Inspiring Stories – Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus with a homemade video
November 12, 2020

Inspiring Stories – Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus with a homemade video

In this EPEC Inspiring Story, Grace Richards, a doctoral student at The Open University (UK), describes how she developed a winning video for the #PlanetaryScience4All video competition.

This year, EPSC-EPEC launched the #PlanetaryScience4All video competition, where PhD students and early career researchers involved in planetary science were given the opportunity to showcase their research through a 4 minute video. Although I have very little experience making videos and no camera equipment, I decided to enter. I am a first-year PhD student at The Open University, studying icy moon surfaces, with a focus on Enceladus. I will be working on developing a system which can analyse surface composition and determine the effects of space weathering processes, such as micrometeoroid impacts, on icy surfaces. 

Having just bought some watercolours to keep me occupied during the lockdown in the UK, I decided to take inspiration from stop-motion videos made by Stacy Phillips (her videos use Lego figures to explain the geology of mountains – watch here!). I wanted to make something which was accessible to non-scientists and fun to watch, while maintaining a high level of science.

My resources were fairly limited because I’d just moved to a new flat. After watching some YouTube tutorials, I downloaded the Stop Motion Studio app for iPhone, and used voice notes to record the audio. The only issue with recording the audio in this way was getting it recorded in between noise from my family/dogs/neighbours. Luckily, I have a lot of experience editing audio files from taking part in dance competitions!

Making a winning entry for the EPEC-EPSC Video Contest. Credit: Grace Richards
Making a winning entry for the EPEC-EPSC Video Contest. Credit: Grace Richards

After making a storyboard of the video, I started matching up the audio with how many frames were necessary for each section of the video. I used 5 frames a second, so had to take 1,200 photos to meet the 4-minute mark. This gives the video a very “stop-motion” effect. Although it may have looked smoother and more professional to use more frames, I thought that 1,200 photos was my limit (and my phone’s storage limit). The Stop Motion Studio app is extremely easy to use, especially for someone like me who isn’t very good at taking photos and there are some really great tutorials online for how to use it.

The longest part of the process was the painting. Using watercolours can be a fairly quick process, as you use thin washes to build up the colour, but care is needed to ensure the paper doesn’t wear through. I’d work on multiple pictures at a time, but the whole process took me a few full days of painting. I also enlisted my sister and her friend to help me cut out the little figures of spacecraft and text, so that was a lot less painful than I initially thought it would be.

I filmed the video by balancing my phone on a shelf above my paintings and surrounded the whole (very technical) set up with lamps. The only issues here were trying not to move my phone, some lighting problems while the Sun was setting, and trying not to move the paintings too much. I divided the filming into blocks so I could take a few breaks, then merged the audio and video files together using iMovie. My final video was called “Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus” and can be seen at the bottom of this post.

I would like to give a big shout out to all the other contestants who submitted their videos, illustrating the fantastic science that is being conducted throughout out the EPEC community. The other films in the competition ranged from a detective story about the geomorphology of the Martian surface, insights into planetesimal formation using comets, and planetary mapping of the moon and Mercury.

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!