Fireworks animated

Making fireworks in Blender3D is not hard at all:

I used this tutorial and it didn’t take long. It’s amazing all the cool, shiny things you can do with particle systems.

Right now, the particles comprising the fireworks are just round balls — but, you could do hearts. Or smiley faces.

I made a string of hearts in Blender the other day:

At first, I used this tutorial, but then I tried this one and it was better.

I had them coming out of a spiraling comet:

And there’s something else flying out alongside the hearts. Can you see what it is?

How I got two science communication jobs

I have seen on Twitter the heart-ache for people in science communication who can’t find full-time jobs with benefits.

Well, I found two of them. So let me tell you how I did that.

First, how did I search for job openings? I’m not very good at that, but one thing I did was to keep on searching “scicomm jobs” and variants thereof on Twitter. Apparently, not a lot of people do that. In fact, the first scicomm job that I got seemed to have advertised almost exclusively on Twitter, and from what I could tell, a total of three people applied. Once I had the job, I was given control of the gmail account for it, and I could see the great rush of applications sent in for the job (not). Kind of made me feel like a loser, like, wow, I was more qualified than two others. Great.

Well, this job turned out to be not so great. I complained to all my friends about it, and one of them sent me a job posting she’d seen out of the blue. I applied for that on a whim, mostly because my friend had been nice enough to think of me and send it to me. And then I got that job, too.

So why do I think I got these jobs? From what I can tell, the employers liked the fact that I had a PhD; and they also liked the fact that I can make animations.

The PhD is apparently a big boost when applying to scicomm jobs, from my experience. My first employer did not say this straight out, but I got the impression that is was sort of an elitist issue for him, like, he doesn’t like to deal with people who don’t have PhDs.

The second employer straight out told me that me having a PhD was a big advantage to my application. They wanted someone who had a strong background in earth science, because they want a communicator who knows the science about as well as the scientists.

So the PhD has been a boost, but so has making animations. I think this is a somewhat unique skill among earth scientists, or scientists in general. I make 3D animations in a free and open-source program called Blender. I’ve been using Blender now for years and years. In the interview with the first scicomm job that I got, the animations were something that my soon-to-be boss asked about and seemed interested in. It was probably something that stood out from the grand total of two other applications.

And with the second job, the animation skill was even more important. The job was advertised as earth science visual storyteller. I might have been the only person who applied who both had an earth science PhD and extensive visualization experience.

Because I had been making animations for so long, and making them about my science research and as part of outreach programs, I had many years’ worth of samples that I could show during the application period and interviews for the second job.

When I first started making science animations, by the way, it was during my PhD, and my first advisor, who was a total disaster, was very haughty about the whole thing, and seemed to think it was a big waste of time, and something that perhaps demeaned the field of science. But I loved doing it, so I kept on. I’ve never been officially trained in animation, and I get feedback often that I’m not doing things quite right; but it would appear that despite all that I still need to learn, science + animations skills are a unique and rare combination. And that seems to be how I got these jobs.

So I guess my advice boils down to a very unsatisfactory, very humdrum: “follow your dreams and pursue your passions” and something will work out. Haha, so boring. It’s not true, anyways — it won’t always work out.

But I can’t come up with anything else, except …

For those who are both getting their PhDs and interested in scicomm:

Ignore the people who say that a PhD has to consume your life. No. Absolutely not, not least because of the big chance you’re going to crash and burn out of your PhD. You want to have other things going on for you. Don’t give up everything else that you love.

Oh, and I can think of one more piece of advice for everyone: when I was done with undergrad and had a 9-5 job, that was when I taught myself how to animate. I wasn’t in school anymore, but I still wanted to learn this new skill. I spent a few hours after work several times a week on it, and then usually a full day on the weekends. I didn’t have to force myself to do it, it was so enjoyable. My point is, keep on developing interests and skills even when you’re out of school — it will pay off so much later if you can spend at least some of your after-work hours doing that. Even if you don’t get a job from it, it will pay off — learning to animate was fulfilling and wonderful way before I got any money or reward from it.

 

My 2019 AGU talks

AGU is a conference held in December each year, about a week before Christmas. AGU stands for American Geophysical Union. It’s more interesting than it sounds, promise! Usually it’s held in San Francisco. I’ve been a couple of time.

This past December, I had three talks at AGU. Two were invited. I felt very special.

To get to AGU, I first took the train from Houston to Los Angeles. It was a very nice train — and it didn’t take so long — and look at all the pretty things I saw along the way.

Then from Los Angeles, I took mostly an overnight bus north. Overnight so I wouldn’t waste a day traveling. The bus literally does run all night long, and at long last, just after sunrise (it was winter, so the sunrise was kind of late), we arrived in San Francisco. I stayed for a week, gave my 3 talks, and it was great.

My talks were all about my Animations with Kids program. For the second talk, I got to show everyone how I teach the kids 3D animation.

Scicomm made polished, part 3

I finished a new animated Twitter thread for work. This one is on planet collisions. Woah!

You can see it here. It’s nine tweets in all.

I wrote about getting feedback on  my animated Twitter threads earlier. I was sad because I was told about how bad and unpolished my work was.

Well, after all my whining and complaining, I did the teacher’s pet, good-girl act of “let me learn from my mistakes” and “take the feedback to heart”. I decided to act all mature and pretend I was happy to be told I sucked. While making the new Twitter thread on planet collisions, I paid attention to the backgrounds and colors I was using. I worked on it for a month, and tweeted it out last Thursday. It was in fact my last act at work before becoming a Coronavirus refugee.

protoplanetary disk0062
This is supposed to represent a solar system in its infancy.

Then I sent this new thread to one of the people who had given me feedback. What do you think now? And in a very cutesy, inspiring turn of events (thankfully), I was told: this looks great! Big improvement! Nice job!

Isn’t that nice?

Further: that the colors and similarities in style between the different animations makes it much more evident that they all go together. That they have a relationship to each other through the color choices or the dark background.

lava flow0071
Lava flow.

You know what, though, I don’t know that I can fully appreciate my own work. I, for example, thought there should be something distinctively consistent in the background for each animation — something I wasn’t able to ensure. But upon receiving my feedback, that was when it first dawned on me that just the simple consistency of a dark background in each animation was enough — nothing fancier than that. So I still have a lot to learn, but it’s definitely nice to receive praise, and I think if I iterate this cycle of experimentation on my part, and feedback from others, I learn little nuggets of insight at a time.

As always, I use Blender3D to make these animations.

Texture vs Point in Blender materials

I discovered a new, tiny detail in Blender3D. It’s a tiny thing that made a big difference.

I was trying to make etches onto a cube with an image — like engrave the image in.

I wanted it to look like this:

puzzle0017

See, nice and clear! However, it was just looking like this:

puzzle0008a

Much less crisp and sharp, and when I went to print it out (the images were for a poster) it didn’t show up hardly at all.

Almost by accident, I discovered what the problem was. Below are two material settings, one for the ‘good’ image and the other for the muddled one:

material texturematerial point

Yes! The only difference was that for one image, the ‘Mapping’ node in the Materials was set to ‘Texture’ (the bad image) and on the other it was set to ‘Point’. And it made all that difference. Amazing, and so, so easy to miss.

Scicomm made polished, part 2

I was bemoaning the apparent lack of polish in my science animations and not quite understanding all the criticisms, but now it’s a few days later, and something has dawned on me.

I remember now reading people’s blogs, and them saying all all their photos are put through pre-sets in Lightroom. Meaning every photo gets a “finish” on it, or something, and it’s the exact same finish for each photo, and that finish will mute the colors all in the same way; or get the brightness of the photo to look the same; or maybe some other stuff, too. So then when you see photos from that person all together, they all have that same sheen to them, so you kind of can tell they came from the same place.

Honestly, does this not also make it boring? So every photo kind of looks the same, one to the next. But if you don’t do this, then your photos look incoherent?

Well, I’m going to try something: for my next animated Twitter thread, I will choose a color palette carefully and stick to those colors throughout the whole thread. And I’ll see if that helps with the “polish” and the “coherence.”