Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Shoot three: Adam Rutherford

Our third shoot was with Adam Rutherford, at the lovely Rio Cinema in Dalston, re-creating a scene from Donnie Darko.

Adam describes himself as a "professional geek", so obviously we had to ask him to be in our calendar. He has a PhD in the genetics of the eye, and now works as an editor at the ultimate* science journal, Nature, running their (awesome) podcast and video department. You might also have seen him on TV, heard him on the radio or read some of his pieces at the Guardian. Here's a pic of Louise interviewing Adam for our video, just before the shoot.

Interviewing Adam

As well all his science-ing, Adam is also a not-so-secret ginormous film geek. He even admitted to having watched Gus Van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho alongside the original, just to check.

So, Adam insisted if he was going to be in Geek Calendar, it had to be a film-themed shoot and that is why, on one of the sunniest days of the year, we all spent several hours in a darkened room, inside this gorgeous building, rather than out of it.

Our location

Just the six of us amongst rows and rows of empty seats, a flickering screen at the front and the sound of a projector running echoing around us (a sound that was ever so slightly like a waterfall, I was pleased I'd gone for a wee before leaving home).

It was lovely and cool in there though. Well, at least for those of us not wearing a bunny costume.

Between setting up shots topic we compared notes on Ang Lee's Hulk (under-rated, no?), Watchmen (the bunny had been to the Secret Cinema premier showing, jealous much?), Psycho (apparently that's chocolate sauce in the shower scene) and Lord of the Rings (a film mainly about going on a walk?). We also discussed some inventive ways to stop bunny ears going flaccid, but that's probably best kept between ourselves.

The bunny gets a bit overheated getting dressed up

Despite a few fits of giggles, at least from me**, and Adam constantly being told he was "too happy" for the morose teenager role, not to mention poor Mun Keat nearly fainting in the bunny costume, we did get some amazing shots for the calendar. We were really lucky with the Rio's red seats which made a lovely contrast with the Bunny's grey fur. You can sneak a (v blurry) peak over at our flickr page.

I leave you with a shot of the rest of the group as I left, sitting in the cinema checking film clips on a phone.

Watching a movie

* Sorry, Science. We think you are cool too.
** What is it about a bunny costume that makes anything the person in it says or does funny?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Shoot two: guest post from Lewis Dartnell

We thought we'd let our geek subject tell you about the second shoot, so what follows is a guest post from Lewis Dartnell (photos by me, though not many as it was too dark inside the Planetarium!)

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

The plan for this Geek Calendar shoot was to go for an other-worldly feel. My research is in astrobiology and the search for life beyond Earth. I was scheduled to give a big public event at the Royal Observatory in the evening of Thursday 17th June, using the awesome wrap-around graphics capabilities of the vast planetarium dome to explain exactly where we're most likely to discover alien life, and I thought this might also make the ideal setting for some photos.

The Greenwich planetarium is as close to the 'natural habitat' of a research astrobiologist as you're ever likely to be able to reach in an afternoon, and it holds a particularly fond place in my heart. The extraterrestrial landscapes projected onto the cavernous dome also provide a far more exciting backdrop than the clinical blankness of the benches and shelves of the microbiology labs I work in at UCL.

So on the sunny Thursday afternoon, I met Ben the photographer, Barry the documentary film maker, and Louise the fearsome photoshoot director in the backstreet between the Wellcome Collection and UCL, and we bundled ourselves into a black cab with a heap of kit piled in around our feet. Barry had callously declared he wanted to sit as far away from me as possible (he later tried to claim it had something or other to do with the focal length of the camera lens… What'evs) so we sat diagonally opposite each other. Barry wired me for sound, balanced the video camera on his knees, and Louise lead the interview as we bounced through the jostling streets of central London towards Greenwich.

Being interviewed and filmed inside a cramped black cab driving to my next event was quite a surreal experience, but I'll be honest about secretly enjoying the thrill of feeling like a politician. In fact, with me never quite knowing if Barry had paused the recording for the time being or not whilst we nattered openly about science communication and communicators, I did feel acutely aware of the embarrassing potential for a Gordon Brown-esque radio mic incident.

The photo shoot itself was an enormous amount of fun. Ben needed a little while to set-up all his lighting, digital camera, monitor and other snazzy-looking items of kit so Barry, Louise and I slinked off to one corner of the dome (?) to muck about with some more informal photos. iPhones were commandeered to act as impromptu lighting and we got some great shots involving cuddly alien toys and Mars bars.


The main photo shoot was set-up so that the planetarium dome loomed behind me, offering a gorgeous backdrop of the projected images of martian landscapes or interstellar gas clouds. The angles, though, dictated that I needed to perch my ass right on top of the back-support of a reclining cinema chair, and I spent a leg-tensing half-hour trying not to wobble too much during the long-exposures needed for the dark conditions, or topple over backwards completely and re-break my arm. For the later shots Ben tried carefully tossing the Toy Story cuddly alien in to the frame, using the flash to catch it floating at head height beside me. Louise performed the vital role of toy retriever, huddling out of shot behind my chair. At the time, though, she did look uncannily like a Wimbledon ball girl crouching at the net, with me the Umpire peering down across the court.

We had quite a tight time constraint to get the photo shoot over and done with as the planetarium operator, Liv, needed to test-run the full show before the audience started pouring in. Liv hadn't finished coding the graphics and animation sequences for the show until 1 am that morning so I am deeply indebted to her for her dedication. I was pretty nervous before the show started (even more so than the Geek Calendar interview and shoot!) as there'd be no time for any rehearsal, and I just had to launch into a 45 minute ad lib over the hard-coded graphics sequence. All went well though, and there was a great response from the audience.

And where in the night sky will we first find signs of alien life? Ah, well you should have come to the planetarium show!

Friday, 11 June 2010

First shoot! Imran Khan

It was our first shoot last Tuesday. The location was the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) offices, just at the side of UCL. Our "geek" was Imran Khan. No, not that Imran Khan (or this one). The UK science policy Imran Khan. The new Director of CaSE.

Imran and lolly

Imran's not the most famous of our geeks, but he is one of the coolest we know. We are keen that this calendar show off some of the most interesting members of the UK's nerd life, whether they are well known or not.

Imran's job is to act as a political advocate for science and engineering in the UK. He works with politicians and civil servants, industrialists, educationalists, the media and academics to keep science policy at the forefront of the public agenda. You might have read some of his recent posts on the New Scientist's S-Word blog. Up until the election, he was Evan Harris' researcher, and we had some fun hacking his computer desktop image, trying to make out Imran had pasted his face onto pictures of Evan to make out they were friends. We also surrounded filled the CaSE desks with photos of Evan, so Imran could look onto him adoringly.

Imran's secret desktop pic

Imran's also one of the younger subjects in our calendar, so we had a lot of fun hiding toys and children's books in his office surrounding. You might be able to spot "Everybody Poos" behind Imran in the shot below. That belongs to me, Imran's office library is much more serious. The child theme was also behind the giant lollipop in his pocket (sourced at the Natural History Museum's giftshop). Although I do like the way it looks like a rosette, very appropriate for all the policy connections.

Imran peeking

I think it's fair to say we were all a bit nervous for the first shoot. We soon got into the swing of things though. After dragging the equipment to CaSE's offices at the top of the building, Barry and Greg, our film-makers, took some behind-the-scenes footage while Ben, the photographer, set up. Greg quizzed Imran about his favourite geeks and views on libel reform while Louise, the art director, pulled out her assortment of props. Everyone was soon giggling and/ or hard at work.

Don't you love that Greg's notebook matches his watch?

Greg and Barry work out a shot

As everyone else worked away, Mun-Keat and I hid in the corridor to plot our next steps (ok, MK made lots of efficient notes about admin for future shoots. I nosed about the CaSE offices because I'm a giant science policy nerd).

We won't be showing the calendar images till we launch, but I got a sneak peek of Imran's photos on Wednesday, and they are amazing. Ben's done a brilliant job. We have a busy few weeks ahead of us, with shoots in all sorts of exciting places, with all sorts of exciting people (and a giant rabbit costume). The next shoot should be space-themed. Possibly with an alien. Watch this space.

Keat takes notes