If you’re here, you’re likely coming from my latest YouTube video (embedded above). As you might have understood from that video, I prepared scripts for two long videos on how you can make a winning Breakthrough Junior Challenge entry. However, I was only able to film one. So this blog post is meant to substitute for the content of the second video.
Here, I will discuss the steps 4-6 in this process. Watch the video to see steps 1-3 (and the bonus step 0).
To reiterate my previous video, I went through my own six-step process. The bigger the circle, the more crucial it is to a great entry. But to be a standout entry, you need to have the three fundamental elements: clear subject, creative expression, and compelling delivery. If you miss any one of those elements, you will not get through the first round. These last three steps will fulfill the rest of those crucial elements.
Step 4: Create visuals and demos, script, storyboard
Step 4 is THE most important. This is where you get the audience excited about the science. I divided it into three sub-steps: Planning, Writing, and Storyboarding.
4.1 Visuals and demos
Plan what info you’re going to include and how you’re including it in your video. The next things you have to do are SUUUUUPER important. Think of visual illustrations or demos for each of those points. And much more importantly, the secret sauce, the genie’s touch, the magic potion, think of an “Aha” moment or moments. That point where the viewers say “woaAaaaAah I see it now” or “Oh I actually get it.”
THIS IS WHAT WILL MAKE YOU WIN.
You’ll notice that all winning entries have this moment as do most of the finalists. Your “Aha” moments and demos will form the backbone of your video. Without it, your entry will be formless and boring. It’ll have next to 0 chance at winning.
So before anything else, I had to build a robust, pedagogically effective, and visually exciting set of demonstrations and crafted my Aha moment. This was top priority.
If you’ve watched my entry, you will notice that I did not just make demos for the sake of making them. I had visuals for the key ideas. I also placed them at strategic points in the video. Wherever I felt like the viewer’s interest would wane a bit, like after a particularly lengthy discussion, I immediately followed it up with a more exciting segment with demos and interactive elements. This way, I could keep the viewer’s attention up all throughout the video.
In the video cut below, note how previous finalists and winners executed their demos and illustrations.
I recommend doing physical demonstrations where you’re actually interacting with things. It feels more “real” and easier to understand as opposed to animations or whiteboard drawings.
Organizing ideas for your script
Using your visuals as your core elements, devise a story or narrative that ties them all into a coherent whole. It should feel like a well-written essay with discernable parts:
- Intro – grabs attention, incites curiosity, and introduces the topic
- Body – develops the 2-4 key ideas in your script
- Conclusion – nails the main idea down, ties everything back to the intro in light of the concepts discussed in the body
To see this better, let’s do a case study of previous winners.
Case 1: Hillary, 2017
My core visuals were the following:
To tie them all together, I used a “plot device” – not really, but close enough – I had my alter egos arguing over who’s right.
I used that to stir curiosity and launch into the topic. I gradually developed the ideas in the body using motion graphics and more demos. And in the conclusion, I hammered the main idea and tied it back to my intro, where my alter egos finally accept that their differences were only due to their reference frames.
Case 2: Deanna, 2016
Using b-roll footage, she starts off with an intriguing question: What happens if you abuse antibiotics? Over the course of the video, she utilizes Legos many times as her core demo tool. Throughout the video, she uses puns, poetry, Lego romance, basically a whole lot of humor to keep the viewer engaged. In the end, she gives actionable advice on how to combat antibiotic resistance.
Watch the other finalists to see what I’m talking about.
Putting words to your script
Now that you have an intro, body, and conclusion, it’s time to put actual words into it! Some common but still useful tips:
- Use casual language.
- Avoid jargon.
- Do not digress.
My biggest mistake. Personally, my biggest mistake during this step was over-explaining. Over-explaining is using too many words to get a single idea through. To avoid that, use visuals to deliver the same point with much less words.
Budgeting time. The time limit is 3 minutes so that’s around 450-550 words. My script was 469 words for 2:58. Ideally, you should spend around 20 seconds for the intro and another 20 for the conclusion.
Most important tip. REVISE, REVISE, REVISE. My first script was 2,000 words of trash. I revised so many times. When I changed 50 or more words, I saved it as a new version to be safe. When I was at twenty-somethingth draft after many painful cuts, I made a nice, cohesive story at 475 words. It was something I was proud of.
Formatting. My script was written using a slight variation of the two-column format. On the left column, I’d type in all my words and scene changes. On the right, I would write (by hand) all my notes on describing the shots, music, and sound effects. Here is how my draft script looked like.
This was not the final version but probably very close to it. I remember that during filming and post-production, I kept writing notes on the right column. The empty space was useful so I’d recommend you do that too.
Here is where you translate your script and demo plans into a video. After my script, I made my storyboard – albeit a rudimentary one at that. Using a free tool called Storyboard That, I created my own storyboard.
You don’t really need to do this but it helps you get a clearer plan of what you want your video to look like. For me, it served two main purposes:
- I could plan my shots days before filming.
- When asking for feedback, other people could better understand what I was planning to do if I showed them my storyboard, as opposed to the script alone.
After you’ve made both your script and storyboard, it is now the best time to ask for feedback. Ideally, you should ask two kinds of people: one with a science background and one without. The former can critique the Complexity and Creativity aspects of your video. Meanwhile, the latter can comment more on your Engagement and Illumination aspects.
Step 5: Production
This is where you start accomplishing essential element #3: Compelling delivery. This is where you film and record everything for your video. There are two critical parts here: you and AVL.
You, the speaker
As the presenter, you are very important. You may choose to be in the video explaining the concepts, like how I did in my entry. Or you can also choose to be always behind the camera like how Kaustav did in his entry on Dark Matte. See his video below.
I would NOT recommend doing what Kaustav did. If you look at the finalist entries on the website, you’ll notice they all appeared in the video for a significant amount of time. Statistically, for whatever reason, entries that show their creators do much better in the competition. I think it’s because these videos are more engaging. Viewers and judges can connect more to the topic when they can see an actual person on the shots, as opposed to just animations and graphics.
So for you, I recommend appearing and talking in the shots for at least 40% of your video. In doing this, I have some tips:
- Ba natural speaker in front of the camera.
- Have clear articulation, an audible voice, and a presentable appearance.
- Be lively and animated. Be energetic.
- Show your passion and enthusiasm for science in your video. We know that you have that passion, so show it.
For shooting day itself, I have some practical advice as well:
- Practice performing your script many times days before shooting!
- Memorize your speech so you can film everything in the fewest possible takes.
- Don’t read from the script placed behind the camera while shooting. It looks sloppy.
- Right before shooting a clip, jump around to energize yourself. Drink water too.
AVL: Audio, Video, and Lighting
No need for equipment. Use natural light. Face the window or shoot outdoors when the light is not too harsh.
This is so underrated. People worry too much about their video and forget about their audio. You can have bad video with good audio but not good video with bad audio.
This is just common sense but please shoot in a quiet place. If you don’t have a mic, your earphones will do. What I do is I go under my shirt and tape the mic part of my earphone wire to my chest or collarbone. I make sure that the mic is still covered by my shirt while still being as close as possible to my mouth.
When you have a shot where you talk to the camera, I don’t recommend stacking a recorded voiceover on it. In many cases, there will be differences in the timing and intonation in the footage and your voiceover. As a result, it will feel jarring to the viewer.
I have just a few practical tips for video.
- Keep the camera steady. Very important! Use a tripod or put your camera on books.
- Shoot horizontally. (This should go without saying but I actually find people who submit vertical videos.)
- Make sure you’re in focus.
- Mind your background. Clean any cluttered spaces that show on camera.
I actually did not own any equipment when I made my entry. So I rented a Canon DSLR + a Saramonic mic from a friend. (I forgot the exact model.)
The owner operated the camera but I was directing everything. In some parts, I just used my phone camera (Oppo F1s) and my earphone mic. Now I finally have my own equipment. In filming the video above, I used the Sony a5100 mirrorless camera and the Saramonic SR-WM4C wireless mic.
I filmed at a local farm park a few miles from home. Shown below is my setup. The owner and his brother operated the equipment while I directed everything.
For my latest video, the one linked at the top, my setup is in the photo below. This time, I’m using my own equipment with DIY lights.
Antonella, the 2016 winner, shared her process on Quora. From there, I found her filming setup. It looks like she used a Canon DSLR and her earphones.
Deanna See, the other 2016 winner, shared her setup and video hacks in her latest video. See her filming setup below:
But even then, I just want to remind you that it’s not about the equipment. It’s more about how you bring creativity into science.
Step 6: Post-production
I divided this step into three sub-steps: Editing, creating graphics, and adding sounds. For me, this part required the most technical knowledge. Since I had no experience, I had to learn everything from scratch using YouTube tutorials. Bless the hearts of YouTubers who make tutorials on these really difficult things.
Oh my god if I had a dollar every time someone asked me what software I used, I’d have enough to pay off a year’s worth of education at MIT (lol srsly though). I already put it on my entry’s description and my Instagram bio T.T
But I’m answering the question again (for the last time), I used Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. I used Premiere Pro for editing or putting clips together. After Effects was for compositing and making things ~move~.
Editing is basically putting all your footage together. This is fairly easy to do. Any old editor can get the job done.
I used Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects but sadly, they’re not free. Many others use Final Cut Pro or iMovie. But those are only for Apple.
So you can either live off of free trials or go for free editors. The following are some free editors listed in order of power:
- VideoPad – very straightforward, extremely easy to use, low learning curve
- HitFilm Express – more professional and powerful
- Da Vinci Resolve – Hollywood-grade software, super powerful
Out of the software above, I’ve only tried VideoPad. It’s extremely easy to use. I have not tried the other two but I’ve heard really good things about them.
Add graphics, motion and other supporting media
This is where it starts to get painful.
For stock photos, I used Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay, and Wikimedia Commons. I used Pond5 and archive.org for stock videos. But be careful about licenses. Learn about Creative Commons licenses and copyright terms. Keep links to your sources, they’ll ask for a list when you’re in the semifinals.
Once that’s done, it’s time to add motion! If your editor can add animations, then use that. An easier way to add motion is through Powerpoint. Deanna and James Dingley (two-time finalist) made animations using Powerpoint. You can see Deanna’s short tutorial on it here:
For me, it easily took around 200 hours to do and learn how to do the animations. But please don’t let that number scare you, I was just a slow worker with no prior knowledge.
This scene was the very first one I worked on. It took me around 10 hours because I was stupid and drew the lines manually, frame by painful frame. I was so mad at myself when I found out that there was an actual wave effect built into After Effects. In the end, I loved it so much I used it many other times.
I filmed this part at 1 AM, just 14 hours before the deadline. Animating the whole 15-second segment took me about 5 hours. This was right about the time I contracted chickenpox fever. It kept rising as I was working but I kept it up. You could tell I was desperate to win lol.
But oh my god this scene. This took me around 20 freaking hours. Some tears were shed.
Add recordings, music, sound effects
For the audio you recorded while filming, you can’t really do much in post-production. Noise-cancellation in your editor might help if you have ambient noise.
For music, you can use the YouTube Audio Library. They’re all free to use. Just make sure to attribute them properly in your video description. If you want background music, I believe the “ambient” genre fits best.
You can also try searching for “no copyright music” on YouTube but be very careful about license terms.
When you put it into your video, don’t play it too loud. Make sure that it fits the mood.
For sound effects, a little goes a long way. When I made my entry, I scavenged for free sound effects on YouTube. You can use the following keywords to search:
Save your work
Always save! Whenever you make major (or even minor) changes, save the file as a new project.
Back in 2016, a power outage happened when I was still editing three hours before the deadline. I probably would’ve died if I didn’t save my project. So save!
This is the end of my six-step process. I really do hope you found this helpful.
I know that at this point, you’re probably stressed out of your mind. I know the feeling. But just remember that you are amazing even just for joining the Challenge. It takes a lot of work, determination, and passion just to make an entry. This is already an achievement in itself.
Never forget to enjoy the process of learning and creating.
Good luck in the Challenge!
For more tips, you can refer to my Breakthrough Junior Challenge series on YouTube. There, you can find insights and experiences from past finalists and winners. Back when I joined, I didn’t have references like these so I hope these help you.
If you still have any questions, you can reach me on Instagram and Twitter @cosmichillarays.