Posts Tagged ‘Space’

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!

What is a light cone?

// November 28th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work

Simultaneous is not simultaneous. Space and time do not exist. These, and other strange and wonderful things, are the hallmarks of Einsteins Theory of Relativity and what we’re talking about today.

A few days ago I got Request a Post which read:
ahoy there, cap’tun! a prawn from beneath your deck speakin’. could you do a post on Light Cones? yeh know, the stuff Stephen Hawking talks about in the second chapter of his ‘Brief History of Time’? i’d love to read a simplified version. i simply can’t wrap the wiki article around my head! danke!

Ahoy there Prawn! Danke for requesting and here be yer post.

Something can’t move through space without moving through time as well. The Theory of Relativity dispenses with time and space, and instead describes a new thing called Spacetime.

Imagine a train moving in a straight line to the Eastward. We can map its movement through Space, Time or best of all, Spacetime! Notice how much more epically cool Spacetime looks. This will be important later.

With our Spacetime graph, we map space horizontally and time vertically.

In the realz world, there are three dimensions of space – length, width and height. Thankfully there is only one dimension of time, and this runs from past to future (unless you’re looking backwards.) To graph something using all four dimensions is hard, so instead we just take two dimensions of space and make a horizontal plane, then map time vertically. This will make sense in a second.

Now imagine a flash of light. Say you were standing on a hill on a moonless night and turned on a torch for a second. The light would spread out in every direction, lighting first the bushes near by, then later the trees in the distance. If we think about it in just 2 dimensions we can draw it like this, kind of like ripples in a pond.

If we map time vertically, and stack these pictures up above each other, we get a cone. So a Spacetime graph looks like this. Notice again that it is epically cool.

So a light cone is a flash of light moving through Spacetime. Usually people draw it as two cones. The bottom one is light collapsing into a single event, and the top one is it exploding out again.

Image by Deibid

You might be thinking – why bother?

Because this is a more accurate way to imagine the world. It shows how the past can influence the present and the future. When light cones overlap, it means two objects or events interact with each other. Every event in the Universe has an associated light cone. It’s a mathematical way to represent the Universe, and the basis for lots of complex physics (such as curved Spacetime, and why simultaneous events are relative to the observer.)

The theory of relativity replaced the absoluteness of space and time with the absoluteness speed of light.

I hope this answers ye question Prawn. Find out more about awesome light cones here.

What happens to you in space?

// March 30th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // How Things Work, Just for Fun, Science in the Movies

I have a confession to make. I want to be an astronaut. When I was a kid, I thought it would be SO COOL to be one of the most special people in your field that you’re chosen to represent the world/country and go to the final frontier. “Starman” by Bowie is still one of my favourite songs.

I grew up knowing that if you went to space without a spacesuit, you would explode. Or if not explode, at the very least blood would come exuding from pores in your skin and your eyes would pop and other gruesome things.

I mean, everyone knows you’d explode if you went to space! Except that you don’t.

Nope, you don’t explode, blood doesn’t come through your pores, I don’t even think your eyes would pop.

Don’t get me wrong, space is not a friendly place. If you have a lungful of air, then you might be in trouble. Air will try to move REALLY fast from the high pressure in your lungs to the low pressure in space, causing explosive decompression. If you ever find yourself in space without a suit, you should exhale all the air out of your lungs.

If you do that, your skin does a really good job of keeping the rest of you together. It will keep you in one piece, until you die of lack of oxygen. You might also freeze, or get a really bad sunburn if you get a shot of straight sun. You may also get the bends, caused by nitrogen dissolved in your blood to come out as bubbles – the same thing happens when rising from deep sea diving.

I still remember that scene in Event Horizon when that guy goes into the airlock without a spacesuit and the air starts dropping, and he has to breathe all the air out of his lungs and cover his eyes but blood starts coming out anyway and he gets thrown into space and then rescued! Such a good movie. Seriously. I’ve seen it about twenty times.

Shout out to the physicisits in da house

// November 29th, 2009 // 2 Comments » // How Things Work, Just for Fun

Not for the first time I am posting a rap video. Rap is apparently the best genre of musical art for scientific communication, perhaps because it can handle an excess of long words.

This one is about the Large Hadron Collider, and it is catchy-as! Sadly I am not physics-minded, so I’m still a bit befuzzled about the whole thing.

Nothing like a good rap to wake you up in the morning. It’s definitely better than a kick in the head.

Smelling the Moon

// October 15th, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Sex and Reproduction, The Realm of Bizzare

This has always stuck in my mind from a book I read – I think it was The Mists of Avalon (awesome book btw). In it, a pregnant woman swears she can smell moonbeams when she’s pregnant, and they make her feel sick. So today I’m wondering, does pregnancy improve your nose? Can you smell the moon?

Made of Cheese

Every time I write a post like this I feel like I have to remind everyone that I’m not pregnant. So for the record – no bun in this oven. Just a scholarly curiousity.

Plenty of pregnancy sites out there will tell you that women become more sensitive to smells when they’re pregnant. They say this also occurs during ovulation, and may be due to changes in hormone levels. It may be a factor in morning sickness, as an increased perception of bad smells might make them want to throw up.

Measures of Human Olfactory Perception During Pregnancy by E. Leslie Cameron (full text available for free here) took 60 pregnant women (20 in each trimester), 20 non-pregnant women, and 20 post-partem women and made them scratch and sniff. There were 40 different scratch and sniff cards, with smells including lemon, menthol, grass and turpentine. After scratching, the number of sniffs was recorded by the experimenter as a measure of sensitivity (more sensitive, less sniffing) and the participant had to identify what the smell was, and rate the intensity and pleasantness of the odour.

In addition, before starting the women rated their own sense of smell generally. The results concluded that “consistent with anecdotal reports, nearly two-thirds (61%) of pregnant women indicated that their sense of smell was higher during pregnancy.” Whoop-de-do. But here’s where it gets interesting.

“Although pregnant women rated their sense of smell to be significantly higher than control participants, they were not better at identifying odors.” That said, women in the first trimester did seem to be more sensitive sniffers, because they took less whiffs. Here’s the graph showing the results (the UPSIT score is the “Identify this Smell” test)

What’s really cool is that the women THINK they smell better now they are pregnant, but there’s not the evidence there to say that this is REALLY the case. Is it just that this test wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up the change in smell which seems so noticeable to the smeller, or do they just feel like things smell different now? Is there a change, and does it effect the nose or the brain? Science, alas, is yet to have an answer.

Smelling moonbeams seems a little far-fetched though. But if you’re curious on what the moon smells like, astronauts say it smells like burnt gunpowder. After a moonwalk the dust sticks to their clothes and they say it smells very strong (they’ve even, accidentally I’m sure, tasted some!) Once the dust gets back to Earth it doesn’t smell anymore. Weird, right?

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