Dance Your Dissertation: Behind the Scenes

Three years ago, our former editor Diana Davis created the following math youtube sensation, conveying the main ideas of her geometry dissertation to the general public through dance, music, and some highly-skillful video editing. Today, we unlock the magic behind it.  First, watch the video if you haven’t seen it:

And now, an exclusive behind the scenes interview with Diana Davis about how she put this incredible project together without any prior experience:

Diana Davis: “One challenge was that we recorded all the pentagon dancing once, using the Math Department video camera, but the resolution was not good enough to make a great video, so we had to do the whole thing again. So then the question is, what video camera can we get that has good resolution? It turns out that an iPad was the best option. But then, how do you use an iPad to record video from directly above? So we filmed in a building at Brown that used to be a church, and put the camera in the organ loft pointing straight down. To do this, I bought an 8-foot plank from Home Depot, which I tied to a chair using an Ethernet cord, and taped the iPad to the end of the plank, and then leaned out over the railing to press Record and Stop. We taped the pentagons to the floor directly below the iPad.

The second challenge was making the magic happen. Sometimes people ask who did the video editing. It was ME! And I had never done any video editing before. I learned, by putting in hundreds of hours and failing and trying again, how to use these two powerful video editing programs, Adobe After Effects and FinalCut Pro. Adobe After Effects is what makes the magic happen, where Libby dances across one edge and reappears on the other side — basically you can make part of the screen show one video and another part of the screen show another video, so I made the two parts of the screen show two parts of the same video. Making this work perfectly took forever. If you pause the video at any point, you will find that it looks perfect, with about 105% of a Libby on the screen at any one time. I had to blend in the shadows so that they didn’t disappear all of a sudden. I think that Libby dancing on the double pentagon surface is a work of art! And then I used FinalCut Pro to put the pentagon videos together with the Math Hatters and the text.

The best place to start is this FAQ video: because as you know, it’s better to show you how we made it than to tell you how we made it.”

Screenshot 2016-04-19 11.42.26

About Matthew Simonson

I am a second-year Network Science doctoral student at Northeastern University in Boston. I model homophily and time-varying dynamics on social networks.
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