Produced exclusively for Newspapers In Education

You probably didn't see a giant bat hovering overhead this morning, or a mouse-sized elephant running down the street. Stuff like that hardly ever happens in real life. But in the movies, a giant ape can stomp on a skyscraper and a miniature sub can float around in someone's innards, no problem.

How do they do it?

Special-effects artists use costumes, models, makeup, computers, and camera tricks to change the sizes, shapes, and locations of things.

Sometimes, this works great. A model ship can look real in a tub of water. But slosh the water around and you'll give the whole thing away, since a life-sized wave will look way too big.

It's hard to make natural things like flames, explosions, rain, waves, and falling objects look real if they're not. In the 1995 movie Congo, for instance, special effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic loaded plastic rocks with weights, shot the scene at triple the normal camera speed, and then slowed the film to make fake boulders look real when they fell.

Next time you watch a movie, see if you can tell reality from special effects.


The Incredible Shrinking
(and Growing) You

As you'll see in this activity, people judge the size of an object by comparing it to its surroundings.

You'll need:
  • Some newspapers (magazines work, too)
  • Copies of a photo showing your whole body, head to feet
  • Scissors
  • Glue

    Just cut yourself out from a copied picture (DON'T cut up the original or you'll never hear the end of it), and glue yourself onto a cool newspaper-picture background. Then you can copy the results and send them to your grandparents to show them how much you've grown.



    2001 The Exploratorium