Engineering: An Ingenious Approach

Putting engineers on film and filming engineering.

  • Buttons on machine

Thanks to a generous grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Ri Channel has been busy working on a project to nurture and develop the presenting skills of academic and industrial engineers.

Taking our experience of the Christmas Lectures and other productions, we’ve set out to find new engineers and put them in front of the camera to explain their work. The completed set of films will aim to capture the different aspects of engineering and give the presenters and their work a platform to shine.

The project started last January with me filming our call-out to engineers to get involved. Even though the video itself is fairly simple (as you can see below) I got a taste of how much effort our auditionees were going to have to make. I used a total of 33 straws, and it took me numerous full and partial takes to get that final shot (and I still dropped the straw!).

So, given how tricky I found making the video I was amazed and humbled to receive over 30 video auditions.

I was particularly pleased that we received auditions from lots of different types of engineers – a great range of subjects, academia and industry, students and very (very) senior professors, men and women from all over the country.

At times I felt very kid-in-a-sweet-shop about it and I know those judging shows all say it, but it was really tough making the final call about who to pick. The Ri Channel team went through the videos separately and we passed around comments. Reading these back now, my favourites are “eyebrows” and “says the word thrust too many times”!

Anyway, our six selected engineers seem to have the right combination of raw presenting ability, a hands-on approach to visual demos (we love demos), and a thoughtfulness about presenting to camera and imparting information. They come from completely diverse backgrounds and cover so many interesting subjects, from how computers interact with musicians while playing on stage to the implications of serious injury to the engineering of our bones and muscles.

Talking to our final six about their specific interests and working ideas into scripts we hit upon a problem – how do we pull these fabulously brilliant and diverse stories together? As well as helping to develop the presenting skills of engineers, for me, the point of the project was to show what engineering actually is, how it’s different from science and how it makes a huge difference to our everyday lives.

This sparked a really interesting conversation with one of our engineers, Hilary Costello. Originally from Canada, she was amazed when she came to the UK and found that ‘engineer’ often meant the person who comes round to fix your washing machine. If our set of films go some way to changing what engineering means to people, I’ll feel very happy.

So, as part of a series we’re calling ‘Components’, each of the ten short films will explore a different aspect of engineering. Subjects may be literal ‘components’ (the things that engineers piece together to create something new), or the principles, techniques or qualities that make up a career in engineering. We’re filming in multiple locations in the UK now, and I hope that we do justice to our brilliant engineers and their groundbreaking ideas.

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