From China, The Long Way Around.

For Hans and I, it was time for another week of the PIPS internship out in Nairobi, Kenya. What will this week have in store for us?

We first started, following our weekly Monday morning meeting, with a bit of creative brainstorming. As part of our internship, we are creating a series of online training videos which will form a full series of education university-level resources. We could just throw it online as ‘generic training video number 231’ but realistically, for the best audience reach, we needed a good name.

Armed with a smart whiteboard, we spent a bit of time just coming up with as many ideas as we could for an overarching series name. Some were very good, others barely even made sense but at this point, it was just a chance to let our brains let loose. Potentially we could get a name straight from the whiteboard or these ideas could lead to other suitable names.

The nice thing about a smart board is that you can easily export what you have written. This made it easy to distribute our ideas around so that we could get some input and suggestions. What we found is that many of the names we completely overlooked, we’re in fact, some of the favourite ones.

As of last week, we were officially overdue a green screen. We needed this to begin green screen tests which would then lead in to pilot episode filming with a presenter. After a lot of patience, we were pleased to find that this week would be our lucky week. We were finally greeted with a green screen! After travelling from China the slow way around, our package had finally been delivered.

We could begin testing out the green screen and how effective it was for chroma-keying (removing and replacing the background). The screen was somewhat creased when it arrived to say the least. Not only are we learning useful video production skills as part of this internship, we also get the chance to practice some domestic skills too apparently. We had to iron the green screen carefully so that we gently removed the creases without damaging the synthetic material.

Slowly but surely, we started to see and more even looking green-screen. It was now time to get testing!

For the green-screen, we found the perfect way to hang it. Hidden in a storage area, out of the way was a big blue pin board which we could nicely hang up our green-screen. It was a suitable height, had wheels and we could secure the screen material in place fairly securely. What’s more, is that this board was an even blue and so could double as a blue screen! While the green-screen will give better quality, it does provide us, and the people after us, with options should the need arise.

But first, we had to move this huge pin board to our filming room…on the other side of campus up several flights of stairs. With a good dose of teamwork and determination, we finally got it to where it needed to be. It certainly must have been an odd sight, two guys hauling a giant blue board all over campus.

This was soon followed by something which must have looked even more odd. Hauling a ridiculously long PVC pipe over campus. No, we weren’t about to go into the roof guttering business, this tube was a great find that would allow us to roll up our green-screen for safe storage.

After a few practice shots and edits, it looks as though we struck lucky with the greenscreen as it worked well. We we’re confident that this would help us ultimately produce a professional looking pilot.

Following this, I managed to squeeze in a little more animation work. Working primarily with Synfig and Inkscape, I was able to draft up a few transitions which we could build on. These would be short animations placed in between neighbouring video clips that are different in theme to break up the episode. I also got a chance to play around in blender to learn more about the software, write this up in the technical user guide and produce a few simple animations to give us a better idea of what the software is capable of and its suitability for the video series.

Feedback from our initial test pilot played a large part in shaping this week too. We had sent out our initial test pilot episodes to various teams and departments. The aim behind this was to gain useful feedback and input from people who may watch or recommend the future video series. What they found worked well and what they feel could be improved, will be taken and incorporated in to future filming reshoots over the coming weeks with our presenters for the full final pilot episode.  

We’re excited for what the next few weeks have 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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