CHEMMATTERS Article Summary:
Hollywood's Special Effects: How Did They Do That?

I read the "Hollywood's Special Effects: How Did They Do That?" article. It is about the physical special effects that are seen in movies a lot like fake snow, artificial skin and even explosions and fire. Using materials/events that are "less messy, expensive or dangerous than the real thing". Fake snow is better than real snow, but it is the hardest natural substance to make, notably having to make them environmentally friendly. Artificial skin also causes some trouble because we are so used to seeing how skin is when it wrinkles, how it moves and even when it gets wet. It takes a lot of high-quality ingredients, professionals and a big load of patience. The explosions and fires we see on TV may look really cool, but it takes a lot of work to get it just right. Its hard to create an illusion that is safest by every means possible. So, the specialists just blow up miniature buildings, trucks, cars, etc., made of plaster instead of using full-sized ones, especially after the 1983 Twilight Zone movie set incident.

Chemistry is involved in every way. A company, Snow Business, makes fake snow sometimes by using the idea mixing diaper granules with water. The granules are made with the polymer sodium polyacrylate which detaches into two ions, carboxyl and free sodium, when in contact with water and attach to a "chain" using hydrogen bonding. This creates something like ice instead of snow, so they made their own polymer that is heavier and swells more then creating "snow". Artificial skin requires the basic ingredient of latex foam, but lately some movies, like Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, have been using silicon. Silicone is in the form of a greasy cream, similar to that of soft petroleum jelly, and it has a silicon-oxygen backbone that has organic side groups (methyl, ethyl and vinyl) that are attached to the silicon atoms. For the movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the Death Star explosion became a successful and popular technique that has been since copied many times. It used black powder - a mixture of sulfur with potassium nitrate and charcoal, made of carbon and other chemicals in the heating of wood - and titanium shavings. When the black powder was ignited, sparks and debris had become propelled toward the camera, giving the illusion of an explosion in space.

Explosion from the movie Fast Five (2011)

I learned a lot of new things like they don't blow up real cars and all. And that making all this - snow, skin and explosions - requires steps to keep everyone and the environment safe and comfortable while also giving a really good show. I would like to explore how they incorporate other special effects in more detail. Like Spider-Man jumping off a building or George Clooney flying in space. I also want to see how some of the stunts are coordinated into the movie sets. 

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