Posts Tagged ‘film’

The secret science behind movie stunts and special effects

// March 20th, 2011 // Comments Off on The secret science behind movie stunts and special effects // Science at Home, Science Communication, Science in the Movies

Movie stuntsSteve Wolf sent me his book on the science of movie stunts and special effects for review last month, by Saddleback Educational Publishing.

Full of glossy pictures, this book is written for aspiring young scientists (not for adults or film makers.) Particularly kids who are a little off the rails, wild experimenters who need guidance without curbing enthusiasm. I think the author himself fell into that category.

One of the best things about the book was a message that science isn’t just about reports and measuring things. It’s about creating, trying, testing and doing cool stuff. That’s a good message.

When he’s not writing, Steve Wolf does science shows in schools. I bet they’re a blast. He’s worked in the film industry for years creating special effects and in the first page of the book admits “he has the best job in the world.” I got the feeling that he gets a real kick out of exploding stuff.

That brings me to the other good message – safety. From smoke detectors to seatbelts, he covers not only safety in special effects, but also just every day. It even talked about life lessons like doing what you love and eating healthy food. Although these are good things for kids to learn, I did wonder if this book was the right avenue for that. Safety messages are important, but talking about politeness, teamwork and professionalism seemed like a little much for a kid excited by science.

burnt toast

People are like toast. You can't unburn them.

But back to blowing stuff up, that was cool. Did you know that complete combustion of propane creates a blue flame, but incomplete combustion makes an orange flame because the heat excites carbon atoms? I didn’t.

Oh, and it showed someone covered with Zel Jel, fire insulating goo used by stunts performers which looks like marmalade. To quote the book “remember, people are like toast. You can’t unburn them.”

Diagrams also splatter the pages, which is awesome. I love a good diagram. They showed atomic states of matter, electrical circuitry (both series and parallel) and even chemical reactions. Clear explanations were delivered with a dose of movie stunt applications, like making mist, or arming explosives.

Teachers could build science classes around the book, as it covers important concepts and putting them in a cool context. It would be suitable for Years Five to Eight as a short introduction to complicated topics including atomic theory, chemical reactions and electric circuits, though none were discussed in huge depth. Sometimes I wasn’t sure which audience the book was talking to – young children or teenagers? But it could be used to spark classroom discussions.

At the end of the book Steve describes how it all comes together on set, from rolling cameras to checking all the explosions have detonated correctly after the stunt. It was a good insight into the film industry, but this is a book aimed at the science, not at movie making. Aspiring film producers won’t get a lot out of the book, certainly not how to make their own stunts. That’s not the purpose of the book. It’s about inspiring kids to do science using movie stunts as a draw card.

The Secret Science Behind Movie Stunts & Special Effectsis a nice book, and would make a good addition to a school library. It has potential as an alternative or addition to science textbooks. And if you know a kid (8-12) who does science experiments at home and loves movies, it would make a good present. Not for adults or film makers.

Filming the invisible world – 3D documentaries

// February 28th, 2011 // Comments Off on Filming the invisible world – 3D documentaries // Science Art, Science Communication, Science in the Movies

We are at a very disturbing point in film production, where we assume the audience has no imagination and no intelligence. Stories are spoon fed and wrapped up with explosions and effects to sell the same tired old plot.

Such is the opinion of Douglas Trumball, who has spent his career in science fiction animation and visual effects. He spoke on Sunday afternoon at the RiAus about the problems with the film industry and how science can save it.

What’s really lacking is immersion, a story that draws people in and the technology to make it hyperreal.

The technology is certainly improving, there’s no doubt about that. Take the infamous Avatar, which I was completely entranced by. The 3D was so subtle and authentic I honestly felt like I was there, and clapped like an idiot when it finished (much to the chagrin of my friends.)

But apparently, that’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Douglas is experimenting with cameras that capture at 120 frames per second (rather than the 30 they do now), and a projector that displays it at the same rate. For the audience he says it’s like opening a window to a different world. It’s a whole different feeling.

He envisions a cinema with a screen that curves around beyond 120 degrees, so it extends past the corners of your eyes.

And what does he want to do with this set up? Explore space. Vast, infinite and complex, space lends itself to immersive film like nothing else. It quite simply matches big content with big delivery. It needs a story to go with it too, something that captures the imagination of the audience, where they can fill in the blanks and have their own “ah ha” moment of discovery.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and science has some pretty cool stories of its own. Tim Baier is a stereographer who worked on feature films like King Kong and Lord of the Rings, and spoke on the panel about his recent work making science documentaries. I watched a preview of his work “Standing in Amazement” on Sunday, and it was breathtaking.

Image by Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

In 3D, he captured still pictures and stop-motion of Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges.

The sun rose on mountain tops encrusted with quartzite. Macroscopic photographs showed the indentations on a snakes head which sense heat, and the pads on gecko feet which let them hang upside down on glass.

It wasn’t just a film, it was a presentation. During the movie, Tim talked about the geology of the Ranges and how the mountains had formed.

He described the van der Waals forces that work on gecko feet. It was visually breathtaking AND intellectually stimulating. The full film lasts for 90 minutes, and is playing at the RiAus this week, Tuesday to Saturday. Session times here.

He thinks there is a lot of untapped potential in 3D science documentaries. I’d agree, particularly in talking about geology. I’m thinking right now about David Attenborough’s Cave episode on Planet Earth, and combining it with Sanctum 3D.

Sunday night I watched a doco with Sir Attenborough (he is EVERYWHERE!) and they showed a stadium-sized machine that could see inside fossilized embryos in 3D. Now that’s my kinda movie!

Microbes, photographic film and a self portrait

// November 4th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Science Art

Image by Erno-Eric Raitanen

This art is made of film degraded by bacteria.

It’s a self-portrait of the artist Erno-Eric Raitanen. The bacteria was harvested from his own body and cultivated on the gelatin surface of photographic film.

It’s a similar process to growing bacteria on a plate of agar. As the bacteria gnaw away at the gelatin, the film starts to degrade and creates some interesting patterns. He calls them bacteriograms.

I recommend you flick through his online gallery. I like to think I could make some myself one day, except with added science. Maybe add some antibacterials to part of the film and influence the pattern. OR add a mild antibacterial to the whole surface and make a picture of antibiotic-resistant bacteria!

I know I’ve got some scientist readers out there who are into bacteria. What would you make a bacteriogram of? What about virologists, how could you get some viral action happening on film?

Big bang theory’s big bad blog

// October 27th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Just for Fun, Science in the Movies

This is a link to a blog I heartily recommend. It’s written by the tech consultant of The Big Bang Theory sitcom, which ranks higher in Google than the ACTUAL theory of the big bang. It’s understandable. If you don’t watch The Big Bang Theory, how do you live? I’ve been addicted for a mere seven months now, and already I can’t imagine life before it. It’s a geeky comedy about four nerdy guys and one hot girl. There, now you’re up to date and can start watching mid season. Alternatively, watch this snippet about their take on astrology. Lolz.

I find it really interesting to read a tech consultant’s blog (not just because I’m a stalkerish fangirl either.) I think it would be a cool job to research random information to help people write witty reparte. You know what, if you need any witty reparte written for you, e-mail me. We’ll talk.


The latest post
is about the stars in our neighborhood. And to top it all off, it even had some sesame street in it. Now if THAT ain’t a good blog I don’t know what is!

In fact I think I should emulate the awesomeness…

Nah. Just YouTube it.

Avatar sequel to film deep sea in 3D

// September 27th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Science in the Movies

Say wha-?

There’s gonna be a sequel to Avatar?

Why?

I mean, I think the movie was awesome and all, but when it finished it finished. Finito. No more. No dramatic suspense music to imply the indignity of a sequel. No sudden return of a villain. Nada.

The story was just Pocahontas, after all. And Pocahontas didn’t have a dumb sequel (did it?)

This whole “every successful movie must have a sequel” really pisses me off. It just DETRACTS from the awesomeness of the original. The one exception is Ace Venture.

The good part about this (silver lining Captain, focus on the sliver of silver) is that part of the movie is set in the deep sea. And to make that part of the movie, James Cameron is going to film the deep sea in the Mariana Trench (south of Japan.) 11,000 metres down. Humans have only been down there once, in a hardcore sub that can withstand the excessive water pressure which is 1000 times stronger than atmospheric pressure.

If he can do it, the footage could be supercool scientific data for the abyss that is the deep sea. We know more about the moon than we know about the deep sea, and there’s probably stacks more sweet stuff down there. And James Cameron can do ANYTHING. Where science has so far faltered, James Cameron and his trusty checkbook will succeed. Aw yeah.

Hat tip to Dr M at Deep Sea News, who amazingly did not like the first movie. *blink*






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