Making Mineral Movies At The Open University


A British Turntable revolve is at the centre of a new multimedia presentation for the Open University, the 360° rotation of mineral specimens allowing variations in colour, lustre, crystal shape and other properties to be presented in full and solving the perennial problem of how to deliver practical experience of rocks and minerals to distance learning students.

Dr Tom Argles, who was charged with redesigning and updating the multimedia teaching materials for the Geology component of the new Science Foundation Course, says: “In some concepts, a picture of a crystal is perfectly adequate, but in other cases you need to be able to visualize the crystal in 3-D: only then can you appreciate it fully. We decided we needed to film the most critical mineral specimens rotating through 360º. So the question became: how can we do this?

“Fortunately, the OU has maintained a close relationship with the BBC since its inception, so filming expertise is not something we’re short of! Now the hunt was on for a simple, mains-powered display turntable that would revolve slowly and steadily, at reasonably low power, bearing chunks of mineral of all sizes and weights, within the modest budget I had available, to be supplied almost immediately. Trawling the internet I found the British Turntable site and exactly what I was looking for – a model PS5.

“Filming was completed on a single day. The mineral specimens, raised off the turntable on top of a black metal stand, were filmed with a black backdrop, giving the impression that they were revolving slowly in space. Minimal distraction from the crystals themselves, and in addition, they looked fantastic! The turntable’s smooth rotation and reliability meant we could concentrate on the innumerable minute adjustments of light and exposure settings needed to minimize blinding flashes from crystal faces as they revolved, and to reproduce the natural colours of the minerals in the studio’s artificial lights – a tricky business.

“The finished movies have now been incorporated into two multimedia packages on the course DVD, and with a rewrite of the main second-level Geology course in the offing we plan to use the turntable again to illustrate more minerals, rocks, and especially fossils that we cannot afford to send out to the students.”

British Turntable’s wide range of revolves are used extensively in the TV, film and video industries to create special effects as well as in the retail, automotive, heritage and exhibitions industries to bring life to displays. As well as small battery and powered point of purchase revolves, oscillators and pendulum movement, the company offers larger carousels and revolving stages capable of carrying heavy white goods, furniture or people. Units can be used on their own or combined with other to create more complex displays, while optional extras such as static centres, oscillation, timed or positional hesitation can be used to add interest and appeal.

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