MIT Design Contest
Art of Science: "Liquid Selves"
The Power of Persuasion
Lights, Camera ... Magic
FLOWERS (RUNNING IN, GRABBING MIC) Live -- from MIT -- it's
Scientific American Frontiers! (Machines start…Crowd roars…Find
Woodie in aisle seat in audience)
FLOWERS Engineering students in a battle of crazy machines
-- no wonder this is always one of my favorite segments on
FRONTIERS. Now we're back for a brand new contest to kick
off our new season. But there's more to the excitement here
than the thrills and spills of competition -- there's a behind-the-scenes
story of creativity and experimenting and learning.
back to top
NARRATION It all starts with this kit of parts...an
exam in a box. Students enrolled in MIT's Engineering Design
course must create a machine solely from the materials provided.
In six weeks their machines will compete in a contest, and
they'll be graded on how well their machines perform. It's
a scary proposition since most of the students have never
built anything before. These science wizards are discovering
that an idea is good only if it can be built. That means rolling
up their sleeves and handling a drill as well as a calculator.
And as 200 students compete for tools, life in the shop becomes
frantic. This is the contest playing field: two tables, separated
by horizontal pipes about 6 feet long. In the center is the
goal -a plexiglass cylinder with a partition running down
the middle. In just 30 seconds, the machines have to deliver
ping pong balls to their side of the goal. Each machine can
carry as many balls as you want...but everything must fit
into a one foot cube. The machine that delivers the most balls
wins. The biggest challenge is a good idea...and students
look for inspiration anywhere they can. For example, Rob Graham
plays football for MIT. The competitive strategy he uses in
the field sparked Rob's plan: drive straight down the line.
GRAHAM My idea is to drive out on both cylinders and then
once I get to the goal, dump my box of balls into the goal.
So I'll start in a position about like this, and these will
be my struts. And they'll start like this. And then I'll have
pneumatic pistons that will force the struts down and drive
out to the goal. As soon as Rob finishes building each element
of his vehicle, he tests the whole design. Testing is the
only way to avoid nasty surprises. And there are always surprises.
GRAHAM The problem is that it's too heavy and it falls through
the middle of the pipes. So hopefully the box of ping pong
balls will weigh less than the masonite. This is Heather Klaubert.
Heather is an engineering major -- and a member of MIT's fencing
team. For her, competition means speed, aggression and marksmanship.
KLAUBERT My basic concept is a frog. I want to leap, carrying
all the balls with me, land on the target and dump them. To
do this I have a frog, using the constant force springs, and
it's going to launch off of a lily pad, or a weighted pad
that won't move and will provide enough friction. Speed and
aggression are there, but the marksmanship needs work. Heather's
frog design almost croaked. According to contest rules, ping
pong balls can be launched but machines can't. She got around
this by combining her launcher -these coiled springs-with
her ball carrier. So the frog takes its power source with
it -- and that makes it legal. The students are scrambling
-- and that warms the heart of their instructor, Professor
PROFESSOR HARRY WEST At this stage, when the student's machines
don't work very well, they become very teachable. It's the
machines themselves that are teaching. When the students has
made a mistake the machine lets the student know because it
NARRATION Ping pong balls are flying -- and so are
rumors. I've heard rumors of a machine that can dump 40 ping
pong balls in two seconds. Well, I heard about one that supposedly
shoots 40 balls in 20, uh in two seconds. Yeah, I've heard
about people who can get like 400 balls in, in like two seconds.
NARRATION The mystery machine is the brainchild
of Kris Pfister.
PFISTER I have 48 balls here inside the box which is attached
to a string to the machine.
NARRATION The box is placed on a spring-loaded catapult.
When released, the catapult launches the box through the air.
It's a great design -- but it has one big problem: it's not
legal. Unlike Heather's frog, Kris' launcher doesn't travel
to the goal. He'll have to redesign it.
day. The students may not be in such good shape...but their
machines are ready for action. And they're off! You can shoot
balls...you can reach out... you can fight head to head...you
can even drive off the road... as long as you get the most
balls in your side -- you win. Rob's vehicle on the white
side of the table is competing against a pop gun design on
the orange side. It's a slow start -- his wheels hardly hit
the ground before the pop gun machine begins to fire. It's
down the tubes for Rob.
GRAHAM I had too much friction on the bottom of my machine.
And these little knobs that I put on weren't, didn't lessen
it enough so that I could drive off. So it didn't work nearly
as well as I had hoped.
NARRATION For her first round, Heather is as jumpy
as her frog. She's up against a Model "T". The leap is just
short of the goal.
KLAUBERT I just added too many ping pong balls and it was
too much weight. And the frog didn't jump as far as I thought
it would. But I learned a lot and it was really enjoyable.
NARRATION This is the former mystery machine, now
completely redesigned. Kris has built an extending arm with
a blocker attached to the front...an aggressive defense. He's
up against a vehicle -- and it's over quickly for Kris. Here's
what happened. His arm shoots too low, so his blocker hits
the center divider. Kris defeats himself.
PFISTER The practice attempt that we made just before that
was perfect so I don't know what happened. A little bit of
luck is involved I guess.
FLOWERS (NARRRATION) After three elimination rounds, every
machine left can do the job. What matters now is how many
balls you can deliver and how fast. For example, on this side
200 balls...over here, maybe 50. They're both vehicles, and
after a rough start on the left, it's a pretty even match.
They both get there, they both work -- but 50 has no chance
against 200. The Volume Vehicle scores a solid win. In this
next match intense concentration takes over...as a light weight
extender goes up against a vehicle. The Extender Contender
is fast and fully loaded. It delivers all its balls before
the vehicle even arrives. In round after round the Extender
Contender sprints ahead of the competition. It's got speed
and volume on its side. But there's another strategy showing
a lot of promise: blocking. This Blocker is really fast. It
delivers just two balls. But it wins because the opponent
can't get by the defense. But what happens when blocker meets
blocker? This round is a test of brute strength. Both machines
are quick -- they collide head-on. But Tom's Brute Blocker
on the right gets there just fast enough to prevent the opposing
blocker from deploying...he then delivers a full load.
MASSIE I was really worried about his machine. I was scared
that I went up against him. But I thought I might be able
to plow him out of the way, even if he got there before me.
NARRATION As we move into the semi-finals, it's
Dokyun Kim and his Volume Vehicle, Tom Massie and the Brute
Blocker, Paul Hsaio with the Extender Contender, and Chad
Clizzer, also running an extender. Dokyun's Volume Vehicle
is up first against Chad's elegantly simple extender. The
Vehicle's stabilizing arm deploys slowly so the extender gets
a head start. It may be slow, but the Volume Vehicle relentlessly
delivers... and delivers... and delivers. It's a delicious
victory. In the second semi-final, the Extender Contender
faces the Brute Blocker. At this level of play, strategy can
make all the difference. Tom packs his machine in hopes of
gaining a volume advantage. The Extender is intimidating,
and Tom's got the jitters. At the last minute crafty Tom makes
a reconnaissance foray...sees how many balls the Extender
is carrying...and decides to lighten his own load. The Brute
blocks out the Extender altogether. No judges' decision necessary
-- the blocker is the clear heavyweight here. The final round:
it's Tom's Brute Blocker against Dokyun's Volume Vehicle.
Dokyun gets a final scouting report on the Blocker....The
news is not encouraging. And sure enough Tom's off to a fast
start. Dokyun's only hope now is to knock the block off --
otherwise volume won't make any difference. But the Blocker
won't budge -- Dokyun is just shadow boxing. It's a total
knock out. Tom's a real champ. His Brute machine floats like
a butterfly and stings like a bee... a real crowd-pleaser.
The Engineering Title is a long coveted prize.
MASSIE Awesome! This has been a dream of mine since I was
like in the eighth grade. It's incredible. I still can't believe
FLOWERS (on roller blades, wearing suit.) When I've got classes
and meetings all over campus, these things are the only to
get around. And when you've got a break -- they're even better.
FLOWERS Okay, so there is one draw-back: That's why these
are an important part of the outfit. Hey, look -- if you go
cruising for thrills, you're taking some risk of getting hurt.
But our next story is about a mysterious kind of injury that
can happen to anyone --and about an even stranger remedy.
Eight years ago this man was a professional violinist. But
then his career was tragically cut short by a mysterious muscle
injury. Now his fingers cramp and spasm uncontrollably. For
Gordon Baughman, playing is nearly impossible.
BAUGHMAN These three fingers involuntarily contracted. I don't
want them there, I want them over the fingerboard. And what
will happen is that if I continue to force them, they will
just lock up.
NARRATION (MUSIC AND PHOTOS) This is a recording
Gordon made ten years ago. He was on the ladder to success,
performing in prestigious orchestras and chamber groups. Then
the finger spasms began. No treatment could be found. Gordon
to abandon music all together.
BAUGHMAN All these years I would have loved to have played
even if not in a professional sense... the shear joy of playing
this instrument, is something, if it could be restored would
GROUP Morrell Roper, manager of this R and B band, also found
her life radically changed by an incurable disorder. Ten years
ago her voice was normal. Today she struggles to be heard.
The effect on her life has been devastating.
ROPER Since my voice problem, the most difficult thing for
me to do is to meet people. And to have a conversation, a
general normal conversation, I cannot do, that's been very
hard for me to do. Which has been bad for me because most
people think I'm shy, I'm being cold, I'm elusive-- it's not
NARRATION Gordon Baughman at NIH After years without
music, Gordon is once again looking for treatment. The search
brings him to Barbara Karp at the National Institutes of Health.
Prodded and poked, Gordon's hands check out fine -- except
when he plays the violin. So Dr. Karp moves on to the muscles
that control the fingers. They're located not in the hand,
but in the forearm. Her diagnosis: Gordon's fingers are constantly
flexing against his will because the muscles that control
them are overactive. Morrell's disorder has also brought her
to the National Institutes of Health. She's here to visit
their voice specialists. Kay Rhew is inserting an endoscope
-- a fiberoptic cable attached to a videocamera. The camera
is threading through Morrell's throat. Coming into view is
the tongue, and behind that the white lines of the vocal cords.
Christy Ludlow will keep a close eye on the vocal cords as
Morrell performs speech exercises. Sound is produced when
air from the lungs pushes through the cords, making them vibrate.
Here, in this normal example, muscles hold the vocal cords
slightly apart, like this, allowing a smooth flow of air.
But when Morrell speaks, these same muscles overcontract and
the vocal cords clamp shut. Viewed side by side, the difference
is dramatic. In fact, both Morrell's problem and Gordon's
are caused by the same thing -- overactive muscles. It's a
surprisingly common condition called dystonia that can strike
practically any muscle. Here's the problem:
Movement begins in the brain, which sends commands speeding
through the nervous system toward the muscles. At the nerve
endings, the brain's commands are passed to the muscles through
a pulse of messengers.
NARRATION But Morrell Roper and Gordon's problem
is this. It's not known why, but the brain sends a flood of
messengers that overstimulate the muscles. There is no cure
-- but now for the first time, there is a treatment. The signals
can be blocked -- with poison.
There's a new poison. One ounce can kill the entire U.S...
Germ warfare can wipe out an entire city.
They're talking about the botulinum toxin, the poison that
causes botulism. In World War II, the US army began investigating
it as a biological weapon.
But the toxin is more familiar as a source of food poisoning.
It's produced when common bacteria are denied air, like in
a sealed can. IMPROPER CANNING
Outbreaks of botulism were all too common in the early days
And over the years, it's taken a deadly toll. Because the
toxin blocks the signals for movement, the body's muscles
are paralyzed. When it hits the muscles that control the lungs,
the victim suffocates.
Today, the toxin's paralyzing ability will be used for treatment.
This deadly poison offers Morrell Roper new hope.
DR. LUDLOW We find most of our patients who come to see us
now really are not even listening to the words botulinum toxin,
but rather listening to the words treatment. That's what's
important to them.
EMG PREPARATION For Morrell Roper, getting the poison won't
be the worst part. First Dr. Ludlow must figure out where
to put it -- which requires programing her vocal system with
LUDLOW How are you feeling? They must check a lot of muscles.
Most are normal, showing only a small amount of activity.
But when the needle is inserted into a key speech muscle,
there's tremendous activity. This is the muscle responsible
for Morrell Roper's problem.
NARRATION Now Dr. Rhew is going to inject the toxin
directly in to it. It's this precision, combined with an incredibly
small dose --about a billionth of a gram -- that makes treatment
possible. There is no risk of poisoning -- just the targeted
muscles will be weakened.
The toxin works its way to the nerve ending where it sets
up a sort of barrier, blocking the brain's messengers and
eventually paralyzing the muscle. The effect lasts six months.
Then Morrell will need another injection to keep the muscle
Gordon's problem will also be treated with toxin. Again the
most painful part is finding the right muscle. They're going
to inject the fourth and fifth fingers, beginning with the
fourth. The needle part of the syringe is going to play a
crucial role. What we need you to do is listen carefully...
Do the 5th finger, do the 4th finger... we're going to need
to move the needle over... When the needle moves in sync with
the fourth finger, they've found the right muscle. They haven't
found it yet. The injection itself takes just a minute. Then
the entire process will have to be repeated to find the other
probllem muscle. But will the treatment work? To document
their progress FRONTIERS gave home video cameras to Gordon
Baughman and Morrell Roper
MORRELL ROPER HOME VIDEO
The tapes tell an extraordinary story. At first, as the toxin
weakens her vocal muscles,
Morrell Roper's voice gets even worse. But soon... Party I'd
like to thank all of you for coming out to celebrate my new
voice, it is a new voice you know... It's two months after
MORRELL ROPER'S INJECTION
She's having a party to celebrate the end of ten years of
silence. Of course, the band is here, along with her friends
and family. Sarah/Eric/Leo She is sounding more like a human
being... From 1 to 100, it's 110. She's much more outgoing.
ROPER This cook out -- I wouldn't do it before because I didn't
want to interact with my friends because I thought the way
I sounded was awful. This is a start for me.
MORRELL ROPER DANCING
Meanwhile, Gordon's also charting his progress on home video.
For the first week, there's no effect -- his fingers still
cramp and spasm. Then ... a good sign: his pinkie loosens
up. A few days later ... so does his fourth finger. Just weeks
later... for the first time in 10 years...
is performing with another musician. Gordon I never thought
I'd be able to play again. I never wanted to think about playing
again. It's wonderful to feel like an artist. It's an incomparable
joy to play music.
OF SCIENCE: "LIQUID SELVES"
One of our most popular "Art of Science" features was a piece
called "Panspermia," produced by Karl Sims and Thinking Machines
Corporation. So we're delighted to present the TV premiere
of Karl's newest work. What you're going to see is quite different
from the standard video effects in commercials or on MTV.
Karl has managed something new -- an amazingly fluid style
of animation on a modern supercomputer. So sit back and enjoy
POWER OF PERSUASION
In any group, some children have more influence than others.
They get what they want more often. They are the leaders.
Colgate University student Lily Cabezon is trying to figure
out who the leaders are in this group of 5 year olds.
We're trying to get an objective view and a measurement of
which children are dominant and which children are submissive
and it's done through observation while the children are at
free play. Lily doesn't just watch and decide who seems dominant
and who seems submissive. She has a much more precise method.
What she does is count. She keeps track of a range of behaviors
that indicate dominance. Some are obvious, like telling someone
what to do.
And ah, Citlin you go but I have a next door neigbor that
But I have a next door neighbor that does. Jessica on the
left commands and Caitlin obeys. Here Sean, on the right,
tells his friend what to do.
You pick those up. Lily also counts physical dominance --
who initiates it, who's the target. Here, Caitlin is on the
receiving end of a bite. Gestures are also important, like
hands on hips, and chin thrusts -- both mean dominance. Facial
expressions count too, like this submissive smile. When it's
all tallied, the results are clear. Sean has an extremely
high dominance score. He is a leader in the group. So is Jessica.
Caitlin has one of the lowest dominance scores. What makes
certain kids dominant? What's their secret? Psychologist Carrie
Keating believes it's gestures and expressions that matter
most. What we say is less important than how we say it. To
test this, Carrie has designed a fascinating experiment.
In real world dominance situations, in real world leadership
situations it is frequently not the words that people say
that distinguish them as leaders -- they don't often have
the best words and they don't often have the best ideas, necessarily,
but what they have is a way to move us. What we are really
studying here is a little chunk of what you might consider
that charisma that defines leaders.
What we're going to do is I'm first going to tell you a secret,
ok, alright, so we're going to ask Carrie to leave.
OH-OK We're going to tell secrets and I don't get to hear.
I'll be back later
OK As a test of charisma, the children will be put in a psychological
hothouse. They'll be asked to lie. This juice has been heavily
laced with salt and baking soda.
Take a real tiny sip Do you like it? You don't like it? Does
it taste icky? OK, it tastes yucky! So when Carrie comes back,
ok, you're gonna tell her, we're gonna pretend, that we like
Oh -- I heard a knock -- look at all that nice juice over
there. Did you have a drink? Was it a good drink?
Yup -- Why, what did you like about it?
How'd it taste?
Good -- Ya? Caitlin's non-verbal persuasion skills are not
proving to be very persuasive.
CAITLIN Good, it tastes good
CARRIE It tastes good -- huh?
What makes a bad liar, is that they leak, they leak nonverbally
with gestures and facial expressions--very subtle body movements,
scratching themselves and picking at their clothing. Those
kinds of activities which are basically nervous activities,
tend to leak out when people are deceptive. Here's an instant
replay. Watch for the lip licking, the nervous smile, the
Does it taste good?
What does it taste like? Sean's deception, on the other hand,
barely leaks out at all. It's hard to spot any of those non-verbal
Ya, what would they like about it?
They'll like the taste? What did you like about it?
GIRL Because it tastes more sweet Now you decide. Would these
children fool you?
What did you like about it?
Because it tastes a little bit sweet Here's the best way to
judge non-verbal behavior. Get rid of the distracting words.
Just focus on the faces. This is exactly what this panel of
judges does as the final step of the experiment. They decide
who is telling the truth and who is being deceptive. And here
are the results: Sean was the best at fooling the judges.
Jessica was a close second. And Caitlin was the worst. And
look at how that compares to the leadership ratings from the
classroom: Remember -- Sean was the most dominant child. Followed
closely by Jessica. And the least dominant -- Caitlin. Carrie
finds this connection again and again: the girls and boys
best at the deception task are the most dominant in their
social group. Their non-verbal behavior is the most persuasive,
even when they're not telling the truth. What happens when
kids grow up? Does the essential connection between non-verbal
persuasion and leadership remain? If it does, then we should
be able to predict which of these adults will be dominant,
simply by watching them lie.
It just tastes really good.
Do you think the other children will like it?
CHRIS Oh-Sure Chris is probably not going to be dominant.
He's a terrible liar. Ty's not very convincing either. Michael's
pretty good. Not too much in his expression. Jeff is a real
poker face. It's impossible to tell whether he's lying or
telling the truth. So he should be the dominant type. In this
next part of Carrie's experiment, we'll be able to see if
the prediction is correct. This group has to work together
to figure out how to survive a plane crash.
You have just crash landed in the woods of Northern Minnesota
and southern Manitoba. The last weather report indicated that
the temperature would be minus 25 degrees in the day-time
and minus 40 at night. While escaping from the plane your
group salvaged 10 items.... But it's not the group's ideas
that matter to Carrie; it's who emerges as a leader.
Ok, you can begin Alright
Ok Um, I don't think we really need this cigarette lighter
- it has no fluid - it would serve absolutely no purpose so
therefore should go relatively last.
Wait, Wait, Wait
Ya, you can use the spark The knife I think is absolutely
essential, but... The discussion meanders for a while, and
then Jeff takes control.
Ok guys, what I think we need to do first is, to decide I
mean I know like in a wilderness type survival situation you
have priorities, and that you should set your priorities first
and then rank your materials to kinda correspond with your
Well what about um food? I mean if you can't necessarily assume
that your gonna be rescued, alright, you can provide yourself
shelter, but you have to come up with possibly some sustenance.
Chris, who remember was a terrible liar, has some good ideas,
but according to Carrie, that's not what it takes to be a
That person may not be the person with the most information,
or the best ideas, but that's the person who is best at maneuvering
and manipulating the group members, helping them along with
their ideas, and making members feel that they have moved
towards some consensus.
OK, does everybody agree with that? Jeff, who is proving to
be an expert at consensus building, is also a student leader
The next thing you want to do is be rescued, OK. What about
adult women? Would you predict that Paula would be a leader?
It was cold and refreshing and it..... How about Cathy? Maria?
Whatever you guessed, you're probably wrong. Remarkably, for
women Carrie has found no relationship between deception and
leadership. A leader will still emerge from this group, but
Carrie does not yet know how to predict who that leader will
be. All she can say is that women who are good at deception
are not necessarily good at leading their peers. But with
adult males, as with children, Carrie has found an unmistakable
Our laboratory research has shown, that, males who are best
at the deception task emerge as leaders among their peers.
It's not necessarily the case though that leaders disguise
the truth any more than the rest of us do. But the implications
of our research are that if they choose to do so, they would
be very, very good at it.
TO "THE POWER OF PERSUASION" The past 20 years of American
politics haven't left us very enthusiastic about the idea
of leadership. But Carrie Keating's research is not just another
knock on politicians. What she's telling us is something more
troubling -- the skill that makes people persuasive can also
make us trust them even when they're lying. That's why elections
are hard work for us voters as well as for the candidates:
we have to check things out for ourselves, and make choices
based on facts, not on images.
A motion picture sound stage in northern California. Filming
is about to start on a national TV commercial for Nice shoes.
And to pull it off, their ad agency has lined up an all-star
cast. As the heavy, they've signed Japanese film legend Godzilla.
He's defeated Mothra. He's defeated Angillus, and Mecha-Godzilla.
But he's never faced an adversary like this. Godzilla's new
screen rival is going to be basketball superstar Charles Barkley.
And here are the other star players -- the production team
from Industrial Light & Magic. They don't breathe fire. They
don't jump through hoops. But they are magicians -- when it
comes to creating special effects.
CLINT GOLDMAN "So is there some way of framing this so that
you can get the shoe, Barkley's head, and Godzilla and the
Tokyo sign all sharp in the shot?"
MICHAEL OWENS "It will be a finessed thing and it will take
a lot of time if we can't put him in. But it's just going
to get down to physics: does it work or not?"
With this killer cast, the ad agency has whipped up some ambitious
ideas. They look great on paper. Now it's up to director Michael
Owens and his team to make them come alive on screen.
OWENS "As director I have to rely heavily on all the artist
and technicians that pull this project together. The good
thing about Industrial Light& Magic is that I'm close with
all these people and I trust them immensely. So right off
the bat I have a good start. But I have to, because that's
the only way it's going to work."
If anyone can make a TV commercial cook, it's the folks who
brought you such special effects blockbusters as The Empire
Strikes Back. For the commercial, Godzilla will get his wardrobe
and make-up in the Creatures and Models Shop, where an army
of artists and model makers is hard at work. Painter Richard
Miller is prepping Godzilla's teeth to look their meanest.
MILLER "We're going to try to make them a little nasty looking
in that they're a little tartar, dirty from all the flame
that comes out of his mouth. Plus a little shiny and white
at the ends from chewing up a lot of people."
This twelve foot long foam tail is Godzilla's trademark. Covered
in latex rubber skin -- he'll be suitably reptilian. Godzilla's
unusual anatomy demands a lot of last minute alterations.
The suit may fit like a glove, but will it work? As we'll
see, there's more behind this monster than meets the eye.
The lighting is set -- Tokyo is nearly in position. It's time
to shoot. Charles Barkley is ready for his first scene --
and it's a big one! Barkley is supposed to be one hundred
and sixty feet tall. In real life he's six foot six. To make
him appear taller, a miniature city has been built. But this
set is only half the illusion. With his height scaled up twenty-four
times, Barkley's movement has got to look just as big. The
movie camera is placed at street level, looking up at Barkley.
The angle helps ... but it's not convincing on video playback.
OWENS I think that looks like he's walking too fast, he's
in a hurry. I think we can shoot it at 32 perhaps.
So, Michael tries an old trick -- playing the tape in slow
motion. It's beginning to feel right. Now, it's simply a matter
of arithmetic ... Michael calculates a new film speed to capture
this look. The result? A lumbering walk that fits with his
giant dimensions. Next, it's Godzilla's turn to make a grand
entrance. It's going to be so dramatic that they can't shoot
it all at once. So they position the camera, then lock it
down. From here they can film layers of effects one at a time.
First -- the actor rampages through the set. What's next?
Godzilla's infamous breath of fire. The layer is created by
drawing right on top of the actual film frame -- with pencil
and tracing paper. This traditional animation ... simple ...
and tedious, since it requires seventy-two different drawings,
one for each frame of the three-second shot. Now the breath
will set the city aflame. And that means a layer of smoke,
produced with a vat of boiling mineral oil. Remember, they're
shooting this from the same locked down position. And they
keep going, adding layer after layer that will all come together
in a single shot. Flames...falling billboards... fireworks!
Now, take a look. Catch them all? Well, even more details
have been added ... like helicopters ... and fleeing people.
Take a closer look, in slow motion. It's time for Godzilla
and Barkley to meet up. This shot could be a director's nightmare!
Michael's problem here is that the frame is going to be very
tight. First, he has to position Barkley low and hunched.
Then he wants a graceful lunge. The two don't go together.
And the takes are piling up. Everyone is getting tired. And
the director's nerves are getting frayed. But when they finally
get it ...
...it all looks easy.
OWENS We knew that it was a challenge to get this shot right,
but I feel really good. It's like squishing Charles into this
little space and I think we finally got that.
NARRATOR Meanwhile, more surprises are waiting in the wings.
The tail is taking on a life of its own.
MARK SIEGAL I'm going like this. I'm giving it a little backward
curve and then an upward curve so that it is doing a whip
JEFF MANN TO GODZILLA So you're doing your destruction, destruction.
And then I'll say 'now' and you'll turn and give your look.
Looks like great acting ... but it's really great hardware.
Godzilla's expressions are created with a skull full of devices,
like these radio controlled eye-balls. With a working jaw,
twitching eyebrows, and a sneer, they have a truly emotional
monster ... as long as there are four puppeteers working together
behind the scenes. J
MANN Give us a bit of an eyebrows going up, just real quick.
This remote control choreography leads to a lively on-screen
Is he hooked up for the eyebrows?
And expression is at the heart of their next shot. Fine-tuning
Godzilla takes some minor brain surgery.
MAKER What are we doing walleyed?
Why walleyed? Because Barkley is going to foul him on the
chin. But neither star is getting the right expression. There
are two problems. This is a complex move for the puppeteers.
BARKLEY But you told me to miss him!
NARRATOR And it's asking a lot of non-actor Charles Barkley.
Then Michael has a brainstorm.
OWENS Puppeteers, can we do this in reverse?
He can solve both problems by setting their final expressions
first. Even with lots of high tech tools, sometimes the right
solution is simply a clever idea. The camera films this. But
played in reverse ...
OWENS Now that's the look! In his peripheral he knows he's
there, but he's going there.
For the commercial's grand finale, Barkley is filmed in front
of what's called "blue screen". This technique allows another
shot to be added later. Why? Because they want to marry two
great moves -- but -- each one needs different lighting and
focus. This is what's going on behind Barkley. It produces
a sharp-edged mask. So in the editing process, when Barkley
is superimposed over Godzilla, the combined image is so seamless
you really believe they're on the same street corner. With
all the shots "in the can", Michael is liking what he sees.
OWENS I think it looks great, which is a relief. I mean it
really is. It's just a joy when you plan it like this and
it actually comes out like this without any obstacles. We've
changed along the way and modified, but it's really neat that
this stuff comes out the way we want it to look.
After eight days of filming and four weeks of editing, this
thirty seconds of wizardry is ready for prime-time!
VS. GODZILLA: NICE 30-SECOND COMMERCIAL
As they say on a movie set, that's a "wrap" for this edition
of Scientific American FRONTIERS. Next time we'll rescue a
trapped whale off Newfoundland, track howler monkeys in Cost
Rica, and examine the tuberculosis epidemic right here in
the U.S. Please come on back and watch.