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Explosives Engineer and SFX Expert Review Explosions from ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘Breaking Bad'


– If you did this in a movie theater and had the actual explosion force from C4 going off, you'd have to have a big sign that says "Put in your earplugs now" [explosion] – Remind me not to come to your movie theater

[laughing] [fire crackling] – Jesus Christ! [dramatic music] [explosion] – Hi, I'm Paul Worsey and I'm a professor of explosives engineering – And I'm Tassilo Baur, a special effects supervisor in Los Angeles – Today, we're going to review explosions in TV and film from a scientific perspective – And a filmmaking perspective – "Desperado" [gunfire] [upbeat music, gunfire] – Jack? [upbeat music] [explosion] In the guitar case, we see some modern-era grenades

But unfortunately, they're rolling around And that's not the sort of thing I'd want to do with grenades is have them rolling around, bouncing into each other Now I personally wouldn't throw a guitar case full of grenades at my girlfriend These look like wire-round grenades inside those casings rather than a segmenting grenade The original grenades were pineapple in design

And they were supposed to break up into large chunks And that was the idea on them And these large chunks were propelled out and killed people Modern grenades are designed to give a lot of fragments, very small fragments which are termed frag The term shrapnel is usually used accidentally instead of frag in a lot of films

And shrapnel actually is ball bearings And there was a shell called the shrapnel shell And it was invented by Mr Shrapnel So, in a shrapnel shell, the ball bearings are there

And they're blown everywhere by the explosives Frag comes from a steel casing that's broken It's turned into pot metal by the detonation wave And then these small pieces fly everywhere They're sharp, do a lot of damage

In a lot of movies, somebody will throw a grenade and you'll see a huge fireball And that's not really realistic unless they set off a propane tank that's just off-frame A frag grenade when it goes would be a poof, a rather large bang, but you definitely won't see a lot of flame – To create that effect, they would have placed explosives specifically with a view toward causing that wall of fire And the grenades of course are simply props that the stunt performers on the ground react to

To create this explosion, they probably would have used gasoline lifted by charges placed between the two buildings You can even see in the top right corner part of what seems to be the bag that the gasoline was likely poured into Then there's a smaller explosion where they're flung away from it, which is probably done with an air ramp or something to allow them to jump the way they do And then we see the wide shot of the two main actors against a fireball and it's done very cleverly in that there's really good protection for them and of course, it's on a long lens to compress the distance between them and the fireball The fireball is actually between the two buildings

So it's basically going up like a wall instead off billowing out like a mushroom So other than the radiant heat, there's really no risk to them And they're good actors so they don't flinch They carry it off and it makes a great shot [upbeat music] – [Paul] "Batman

" [dramatic music] [hissing, dramatic music] [panting, dramatic music] – Meow [explosion] – In this sequence, we're seeing a lot more complex effects than just the explosion First off, the Catwoman performer punches through the metal door to the cabinet And the metal door to the cabinet, obviously, would have to be prepared in such a way that this performer could punch through it safely and it would look like it was supposed to when it broke This sort of thing is what's called a breakaway

And frequently it's made so you can replace it quickly So you can do multiple takes Once she rips it open, we then see her break the gas line and gas escaping and there's a sign there that says "gas" But just to show us visually what's happening, there's a substance streaming out of the broken line The time the film was made, that was probably freon, a component of air conditioning systems

Unfortunately, that has ozone-destroying properties So currently, we would probably use something like liquid nitrogen or liquid CO2 to create a visible jet of gas Then we see her put spray cans into the microwave and start it, which then appears to trigger the larger explosion – Whether this is realistic or not, I think it looks really, really good And I've seen a lot of gas explosions and they can look quite spectacular

This is what happens in people's house sometimes that the gas escapes and it builds up in the house and it builds up slowly to the lower end of the explosive limits And then there's a spark of some sort and that's all it takes I would expect personally to see a little bit more of a blue color to it When you do combustion, if you're on the lean side, it tends to be a little bit blue And if you've got too much fuel in there, it goes on the yellow side

– To manage the risk in this explosion, they used very cleverly a series of different ones First off, you see the real performers in the configuration in front of a building, which probably had no explosives in it to set up the geography of the shot Then you see an over-the-shoulder shot, with what is very likely a stunt performer as Catwoman, which is convenient because she happens to be a wearing a costume which lends itself toward that And that later you see a much wider shot where there are no performers in the proximity to the explosion at all, which they can have a full-force explosion So they go from no explosion to smaller explosion to a huge explosion and by cutting them all together, it creates the illusion that the performers are right next to it

The over-the-shoulder is clearly shot with a very long lens with a view toward compressing the distance between the explosion and the performers Very successfully it also makes the shot more dramatic The other thing that they will tell stunt people to do is move a little bit or they'll think you're a dummy Humans are looking for human characteristics That's why they'll very often have the stunt performer make some sort of small movement leading into or reacting to the explosion, even if it's minimal, just to show you that it's not a dummy

– In a real explosion, okay, there's gonna be a shockwave And that will cause things to move, okay I have some footage underground where we have our explosive camp for high school students and the campers are there And we shoot dynamite about 100 foot down the tunnel All that force comes towards them

And what it'll do is it'll blow their hair all over the place on the girls and the pant legs on everybody will flap backwards and forwards And sometimes if you use enough, it'll knock off hardhats if they're in just the right place So it's quite an experience [explosion] – [Tassilo] "The Dark Knight" [explosions] This was a real building demolition done for the movie actually on a real building that was scheduled to be demolished in any case

– [Christopher] We blow up a lot of different things in this film And with our major explosions, I was determined to do one of them for real – It's very important as special effects people that we keep current and enhance our skills to the degree that we can, but it's also important to know our limits Building demolition people shouldn't do special effects And special effects people shouldn't do building demolitions

It's apples and oranges In this case, you have two separate disciplines working together to create this overall effect – We're working in very close conjunction with Chris and his crew So they'll have their special effects going off And it won't interrupt our demolition charges

– On the demolition side, I can tell you exactly what happened The windows start to reverberate and shake And that happens roughly five seconds before the building actually starts to fall And those reverberations are made by detonating cord going off inside the building The actual concrete columns inside that building will each have had say three or four explosive charges, which are actually drilled into the concrete

Then they're wrapped with chain link fence and geotech – All of this material is to prevent any debris from flying out of the building when we blast – So that stops all that concrete flying everywhere And when you blast that pillar, what you wanna do is you wanna turn that concrete into its original ingredients, which is lime, sand, and aggregate And what happens is it gets blown off the rebar

And the rebar inside the concrete is just like a string And it gives the concrete tensile strength and bending strength but as soon all that concrete has gone, the actual rebar gets pancaked – The debris is handled very effectively in this particular sequence because we want the talent to be close enough to the explosions to tie it together without subjecting them to a great deal of potential risk As you notice, before things get really serious, the talent is all inside the bus, which probably has the windows replaced with something that doesn't break, some sort of polycarbonate or something So they're really well protected in there, not only from debris, but from sound

As Dr Worsey pointed out, all the stuff is contained by the chain link fence and all these precautions that are taken You don't get that debris flying off So what we supply is lightweight debris that's controllable It flies off in a visually spectacular way and enhances the effect

From looking at some of the behind the scenes images, you can see that the debris mortars were actually, as is common, firing pieces of cork and lightweight debris And the metal drums were probably filled with a combination of gasoline and something else to make it more visually interesting, which then creates the fireball – And with all those explosions going on, he doesn't lose it for one iota Just the perfect performance – You can make the actors as safe as they can possibly be, but if they don't feel safe, it's gonna affect their performance

Joker doesn't care about any of this He's completely nonchalant and if he hadn't felt safe, I don't think his performance would've been the same [clicking, explosion] "Breaking Bad" – You got one part of that wrong This is not meth

[dramatic music] [whooshing, explosion] [shouting, explosion, glass shattering] – In this scene, he's using mercury fulminate or fulminate of mercury and you might ask, "What is that?" – What is that [bleep]? [distant sirens] – Fulminated mercury [distant sirens] A little tweak of chemistry – Mercury fulminate basically is made by taking mercury, mixing in nitric acid, and the other ingredient is moonshine And when you make this stuff, it's very interesting You need lots of moonshine because it steadies your nerves as well as being an actual component

What we see in this TV clip is fairly accurate because mercury fulminate is very, very sensitive to shock, sparks, and heat and things like that In fact, it was deemed too dangerous after a while to put in blasting caps And it was replaced by lead styphnate When the explosion occurs, you may ask how come the guys inside survive? Well the actual fact is that buildings are not very strong compared to humans So what you see is the windows blowing out, probably at less than one PSI

Whereas you're not gonna get permanent hearing damage until you get up to about five PSI The net result of this is you're gonna get a lot of bang inside the building, but there's not enough pressure to totally rip it apart Enough to pop out the windows and enough for the people inside to survive Although they'll have a slight headache and ringing in their ears, as you see on the clip [ringing] – Actually, the explosion's very carefully and cleverly done

It's done in a series of cuts But the first one is the actual actor in slow motion throwing the packet And then we see what looks like a small spark explosion, which gives a cutting point to the outside of the building where we have debris mortars, simulated glass, the stunt people down below, and a mechanical effect of releasing what looked to be a fake air conditioning unit So all together, it gives a very violent and extended point of view from several angles, which makes the explosion much more dramatic – And one part on the building, it looks like all the windows blow out on the one side

But at the corner, it appears that corner window on the other side doesn't blow out And it's the painted side of the building That window really should have gone out But, we got a lot of quick film cuts here So it gives the effect it needs to

[car alarms] – [Tussilo] "Rush Hour" – Ooh, now that's tight! That's beautiful! That's nice! What's that? – That's C4 – That's C4? – That's C4 [dramatic music, car horns, crashing] [dramatic music] [gunfire, dramatic music] – Man stop it! I got C4 in the trunk! [gunfire, dramatic music] [gunfire, explosion] [dramatic music] – Yeah! [funky music] – Okay, C4's a pretty standard explosive I've got plenty in my magazines back at the university

It's actually white in color, but the packing's what's colored It's generally an olive drab, which kind of looks like a greasy, slimy dog turd unfortunately In reality, shooting C4 with a handgun isn't gonna set it off because C4's relatively insensitive But that one in a million shot where they actually hit the firing device, it could dump that electricity into the blasting caps and thereby set off the C4 With the charge in the back in the trunk, it's not realistic for it to be flipped

It's more likely the whole back end of that car would be totally blown away with 10 pounds C4 because it's containing a massive amount of pressure and gas that would be inside it The front end would survive The rear end would be blown off But you'd expect also for a lot of the body panels to blown off, which you usually see in explosion events, not something that goes flying into the air And we wouldn't see so much of a fireball, even though it's night

But 10 pound of C4's good hefty charge – From a movie standpoint, basically zero damage is acceptable Even cracking those windows or something like that is considered something you really want to avoid We're using low explosives where it's all bark and very, very little bite We want it to be way cool looking without all the as he described body panels and things like this flying off in an uncontrolled manner

In this case, it looks like black powder and gasoline Either that or naphthalene depending on the circumstances Naphthalene is a form of moth balls It's essentially a solid hydrocarbon and the combustion of it, if it's done in a special effects context, looks a lot like gasoline And the idea of the car flip itself, that could be accomplished by creating a separate explosion, probably in a cylindrical mortar directed so that a piston or plunger is forced out the bottom and the car then is forced up into the air

You're talking about the flip being created by something other than the explosion that causes the visual effect – Appears that they've got concrete barriers in there to contain the vehicle – Right, this is a problem You have to plan for not only if the effect goes the way you want it to, but also if it doesn't Where does a vehicle loaded with explosives go if it doesn't function the way you expect it to? And that K-rail there is probably there to catch it if that were to happen

But to me, what really sells this entire sequence is his reaction at the end That dance of jubilation after he's had all that trouble makes the whole scene every bit as good as the explosion – Yeah, man, I wish I had those moves – Filmmaking is the art of creating illusion in the minds and the hearts of the audience, whether that corresponds to what would really happen or not isn't important It's important that the audience believes what you're doing enough to be entertained

And that's what we're striving for – It's kinda like a shooting a firework display What you're there for is to wow the public, not to be a thump junkie and get all the entertainment yourself

Source: Youtube

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