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Surprising Science

The Physics behind Hollywood

The next time you take in a movie, you may be getting a lesson in cutting-edge physics without even knowing it. Many special effects would be impossible without fluid dynamics.

Hollywood has embraced the complex field of fluid dynamics, the study of how water, air, smoke and other fluids move, in a big way, allowing filmmakers to create realistic scenes of turbulent oceans and falling buildings—not to mention the quirks of Jeff Bridges’ face. “It used to be that the story was limited by the technology,” said Doug Roble, creative director at Digital Domain, a Hollywood special effects studio. “Now we’re getting to the point where there are no limits. If I want to have Mount Everest fall into the ocean and catch on fire, we can do that. And the audience will buy that it is happening.”


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