From telescope to microscope
One of the most spectacular scenes in Mutant Bacteria happens when the action shifts from the boundaries of the Milky Way to the inner of an alga in the ocean of a planet. Do you recognize the planet? Could you identify the location of the splashdown?
This trip covers not only a large distance, but also a huge range of scales. To get an idea of this: Dwarf stars like the ones performing in the show have a typical radius from 10,000 km (white dwarfs) to 700,000 km (yellow dwarfs, like our Sun). Comparing them is like comparing an ant with an elephant. Check this link http://vimeo.com/12762259 to know more on relative sizes of the planets in the Solar System and different stars. Is there a wider range of sizes among the stars or among the planets?
Although some bacteria are so big that can almost be seen to the naked eye, most of them belong to the microscopic world, with sizes in the range of a thousandth of a millimeter. That is, a million bacteria placed in a straight row would barely reach one meter. And of course, there are still many things in the universe that are smaller than bacteria and larger than stars. Can you imagine some of them?
Powers of ten
In 1957 Kees Boeke published Cosmic View, a wonderful book that starting with a humble picture df a girl sitting outside her school showed what we would see by enlarging or reducing our perspective. The result is a journey through the scales of the universe that, years later, inspired Charles and Ray Eames to create Powers of 10, a documentary that travels the world jumping a factor of 10 with every step. Since 1977, when the documentary was released, science has improved our understanding of the larger and smaller scales of the universe, but the journey is still exciting.
Bacteria are a crowd
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Bacteria are the most abundant organisms in our planet. Together they exceed the weight of all living beings and there are typically 40 million bacterial cells in a single gram of soil. They have colonized all terrestrial ecosystems from the ocean floor to the upper layers of the atmosphere. Some are even able to live among radioactive waste and others have withstood nearly two years in empty space, attached to the exterior of the International Space Station. Bacteria in our body are ten times more abundant than the rest of cells together. Most of them are harmless and even help us in tasks such as digesting food while others, such as those that cause cholera, leprosy of typhus, pose a risk to our health.
Did you know that there are foods that could not be obtained were it not for the help of bacteria? Among them is one that we often put in the pizza and another that cannot be missing in salads. Can you find out what they are?
In this video you can see a population of bacteria developing from a single individual. If a bacteria were to split in two every twenty minutes at the end of the day we would have a population of 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 individuals, that is, five followed by 21 zeroes. Although it is somehow true that bacteria are coming out of our ears, why do you think that colonies do not actually experience this uncontrolled growth?
The problem of bacterial growth is much like an old Indian legend in which King Sheram offers a reward to the sage who invented the wonderful game of chess. The sage replies that all he wants is a grain of wheat for the first square of the board, and then double the amount of grains on each square to complete the 64 that make up the chessboard. The king agrees thinking that the wheat would fit in a sack, but when his mathematicians calculate the resulting amount they find that only the last square should hold 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains. Given that a ton of wheat has somethingh like 30 million grains, the king should have put in this corner of the board no less than 307,445,734,562 tons of wheat. At the current rate of world wheat production, it would take 439 years to accumulate such amount!
War against germs
This video is part of a campaign to educate the children in the importance of washing hands with soap several times a day, especially after using the toilet or visiting a busy place.
Tools to capture, edit and share video
There are plenty of tools to capture, edit and share videos in Internet. You can find a nice collection in this link:
Create your own mutants
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Creating characters or landscapes with pigments is not an easy task, but it is fun and with the right materials you can success either at home or in the laboratory. Luckily today most of us have pretty powerful video cameras integrated in our mobile phones, and there are many free programs and apps that allow us to edit video on the computer or tablet.
You could use watercolors or tempera as pigments, but we suggest you to investigate with natural pigments. You can use berries or orange juice or even ash or chalk dust. You can also scrape the surface of rusty metal or try to extract the pigments from leaves of various plants. Some spices used in the kitchen, like paprika or curry can also provide very intense colors. You may have to dilute those pigments in a suitable medium. The safest and most affordable are water, egg yolk or some light oil.
In Mutant Bacteria we have used a technique that consists in recording the reaction that occurs when we drop pigments on a liquid with a syringe. We got bright lighting by doing it on an old transparency projector, but if you don't have one you can try working on an oven glass tray and filming from below.
The czech inspiration
The visual resources used to create Mutant Bacteria owe much to the work of Karel Zeman, a Czech filmmaker who by the mid of the last century revolutionized the world of special effects.
He started making animated films using the technique of stop motion, in which the position of the camera, the setting and characters are manually changed frame by frame. Subsequently Zeman began shooting with human actors, but incorporating a variety of special effects to simulate flights, dives, jumps or scenarios that would be physically impossible to film in reality. At that time there was no digital animation and sometimes the trick was quite obvious, but the results are still surprising.
In this video you can see some of the best effects in Zeman's movies. Although the audio is in Czech not many explanations are needed to understand what is going on. By the way, if you ever go to Prague, do not miss the Museum of Visual Effects, where you'll be able to drive the engine of a submarine, row a flying machine or sit on a flower on the surface of the Moon.
Playing with perspective
One of the most effective tricks in movies is the use of backgrounds or close-ups, which are integrated into the scene by careful camera placement and lighting. 1’50 minutes in Zeman's documentary you can see a scene of a few kids climbing up the back of a huge dinosaur that has been shot with this technique. Do you dare to shoot a similar scene with the mobile phone camera? Where would you like to climb?
Arts and special effects
In this lecture you can see Brazilian artist Vik Muniz revealing the secrets of his creative process. He has created works using chocolate, wires, diggers, sugar, paper clippings, cotton, and even artificial clouds or spaguetti (you can watch this at minute 13). Those works are actually ephemeral art, as the only thing that remains is the snapshot he takes of them.
Create stars, planets, nebulas and galaxies inspired by Muniz’s techniques. Then take pictures to create an imaginary universe, together with your friends or classmates.
You do the lyrics
The closing song in Mutant Bacteria reminds us that we are all unique in the world. And although we love how it sounds we think that maybe you could write other lyrics referring to other things happening in the movie. In this link you can download an instrumental version with some little hints to fit the voice https://soundcloud.com/mutantbacteria/eres-unica-instrumental. If you are pleased with the results, do not hesitate to send us your cover using the contact form you'll find at the bottom of this page.
The music in Mutant Bacteria was recorded in the studios of Radio Galega, one of whose flagship shows is Diario Cultural [http://www.crtvg.es/rg/programas/diario-cultural]. This program includes short sound sequences for the listeners to develop a story on. The process is the opposite to what is usual in cinema, which consists in overdubbing images. In this activity, we propose a "silent" sequence from Mutant Bacteria and we dare you to record a voice-over, music and sound effects to create your own micro-story. If you want to share it, upload it to any Internet service and send us the URL to take a look.