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Dec 10, 2013



Pulitzer Prize-winning cinematographer and photographer Vincent Laforet started his career at age 15 and has been steadily expanding the field and impressing just about everybody ever since. He is a forerunner in digital photography and filming with HD-capable DSLR cameras, has photographed for countless major newspapers and magazines, and writes an extremely popular (at least 3 million readers!!) blog featuring gear and tech reviews and other resources for fellow photographers and filmmakers. When I learned via Filmmakers Collaborative that Laforet would be speaking at the Arsenal Arts Center in Watertown, an event sponsored by Rule Boston Camera, I responded right away.

My introduction to Laforet’s work and cinematography/filmmaking blog came via Sean Meehan (at that time a Boston College film student and Canon DSLR enthusiast) who worked with me Winter of 2009/10 while I was posting "New Form at the Farm" and in pre-production for "Lightning Dreams." In fact, that introduction inspired the timelapse opening sequence for "Lightning Dreams.

Vincent Laforet - 2013 Reel from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Laforet opened with his Reel and I watched in appreciation along with the packed theater. I tried to live-tweet what I could of Laforet's terrific talk for those who weren’t there. Here's what I managed, embellished with some links from Laforet's website. I hope this is as inspiring for other photographers and filmmakers out there as I found it. Here's a compilation of my tweets you can enjoy from the comfort of your sofa: #Laforet-#Storify

and someday I hope to own a really big print of this:

Photo by Vincent Laforet


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CommentsCategories Filmmaking Events US World Tags Vincent Laforet, digital photography, photographer, DP, cinematographer, DSLR, Canon, social media, Rule Boston Camera

Nov 21, 2013



ASKlabs has so many to thank - friends and colleagues who daily inspire with their creativity, knowledge, and style. So in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, here’s a little appreciation for all the intellectual and artistic sustenance, the family and friends, and the hard work, that together keep ASKlabs going. 

DP Stephen McCarthy thanks for shooting the MIT video "Putting it Together the Modular Car," my first microdocumentary (only 3 minutes long) -- that was a productive day! Alex Hogan, your hip and clever animations make the film pop. Composer P. Andrew Willis your tunes brought it all together. Editor Stephanie Munroe, always a pleasure!

Cinematographer Jason Harmon it was great working with you on the Nerdgirls "Meet Dr. Karen" video as well as the Advent school's 50th anniversary video "Building the Future" - you have a great eye! 

Cinematographers Scottie McKinnon in New Zealand and David Safian now in San Francisco, and Editors Monica Gillette and Sabrina Zanella-Foresi, your talents made the "Lightning Dreams" and "Electrum" films shine.

My sister Camille Chu has put her fine finishing touch on the film titles for "Lightning Dreams," "New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor," "Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra" and the "Electrum" documentary. How lucky I am to be related to such talent! 

The Post-Production team for "New Form at the Farm" rocked! Editor Stephanie Munroe, Animator Tim Kennedy and the crew at Modulus: Eric Masunaga, Evan Schwenterly, Frank McDonnell and Damon Addleman. Thank you to New Zealand DP Stuart Page who shot the gorgeous aerial pickups which for "New Form at the Farm." The late Rob Morsberger created an upbeat rock'n roll score for the film.

"Lightning Dreams," The Advent School" video and "Putting it Together the Modular Car" were all posted at Modulus - thanks guys!

"Seeing the Landscape" was an amazing film to make. I worked with local NZ crews - Graham Bennett, and got to visit Gibbs Farm twice to shoot. Back in Boston, Editors Stephanie Munroe and Geoff Birmingham chopped away with a timely consult from Jon Neuburger. The late Ray Loring created the film's beautiful musical score. We posted sound with Richard Bock and Mark Steele did our color correction. 

A big thanks to these filmmakers for their support: Tracy Strain, Randy MacLowry, Bill LattanziJocelyn Glatzer, Allie Humenek, Courtney Hayes, Sarah Colt, and Rachel Clark. And of course a heartfelt thank you to LA-based Jon Kroll who taught me so much when I was starting out.

L: Mummelgrummel [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Gratitude to Boston friends and neighbors, who are both artistically and technically brilliant, always there to talk about ideas or review a rough cut: Fritz Klaetke and Susan Battista of Visual DialoguePolly Becker Illustration, Gabriele de Simone and Niclas Bahn of Noise IndustriesAlexandra MetralSteve Hollinger, TIna Cassidy, Jill Palese, Doreen Hing, Elena Kazlas, Gitika Desaiand Camilla Brinkman.

And most importantly THANK YOU to those who keep things running: my DH (and fellow science nerd) Murray Robinson, “Coach” Elaine Davis, ASKlabs Development Associate Kat Hughes, and Drew Katz.


And most of all, many thanks to YOU - all of our supporters for playing: reading, watching, sharing, clicking, commenting, liking and spreading the love. You're the best!

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TOP OF PAGE PHOTO: Capitol Theater of Burlington Iowa (Facebook) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

CommentsCategories Boston DocFilm

Nov 5, 2013



Exactly a year ago, we had our world premiere of “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm” at the Boston Museum of Science “When Science and Art Collide: Lightning Strikes” event. The Electrum sculpture’s engineer Greg Leyh of Lightning on Demand flew in from San Francisco for the event, and the MOS resident tesla coil expert, Daniel Davis, gave us all a show to remember in the Theater of Electricity after the screening. The complete event Photo Gallery.

L: "Neon" Ed McAllister. R: Daniel Davis, MOS and Greg Leyh, Lightning on Demand

The weeks leading up to the event were busy with networking, social media, and my first attempts at blogging. Friends connected me to local artist “Neon" Ed who generously donated a bunch of scrap neon for our Theater of Electricity demonstrations. Bert Hickman contributed several of his Captured Lightning works to the MOS for the event. On November 6th, Ethan Gilsdorf’s article about our event came out in the Boston Globe and we also made June Wulff’s Picks-of-the-week list. When Greg arrived that evening, I brought him straight to the MOS where he and Daniel Davis immediately launched into intense conversation about voltages and potentials, followed by a VIP tour of the Theater of Electricity.

Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh talk shop inside the twin spheres of the Van de Graaf generator

The next day Greg and I got to check out Harvard’s Wyss Institute with Eric Wehner, Greg’s former cohort at Survival Research Labs. We saw some incredible biomorphic work and lots of fun and very expensive toys including insect cameras and James Weaver’s electron microscopes. We then visited plasma artist Wayne Strattman’s South End Studio. Over lunch at Flour Bakery (of course!) Greg shared some funny stories about his current job at Google and his interactions with a guy there named Larry. At Google, Greg figures out how to get the juice into the buildings full of servers that run the internet - all of our video sharing, social media, etc. Can’t think of a better guy for that job!

Photo Credit: Ken Kinna

The big event: The MOS Cahners theater was packed. Several of our production team were in the house, including Eric Masunaga of Modulus Studios and Composer P. Andrew Willis, not to mention local steampunks who turned out to show their support of the turn-of-the-century technology. Lisa Monrose, who heads up Special Events and Adult Programs at the MOS, introduced the evening. I thanked everyone for coming, and the curtain went up. The film looked and sounded great. Following the screening, Greg gave a presentation about his Lightning Foundry project which involves building twin tesla coils - the tallest physically possible - on land that he has purchased in New Mexico. Then Daniel Davis moderated a panel discussion.

Photo Credit: Ken Kinna

The event moved to the Theater of Electricity, where Daniel gave us all a spectacular show. Fun volunteers allowed their hair to stand on end, and of course no one will forget the magnetic charge experiment that nearly devolved into a catfight. I finally worked up the courage to go inside a Faraday cage and get zapped by lightning, making up for the missed opportunity nearly 15 years ago when I had the chance to go inside the Electrum sculpture and didn’t. Winners of the Steampunk fashion contest got their turns inside the Faraday cage and I’m pretty sure I spotted Dave Strickler and Steve Hollinger in there as well. It was an awesome night, definitely one of last year’s highlights. 

Photo Credit L-R: Murray Robinson, Ken Kinna

A lot has happened in the year since. The ASKlabs network keeps growing and we are developing ambitious new independent documentary film projects that we hope will impact public engagement with cutting-edge science. You can find out more here in our Spring/Summer 2013 Newsletter.

Thanks for your support!

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Oct 25, 2013


Guess who I ran into on the information superhighway today? My friend Robert Wong who runs Google Creative Lab in NYC, in this cool video by Gabriel Nussbaum for Melcher Media's Future of Storytelling Conference that took place earlier this month in NYC. 

We at ASKlabs are huge fans of the intersection of art and science, so naturally we love Robert's stories of the feedback loop between science-fiction and the development of new technologies. Remember Captain Kirk's communicator? It's in here.

We agree, interesting things happen when artists and scientists work together, as Alberta presented at Nerdnite Boston last month. As Robert says, "Awesome technologies need awesome stories." 

What can a graphic designer contribute to the invention of new technologies that will completely redefine the way we live? - A LOT. 

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Oct 16, 2013



Last month, Nerd Nite Boston gathered Boston’s nerds to hear some stories inspired by art, science, technology, lightning, and dystopic visions of invasive social networks. At the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, with nerds crowded around low tables, it appeared the husband and wife duo, Alberta Chu and Murray Robinson, were presenting to a group of eager kindergarteners, all of whom wanted to grow up to be scientists (though in reality, most of the audience probably already had). In case you missed it, here are some highlights:

Alberta started by explaining how she has forged her career in science and documentaries, showing us some great clips from her broad body of work. This included a clip of Samuel L Jackson narrating a doc on Industrial Light and Magic’s development of special effects for the Star Wars films. The clip went down pretty well, with audience respondents chanting Mr Jackson’s name and laughing at the corny, tongue-in-cheek intro. It also, of course, included some beautiful footage of massive sculptures on Gibbs’ Farm in New Zealand, which also gathered praise from the audience. The work on sci-fi shows and the engineering of big sculpture has allowed Alberta to have exciting premieres of her work and to build her expertise as a filmmaker, enabling her to pursue making films about the intersection of science and art.

The rest of Alberta’s talk featured several possible outcomes of science and art collaborations, like new science, new art, new technology, and public engagement. Alberta is fascinated with the kinds of hybrid science, art, and technologies that emerge from these collaborations, but places her own work in the final grouping, in that she creates art (films) which enable and/or enhance public engagement in science, art, and technology. Alberta’s slideshow reviewed the broad world history of science and art collaborations, including local heroes Doc Edgerton, Synergy Exhibits, Felice Frankel, as well as international technoartists and organizations: SymbioticA, Natalie Jeremijenko, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, the Exploratorium, and more. Ultimately, she argued, artists can help scientists address contemporary big issues, and can help bring science to the public in ways that make the science relevant and immediate.

Murray has been working on genes for nearly 30 years. He started out in the 1980s transferring lightning bug genes into mice to see what happened - resulting in glowing mice! Later, Murray met artist Eduardo Kac through Alberta, and his genetic work with mice inspired Kac’s later work in creating Alba, a glowing rabbit. The media maelstrom around this particular work and the process of genetic mutation seems to have died down considerably in the 13 years following Kac’s Alba, Murray argued, as glowing fish are now available as pets without any huge reaction. Over time, as the science has grown into shocking art and then into mainstream culture, the new technologies have been accepted and are no longer as shocking. Murray extended this pattern to hypothesize that the same would one day be true about public reaction toward the huge technological advance of genomics. The first human genome was sequenced less than 15 years ago, but the drop in cost for this process is phenomenal, and means that there is likely to be a sea change in how we understand ourselves in the next decade (at least). Companies like 23andme are giving consumers access to limited genetic information about themselves for as little as $99, and though the amount of data promised seems like a lot, it actually shows how little we really know about what genes are linked to. We know some things, like some diseases, some facial features, etc. Murray discusses two aspects of gene-linked traits: the controversial behavioral links, and the much less controversial idea of facial features linked to specific genes.

One of the reasons Murray became interested in genetics is because of his brother Kelly. Kelly is an enigmatic figure who is fascinated with electronics, funny, engaging, sleeps funny hours, and developmentally delayed. It wasn’t until 1998 that he was diagnosed with Smith-Magenis Syndrome, which was associated with the loss of one gene, RAI1. The diagnostic features of this gene-linked syndrome, however, included behavioral traits like a fascination with electronics. There are other genetically-linked syndromes with behavioral diagnostic elements. This is fascinating and highly controversial, given that electronics are such a recent and culturally contingent part of society, along with the nature vs nurture debates which rage among scientists and social scientists. Murray also provided two other syndromes which have associated behavioral traits. Aside from behavior, these genetic syndromes are also linked to characteristic facial features, which, again, is less controversial in terms of social narratives about genetics.

But given the huge amount of data flooding in, and the growing number of scientists and organizations working to begin interpreting that data, what will the future hold? When we do know more about our genetic data, how will we use it? Murray presented a few examples of capitalist/consumer-driven dystopian possibilities, and concluded that the issues and implications underlying this new explosion in genomics needs to be widely discussed and understood.

Both Alberta and Murray definitely agreed on a few key points - science needs to be talked about. The public needs to be in on the conversation. That’s the key importance of science and art collaboration and communication - to bring the science and the public together, to make science and technology accessible, interesting, and relevant to everyone.

Photo by Hargo

Thanks to Mary and Tim and all the folks at Middlesex Lounge! A huge thanks to all who attended! And here’s the #storify of Nerd Nite September capturing the social media around the event. Special thanks to Paul Ha, Hargo, Mark Zastrow, Snarky, Jarrett, Derya, Elena, DoreenAlex and Max for the social media love. 

-- Kat Hughes, Development Associate, ASKlabs

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Events SciArt SciComm Science STEM to STEAM US