Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Brown Paper Question

A few people people have commented on the use of brown paper in my Numberphile videos.

Why do I have the "presenters" write their explanations and equations on brown paper? Why not a whiteboard or blackboard?

Anyway, I thought I'd explain here on my blog (so I have a permanent page to direct people to).

1. I THINK IT LOOKS COOL

Brown paper is more gritty, more tactile than a sterile whiteboard. It feels more real and is better for a video. Remember I'm making films, not Powerppoint presentations. Maths and numbers can be a dry subject... A bit of rustling and scratching paper just gives a film some extra life.

2. WHITEBOARDS SUCK

Whiteboards just scream "classroom" and "schoolteacher" to me... I don't want our videos to feel like we are trying to teach. We're just having a chat with our friends and scratching some notes to help explain stuff. We're not trying to be lecturers - or corporate motivational speakers!

3. KEEP THE SCRIBBLINGS

I haven't been promoting it too heavily yet, but I keep all the bits of the paper and later display them on Flickr. Check the link here. You can't keep a whiteboard and photograph it later. And filming would be a pain if I was constantly stopping to photograph the board.

4. EASIER TO FILM

Moving the camera between a gleaming whiteboard and someone's face requires more camera exposure/iris adjustments when filming. The brown paper is much easier to film.

5. IT CREATES A MOTIFF

The brown paper becomes a theme through the project and defines a brand... We're "those number guys who use brown paper". It also has become a major part of the main Numberphile website design and gives us a distinctive look. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON IN MY OPINON!

6. EASIER THAN A BLACKBOARD

Many of the above issues could have been addressed by using a blackboard or slates - and indeed that was my original plan. But using blackboards and chalk is a bit messier and more cumbersome... Blackboard scribblings also can't be kept for photographing later. And they would still cause complaints about the scratchy noise!

A FINAL NOTE

All of this said, I'm endeavouring to reduce the scratchy noise for those who don't like it. We are phasing in better pens and I'm making a few tweaks within the audio editing.

STOP PRESS

I am now offering a limited number of the papers for auction on ebay... If any are available, they can be found at this link: BROWN PAPERS ON EBAY

20 comments:

  1. Perhaps just use an a3 pad of brown paper, rather than paper being bull clipped to something else.

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  2. I believe brown backgrounds also make it easier to read text if one is dyslexic (I'm not, so don't take my word for it). If this is true, it's another bonus point to add to your list!

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  3. I totally agree with you Brady! I love the brown paper & pens :) It's truly an icon and something you will remember.

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  4. Get a piece of plywood, plastic, or sheet metal and wrap it like a present.

    Nice solid and quiet surface and no need for clamps.

    You could even wrap multiple layers beforehand and remove the outer one each time you need more paper.

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  5. "Those Number Guys Who Use Brown Paper"
    You should use that on the website.

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  6. Nice solid and quiet surface and no need for clamps. Brown Paper

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  7. I like the brown paper and the noise it makes ;-)

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  9. We've got some nice, squeaky markers here in the States that would be perfect for the butcher paper!

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  10. Brown paper is awesome! I love it..I'm glad its not another whiteboard, touchpad or graphic tablet but just pleasant, nice and simple, lo-fi and unplugged, ready whenever you need to capture a flash of genius, and working anywhere, in- or outdoors -- nothing wrong with pen & paper! :)

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  11. Whiteboards feel so sterile. Clinical. Brown paper feels organic and warm. I love the brown paper.

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  12. If you really want the whole "informal chat" type feel, film every episode in the pub and use beermats and ciggarette packets.

    Failing that, stick with what you're doing. The naysayers can shove their tinny poundland headphones (that are undoubtedly causing the problem) where the sun doesn't shine. And I don't mean Middlesborough.

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  13. I like the noise the paper makes :(

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  14. I like brown paper, but I guess if it were nicely cut, it would look far more professional instead of having it just teared apart.

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  15. Brown paper is fine, but when it has to be laboriously clamped and everything it serves to distract. That's what I am not fond of.

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  16. I love the brown paper. I always thought it had a "doodling on a napkin in the pub" feel to it.

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  17. I really like the brown paper : the idea of this "old school" material (passing reference to the ancestral papyrus) being used by the most powerful brains of our time is just great !

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  18. I think you should stick with the brown paper, but for God's sake use scissors!!! That ripped edge is distracting, annoying, and unproffesional. It makes it seem like you're writing on a table cloth. Also, I am glad to hear you are trying to get better pens. Those faded ones drive me to near insanity, and makes it difficult to read sometimes.

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  19. Agree, I too want some brown paper for all my math and physics stuff. However, I didn't really find good brown paper, so I ordered some large white drafting paper rolls from the manufacturer. It's not uncomfortably bright as a4 copy paper and I can cut them into different sizes. Some people may not like it but at the end of the day, it's what they write on the paper that make you watch their videos, not the paper itself.

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