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Special Effects—Titanic and Beyond

Classroom Activity

To investigate how geometry plays a role in perspective.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Putting It into Perspective" student handouts
    Putting It into Perspective (HTML)
    Distorted Room Template (HTML)
  • construction paper or card stock
  • scissors
  • glue
  • two same-size models (such as plastic toy figurines or photos of people from magazines) up to 1 1/2 inches tall (the taller the better)
  1. First stage a demonstration of perspective. Have two students the same height stand side by side near the end of a hall. Have one student begin taking steps backward until students begin to notice a difference in height between the two. From where they are, have the rest of the class measure the height of each student with a ruler or their fingers and observe other surrounding clues that suggest a difference in height: How much space is between the students' heads and the ceiling? Where is each student in relation to the end of the hall? How far did the students have to back up before a difference in height was noted? Discuss perspective with students. (You might want to replay the program segment of the two ships that deals with perspective.)

  2. Organize students into groups. Either make a Distorted Room for each group (enlarged to 200%) or have students make one from an enlarged template and materials you provide for them.

  3. After they have constructed their room, have students place two same-size models inside to explore perspective, using the questions on the student handout to guide their inquiry.

  4. When students have finished, reconvene the class and discuss what they have learned, clearing up questions and inviting further investigation of perspective.

  5. As an extension, have students build the room in different sizes and compare which size works best.

Additional Activities
More special effects activities for upper-elementary and middle-school students are available on the Web at

or by writing to:

Special Effects Activity Guide
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
Activity Answer

Perspective is the technique or process of representing on a plane or curved surface the spatial relation of objects as they might appear to the eye. Perspective didn't appear in art until the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was the first to describe the principles of perspective in his notebooks. He treated perspective as a branch of geometry.

Students might observe that the room appears rectangular, but it isn't; that while the walls are straight, they don't all meet at 90° angles; and that when outside the room, the two models are the same height.

2 diagrams of distorted room

Certain visual cues—such as the patterns on the floor and the window frames—lead someone looking through the viewing hole to believe the room is cubic. As a result, an object placed in the left corner appears to shrink when compared to an object in the right corner.

While the Distorted Room appears to be cubic, it is not—rather, the floor, some walls, and the far windows are trapezoidal.

Links and Books


Finch, Christopher. Special Effects: Creating Movie Magic. New York: Abbeyville Press, 1984.
Chronicles the use of special effects from the origin of motion pictures to 1984.

Hamilton, Jake. Special Effects in Film and Television. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 1998.
Provides an introduction to the world of illusion. Students discover how Steven Spielberg created the dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, how Jim Carrey's eyes popped out in Mask, and how the spectacular arrival of alien spaceships was staged in Independence Day.

Samonek, Michael E. The Gross-Out Get Sick & Turn Blue Cookbook, with Special Effects. Skokie, IL: Anatomical Chart Co., 1995.
Has recipes for students to create foods that aren't what they seem.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Special Effects: Titanic and Beyond
Includes, among other features, an interactive exploration of how moviemakers create the illusion of making a miniature set look full-size, and interviews with computer graphics experts on how they got into the world of special effects. Launch date: November 3, 1998.

How We Do It
Pixar Animation Studios (creators of Toy Story) explains the process behind computer animation.

Newsgroup for discussion of movie and television effects. Current posts include technical questions about specific effects shots, industry-related news, requests for advice on how to shoot a sequence, and notices of upcoming live events, television specials and magazine articles relating to effects.


The "Putting it into Perspective" activity aligns with the following Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics:

Grades 5-8

Math: Geometry

Mathematics Standard 12:

Grades 9-12

Math: Geometry

Mathematics Standard 7:
Geometry from a Synthetic Perspective

Teacher's Guide
Special Effects—Titanic and Beyond

Video is not required for this activity