Filming a documentary can take you anywhere, from an interview at a researcher’s desk to the wide-open American West. Seth Parker and Ben Corwin, both part of the Vis Center’s Media for Research team, always count on an adventure when on a shoot. While adventures can be exciting, they can also be challenging. During the summer of 2012 Seth and Ben journeyed to Flathead Lake in Montana and the Hancock Biological Station in Kentucky to document the VOEIS project. The trip to Montana got off to a rocky start. On the first day, with rain pouring and a tight schedule to keep, the crew worried about having time to finish their shoots. Feeling discouraged, Seth and Ben decided to dine at a restaurant while waiting for the rain’s end. As they headed out after dinner, their luck turned; the whole sky was beautiful. The early evening light was perfect for shooting beauty shots of Glacier National Park during the ‘golden hour.’ Ben said, “It was amazing watching the sunset, getting those images. From there, it just felt like a turning point.”
However, the media crew still faced some difficulties. When filming outside, a video crew needs to consider more factors. At Kentucky Lake, heat and humidity can cause the camera equipment to overheat. Rain can destroy camera equipment. Even wind can cause issues if the microphones pick up the sound of the wind blowing. Still, a storyteller’s concern dominates: how do you boil down three years of research into a short video? As the primary interviewer, Seth worried about asking the right questions and choosing the right focus for the piece.
Seth and Ben documented the project’s progress over the past year. VOEIS is a collaborative project between universities in Montana and in Kentucky. Researchers deployed a network of sensors to monitor water quality in Flathead Lake and in the lake at Hancock Biological Station. These sensors collect data points every few minutes, so the hydrological researchers need a way to navigate the vast data. The VOEIS system is designed to ease the management of large amounts of ecological data. For more information about the VOEIS project, visit http://voeis.org. Seth said, “The videos’ purpose is to lay out the whole VOEIS platform, from how researchers acquire data in the field, transmit that data from the field to a storage location, how they organize and edit that data so it is actually usable, and then how they use that data all in one seamless workflow.”
Ben compares their video to an advertisement for the VOEIS project. He says, “it’s important to be able to promote the projects you are working on in some way, and I think the video medium is a really good way to do that. Being able to just upload a video to YouTube and then distribute it allows you to get support and bring awareness to the project.” Ben enjoyed connecting with nature while filming the video. Montana is known for its beautiful landscapes; for example, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Park is considered one of the most scenic drives in America. Seth appreciated learning about the project and meeting the various researchers during video interviews. He attended the third annual VOEIS meeting. He admired the researchers’ passion and their different approaches to solving a common problem. Seth said, “In Montana and in Kentucky, you have researchers who are dealing with similar issues. You are dealing with bodies of water that have relatively common data points that need to be tracked. It is always interesting to see how different people go about similar problems in different ways.”
Seth and Ben saw firsthand how all research projects need technology now. Our advanced technology helps and hurts us; we have more information than ever before for research, but now we need a way to organize it so it is usable. Seth said, “The technology is getting to be such that researchers can’t do it alone any more. They need infrastructure, they need ways to organize, and they can’t be expected to create their own systems anymore.” Not only do researchers need to collaborate outside their disciplines to conduct their research, but also they need to work with media to communicate the importance of their research. The Media for Research team helps spread the word about the VOEIS project. As Seth said, “Research is creating new technologies, new ways of thinking, and new everything. But it needs to be conveyed to the general public.”