Director of photography Alan Jacobsen recently collaborated with Outlier.org, an online education platform working to increase access to quality college education and reduce student debt, to shoot a series of outstanding courses in psychology, astronomy, calculus, philosophy, microeconomics, and statistics.
Jacobsen, who shot the Oscar-nominated Strong Island, says “Outlier.org is a dream client in that they came to me with science. They suggested people learn more effectively and are increasingly engaged when interacting with high-quality cinematic visuals.
“As a cinematographer, I’ve always believed great visuals change lives. When Outlier.org’s Aaron Rasmussen cited scientific studies, which show that humans are emotionally predisposed to looking at the LEFT side of the human face — as evidenced in the majority of babies being held to the left by their mothers — I was careful to always orient our camera coverage to take advantage of this subtle biological preference.”
Rasmussen also knew, from his experience with MasterClass, the power of having an immediately identifiable visual ‘look’ in terms of branding. “This empowered me to help discover and execute a bold visual approach for the sets and setups,” says Jacobsen.
“Working with Alan was one of the more fruitful artistic collaborations I’ve had as a director,” says Rasmussen, who is both the founder and CEO of Outlier.org. “He’s not afraid to get into the weeds or even into the aphids lurking on the stems of them — all while managing to stay efficient and on schedule. Alan’s genre-defining approach to the visuals of for-credit education have left their mark on both our brand and our students’ learning.”
Jacobsen used three Canon C300Mk2 cameras with Canon Cinema lenses to pull the students into the meticulously designed sets, which were dramatically lit with networked ARRI Skypanels and DOP Choice SnapBags and SnapGrids. Litegear Literibbon added moody uplight accents.
“This became a trademark look that Rasmussen referred to as ‘Hogwarts meets Blade Runner,’” says Jacobsen.
“For the psychology class, we ventured out into real locations with a location-friendly package of Litegear Spectrum Litemats, Litepanel Astras, Quasar Crossfades, and Astera Titans that allowed us to bring this bold visual look into some spectacular New York City locations.
“When the pandemic forced us to quickly pivot to shooting remotely, we created a FedEx-able remote package centered around the RAW-capture capability of the tiny 6K BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera, often positioned via the remotely controlled eMotimo Spectrum ST-4 motion control robot.
“This allowed us to continue capturing high-quality visuals with a very, very small remote crew, or even just the professors themselves. I am proud of the continuity and quality we were able to maintain during a very challenging year. Again, with a bold client who understands and values the educational power of cinematic visuals, great lessons are learned.”
Outlier.org did not skip a beat in creating new courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, making a wider variety of courses accessible online to anyone with an internet connection. When the pandemic rendered traditional film production impossible, the mission-oriented team came up with a safe production plan to match the quality of previously filmed courses. To make the process more challenging, Jacobsen needed to direct Outlier.org’s professors, who had no filmmaking experience, on how to light, focus and film themselves remotely. With his guidance, small, local production crews assembled the sets and sanitized the area before leaving. The masterful cinematic lectures speak for themselves.
Research shows that an outstanding course isn’t just about lectures alone. Outlier.org has developed the world’s best for-credit online college courses, taught by some of the most celebrated educators in the world, at only $400 per course. Their students have achieved a C-grade or better at a rate that surpassed the national average for in-person classes, an unprecedented milestone in online education. The courses are immersive, cinematic, engaging, and use cutting-edge science-backed teaching techniques as well as the latest production technology that gives students a high-quality, affordable online learning experience.