At the time when the Gravity! course is reaching its conclusion, I think that it is important to stress that there is more to this course than the ubiquitous lead educator. This is also an opportunity to go backstage and show a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) in the making.
From the start, because we were addressing a very large audience of learners, we wanted to avoid using slides and voice-over. As strange as it may seem, it was important for me to keep an eye contact with the learners (even if, at the time, you were all as real as a quantum fluctuation). This meant using the techniques of movie-making, shooting the course in a studio (luckily, Paris Diderot has a beautiful one) and having a full technical team.
Let me now introduce the team. Here they are, on stage, in front of the “green screen” used to include background images or movies.
The Gravity! technical team
From left to right:
- Jean-Luc Robert, the director and editor of all the videos,
- Marie Verleure, our project manager for the full course,
- Thierry Maillot, stage management, camera (and the beautiful special effects of the railer)
- Lili Dongarra, director of photography,
- Leo Friez, sound engineer,
- Laure, intern, who developed a real skill at the clapperboard.
You have to realize that each video unit of 10 to 15 minutes was divided into sequences of some 8 to 10 sequences, each shot individually (sometimes three or four times when I was not good enough -and the team was merciless about that-, or when there was some light or sound problem, or a fit of the giggles). Shooting a single video was basically taking half a day, even more for the more complex ones (like the scenes with the candles which required the presence of fire security just in case we burn the whole place down!). As you may have noticed, we had difficulties with the light on the white board: too much light gave unwanted reflections, too little and one would not be able to see what was written. Here are a few pictures that give you an idea of the atmosphere on stage.
Inspired by Michelangelo
Lili’s attention, attracted by the black hole singularity
Not alone to cross the horizon
The session is reconstructed in the editing process, which takes hours in order to recapture the fluidity of the course, include pictures and movies. This was Jean-Luc responsibility. All the footage is then archived: we needed all the ressources of scientific documentation to do this. Just imagine: each 10 to 15 minute video session includes some ten sequences, each shot 2 or 3 times, with sound track and the images of 3 cameras (shooting on different angles). We were some of the heaviest users of data storage in the lab.
Then music was added. Let me say a few words about the presence of music and sound effects in the videos. I am a great believer that science and art have a common goal, which is to raise our understanding of the universe outside and inside us (the outer and inner space). Artists have their specific means and sometimes have their own short circuits to comprehend concepts or ideas that we physicists painfully identify after lengthy computations. So it was essential for me to involve artists in the conception of this course.
This is why I asked Gorka Alda, a contemporary music composer, to write an original score. A very unusual decision, as you may imagine. Another reason is that I find annoying the type of commercial music that tends to be associated with astrophysics. But why should there be music at all in a course like this? I know that has disturbed some, especially those with a good scientific background. Well, precisely for all the other learners: it provides a sort of familiar background which, after a while, helps to focus on the video content, and unconsciously relates some concepts with others (we specifically worked on that aspect with Gorka).
Once the videos are ready, one still has to build the whole course on the platform. This was the responsibility of Marie, our project manager. Long hours of days, nights and week-ends, to make sure that everything is in the right place, that the transcripts are correct, that all images are credited, that the correct versions of the videos are on-line, that the good answers in the quizzes are identified properly…
Until everything is ready on D day.
I should say that all this was performed by the whole team with dedication, passion, much interest for the science (the technical team was my first audience, and a demanding one) and good humour, as you may see from the pictures.
So let me conclude by warmly thanking -in George’s name and in my own, and I am sure on behalf of all the learners- the team who made Gravity! a reality.
But, are they human?