EIS outdoor science lessons: What is the idea behind the special effects in movies?

Last week our EIS students had the opportunity to take part in some outdoor science lessons and science shows, led by Martiņš Gulbis, a science teacher who is currently working at Laboratorium .

Based on a movie, made in Latvia in 2019, “Dvēseļu putenis” ("Blizzard of souls") the students were asked to imagine how the movie effects could be perceived in reality, compared to those seen on the screen.

There are two main types of special effects used while making a movie: computer graphics and on-stage effects. While graphic effects are done by programmers, on-stage effects require knowledge in physics and chemistry. Today, together with the students, we were looking for the answers to how physics can help provide special effects, for example showing a burning man on the screen harmlessly or showing explosions without any real destructions. We also discussed how film directors make the spectators think that the character is dying on the screen, in other words, how artificial blood, false wounds or scars make us think that the hero is suffering or even dying. The students learned how to make fake scars and wounds on their own, using very simple ingredients which can be bought in any grocery store. We are sure those skills could be very useful for Halloween, for example. Of course, if you see these false scars close up, you certainly realize that they are not real, but on the screen, while we use the correct light and filters, they look very realistic. This is the movie magic, to make the illusion real.

We also discussed psychological aspects of a movie, when you become emotionally involved, not being able to imagine how much physics and chemistry are involved in the scene creation process.

We offered these unusual but instructive and informative lessons not only to our older students, but also to our younger students, and even to preschool students. The younger pupils were very excited, reacting very emotionally. For them it was rather a show, while the senior students took the topic deeper and discussed the special effects from a scientific point of view.

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