GRADflix - Make every frame a painting

Fraser King on the red carpet

Fraser King (third from left), the winner of the first University of Waterloo GRADflix competition, poses on the red carpet with (from left to right) Jeff Casello (Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs), Kirsten Müller (Assistant Vice-President Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs), Jason Lajoie (2nd place winner) and Siyavash Izadi (3rd place and People's Choice winner).

If I asked you to explain your research to me in 1 minute, what would you say? This was the question I kept asking myself while I was brainstorming ideas for my entry to GRADflix earlier this year. As a previous contestant in University of Waterloo’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, I knew how tricky it was to condense my thesis work into a 180 second talk and the thought of shortening this down further to only 60 seconds seemed downright impossible at first.

I knew I wanted to touch on the three big questions that should to be addressed when communicating your research to others (with the most important and challenging of the three, being the final question):

  1. What is the problem?
  2. How does your research address this problem?
  3. Why should other people care?

Answering these questions while keeping the talk accessible, relatable and humorous (to an extent) were the main goals I set out for myself. However, I figured that in order to fit all of this into 60 seconds, I would have to go outside of my comfort zone and try something different.

Instead of recording a video with a camera (with which I am more familiar), I decided to break out my iPad and try to draw something. Anything. I had worked in 3D animation before through one of my Computer Science classes in undergrad, and the 12 principles of animation I learned about in this course, coupled with the questions and goals I set out for myself earlier, acted as the foundation for my GRADflix entry.

The final task I faced was finding a way to connect each portion of the video together in a manner which was both fun and relevant to the narrative I was developing. This lead to the creation of this guy (who I named Tim the polar bear):

Tim the polar bear

Tim the polar bear was the silent start of Fraser's winning GRADflix video.

Since my research deals primarily with understanding changes in Arctic snow, I figured this character could be my mascot throughout the video, relay important information to the audience and act as a character which would be recognizable and memorable for the judges. After putting all of these components together, I ended up with my final video which is now viewable on YouTube.

Overall I found GRADflix to be an excellent opportunity to show off your research in a fun and creative way. The video you create is a great resource for easily sharing your work with others and can also be added to your personal webpage for future employers to view. If you are thinking of competing next year and you aren't sure what to do, I’d suggest somehow going with a cute polar bear. It seemed to work for me at least.

Fraser is a PhD student in the department of Geography and Environment Management researching remote sensing of Arctic snow using specialized radar on the NASA cloud profiling satellite CloudSat. 

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