

The next big task was one of the most important. On Tuesday, we began filming for a test shoot. We got a chance to produce our pilot episodes to visualise the format. So, we set-up and troubleshooted our equipment and then began shooting. For this test shoot, we would be the ones doing the presenting.  

At first it was tough. We stumbled over our words, stuttered here and there and mis-read sentences…but over the next few minutes as our voices began to warm up and we began to feel more comfortable being in front of our new set-up, things started to fall in to place.

We both took to it pretty quickly with the presenting beginning to feel quite natural and fun. This was great news for us! It meant recording this whole test shoot might not be so bad after all!

So for the next couple of hours or so, we began to collect the footage we needed for our test pilot episode. We took multiple takes to ensure we could select the best one for the final edit. Eventually though, we had collected all the footage that we would need for our pilot episode.

With our newly shot test footage, it was to the editing suite…well, to our computers at least. Using the software we had begun to learn over the past couple of weeks, it was time to get down to some serious editing. We had to turn raw clips into an engaging fully formed pilot episode.

Part of my video involved a screen capture segment. For this I would be guiding viewers through the relevant bioinformatic tools and their respective websites. For the pilot I started simple, BLAST, a tool we use to search for ‘sequence alignments’ against a huge database of organisms. You can input a nucleotide or protein sequence and BLAST will then find organisms with similar or identical sequences. Its often considered the bread and butter for many experimental molecular biologists. It often lays the ground work for years of experimental work to follow so it’s a big deal and is often on of the most important tools to learn.

I used screen recording software to navigate through the online tool while filming myself speaking at the same time. This would then go on to form a tutorial style segment with a picture-in-picture presenter guiding the viewer through the whole process.

More video editing followed. Back to the pilot. Now I began to edit the various segments together. What initially started as very separate video clips began to form a cohesive episode.

During this, it was time for Friday morning coffee, our site-wide meeting…albeit on a Thursday. Why the counter-intuitive change? For Valentine’s day!

The theme of this week’s Valentines meeting was all about respecting and saying thanks to those who you care about and those who you work with. Of course, actions speak louder than words, so it was time for a game to demonstrate! This week it was a 3-legged ribbon race. Groups were tied together by the ankles and somehow, they had to compete and race towards the finish line. It certainly made for an amusing morning meeting and helped to illustrate many of the points discussed including respect, communication and team-work.

Following this, it was time to render our edited videos, the episode was finished!

…although as always, the moment you render anything you instantly find 10 mistakes you never saw before…so after re-editing and re-rendering, then it was finished! Time to get some feedback. We began to send this around to relevant people to gain feedback. Over the coming weeks, we were planning to take this feedback on board for when we reshoot with Mwihaki who kindly volunteered to help present the final version of the pilot.

Things really were coming together very rapidly much to our delight.

Saturday had approached us. Most days we are greeted with rather consistent weather. Cool dry heat in the morning turning in to blisteringly hot in the afternoon, it’s easy to predict. Today though, it would be different. We experienced our first drops of rain since being out in Kenya. This wasn’t just a light sprinkling though, this rain was heavy. While the duration of the rain wasn’t particularly long, lasting less than an hour intermittently throughout the day, boy was it a lot in a short space of time. The roof sounded as if it was about to cave in there was so much!

Anyone who enjoys a bit of writing knows that the sound of rain often is an excellent audio backdrop for facilitating some creative flow. I got to work with some blog writing…and this is what you are reading right now! (Breaking the fourth wall now, aren’t I? I’m sorry!)

On Sunday, the weather decided to behave itself and was back to the sunny consistency of the prior weeks once more.

A couple of years ago, I did a masters degree in Biotechnology at the University of Leeds. I loved every second of it. Not only did I find the content really interesting, but I really enjoyed the city and met lots of great people. During this time, I was in shared private rented accommodation. One of my housemates was Brian, originally from Nairobi, Kenya but now studying for a PhD in Leeds.

Brian finished his PhD and headed back to Nairobi just a few weeks before we arrived. Considering, I am now in Nairobi myself…of course, we had to meet up again! It’s always nice to see a familiar face and connect with old friends.

We spent the day walking through Karura forest, a wonderful natural retreat from the hustle-bustle of the city. This is a tranquil and well-maintained nature trails through an expansive forest landscape. It felt almost magical to have such incredible nature right in the capital of Kenya, it was a delight to explore!

The forest is home to a wide variety of birds, monkeys, bats, porcupines, antelope-species, badgers, reptiles, bush pigs, butterflies and more. We managed to see quite a few along different types of flora or fauna along our travels, it was quite something.

Spot the monkey!

It also features over 50 kilometres of visitor trails. This forest is quite special in that you can hire a bicycle and navigate the lush forest. This time however, we decided to opt for the slower method of walking to really soak up all the natural goodness, it really was something.  For those visiting Nairobi, we would definitely recommend stopping by at Karura Forest!

As a reward for our walking efforts, it was time to refuel. We stopped of at Club Sidai Oleng, a local sports bar and restaurant. Here we feasted on a freshly prepared mixed grill.

This mixed grill isn’t quite like the one we get in the UK though. It has a Kenyan twist. We first were approached by four gentlemen ready to take our order. Did we have four waiters? Not quite, these were all the chefs! In this restaurant, you spoke and ordered directly with the chef you wanted to purchase from. One specialised in chicken, one pork, another beef and another goat. We opted for chicken. I hadn’t had much chicken, if any, since I had been out here, so it was a nice change.

The plate came up stacked high with food. As part of the mixed grill we got chicken meat accompanied with plenty of well-seasoned potato and tuber fries (absolutely delicious), a hard boiled each, grilled maize, and some vegetables. I could certainly get used to this every day, the meal was so tasty! It wasn’t long before the mixed grill was practically inhaled by both of us. A massive mountain of food had disappeared within minutes although the final few handfuls were a struggle. The portion was very generous, so we certainly didn’t go away hungry!

And with that, another week draws to a close. We are making great progress with the video series and we are still very much enjoying all that Nairobi has to offer. We can’t wait to see what next week has in store for us!

Danny Ward

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[“This work was supported by the Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP), by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom (BBSRC) through the BBSRC-STARS grant with reference BB/R020272/1 awarded for the ABCF Bioinformatics Community of Practice, and by the BecA-ILRI Hub through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program. The ABCF program is funded by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the BecA-CSIRO partnership; the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)”

Key personnel/contributors linked to this project:

BecA-ILRI hub (Nairobi) – Dr. Jean-Baka Domelevo Entfellner ¦ Dr. Peter Emmrich ¦ Dr. Wellington Ekaya

John Innes Centre/UEA – JIC Graduate School Office ¦ UEA Internships and Placements team ¦ Hans Pfalzgraf ¦ Danny Ward    

We would like to extend our gratitude to all those listed, along with all others, who contributed and supported towards this project in various capacities – this wouldn’t have been possible without your help]

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