PSLC - The Macroplex Cinema
Polymers IN theMovies

MAKEUP and COSTUME: Polymers on the Actors
PROPS: Polymer Pretend
SETS: Polymers on Location
CREATURES: Polymers in Action
There are many familiar polymers in your favorite films. You won't see their names in the end credits, but they're there. They make life simpler for movie makers who don't have the money or time to do things for real. It's almost as if the polymers are playing parts themselves, pretending to be other things. They do a pretty good job when you think about it.

MAKEUP and COSTUME: Polymers on the Actors
Actually, those actors are covered in polymers, especially the ones on those sci-fi movies like Star Trek or shows like Babylon 5.

Mr. Worf's head is made of a Latex
foam rubber appliance which has been made especially to fit on the actor Michael Dorn's head. The pieces are sculpted around a mold of his head from a liquid material which dries as flexible rubbery foam. Then it is glued to his head and painted to match his skin coloring.

Worf and Troi's uniforms are also polymers. Probably polyester in this case. It's a sturdy fiber great for wear by high-action Starfleet members!

And how much gel and hair spray are on Londo's hair? We're still trying to figure that out. Hairsprays and the like are made of water soluable polymers such as polyvinylpyrrolidone and silicone, and, in many cases, the hair itself is made of some synthetic polymer fibers. What do you want to bet this guy is wearing fake polyester hair?

Edward Scissorhands And speaking of hair... and makeup, check out Edward Scissorhands here. Besides the hair care products, his face is covered with foam rubber scars and greasy perspiration-resistant makeup. You know that leather costume is hot. By the way, leather is a natural polymer formed from colagens, a type of protein.

PROPS: Polymer Pretend
Number Five So does anyone remember this guy? Yeah, you just thought props were things that lie around in the scene or things that an actor uses as part of the action. Well, Number Five from the movie Short Circuit is what we call an "action prop." OK, he is a the main character in the movie also, but since he doesn't have his own trailer or make a salary, he is considered a prop. "But, he's a robot," you say, "and robots are made of metal." Well, this one is made largely of polymers. His motors and skeleton are metal, but most of his outsides are made of high-impact
plastics, molded in metallic gray to look like metal. And a lot of epoxy was used to glue him together. Materials like polystyrene and fibergalss, make Number Five much lighter than he would be in real life. But, despite this, he still weighs 300 pounds (137 kilograms)!

Discovery Another great use of polymers is for those spaceships and other models. Polystyrene or epoxy resins can be cast from specially made rubber molds to just about any shape and then easily painted. This model of the ship Discovery in the movie 2010 was most likely made from epoxy resin. It was 50 feet long and surely weighed a couple hundred pounds. It is also a common practice to build models out of parts from existing polystyrene model kits, like the kind you'd buy at Wal-Mart. This was done for quite a few of the models in Star Wars.

SETS: Polymers on Location
Galaxy Quest Check out those fake rocks on the Galaxy Quest set! Those are made of something like
polyurethane foam, which can be painted to look fairly realistic. It also doesn't hurt if you get bonked on the head with it. And it beats having to haul a bunch of heavy rocks and landscaping into the soundstage. Also note that in this photo can be spotted a foam rubber alien head and a polyester uniform or two.

OK, this isn't really a set, and I don't know if it could be considered a prop either. But it's a really cool example of polymers. The model of the White House in Independence Day was built from materials like wood and plastics, as well as who knows how many other polymers in the paints and glues used to construct it.
The White House being blown up by aliens
The cool thing about this White House is that it can be destroyed. Because of polymers filmmakers can build sets and models that look like the real thing. This can often be less expensive than going to the real place, especially if the plan is to blow it up. Imagine how much it would have cost to rebuild the White House!

Edward's garden Another thing that can be done with polymers is to build sets of things that just don't exist, while making them look like they do. This is usually done by building wood frames covered with plaster, foam and paint, to create places such as Gotham City in Batman or Edward Scissorhands' garden. Those big animal bushes are all made from plastic leaves. Stuff like polypropylene or polyethylene can look shiny and leafy but don't need to be watered or trimmed. And Edward's stone house is not stone at all.

CREAUTRES: Polymers in Action

Jaba the Hutt

Movie creatures can be ugly - like Jabba - or cute - like Yoda. Believe it or not, these two characters have a lot in common. They are puppets, made with hand-operated skeletons, animatronics (mechanical operation), and skins of foam rubber. With careful painting and additions of realistic details, such as eyes and hair, these creatures come to life. Ewoks Furry creatures like these Ewok costumes can be made with actual fur, or something more environmentally friendly like polyester or acrylic fibers. The producers of these synthetics do such a good job of it that these guys look like they really are cute and furry, which they are. They are also probably hot in those costumes!

This is just a little hint of all the polymers that are used in special effects. There are countless alternatives to the materials listed here, as well as a whole variety of items, such as adhesives, paints and makeup, which are not mentioned but are required to add all the little touches and details that make special effects seem so real.



Worf's forehead
Troi's uniform
Londo's hairdo
Edward's costume
Number Five's parts
Galaxy Quest rocks
The White House
Edward's topiaries
Edward's house
Jabba the Hutt


Star Trek: the Next Generation Paramount Pictures
Babaylon 5 Warner Brothers
Edward Scissorhands 1990 Twentieth Century Fox
Short Circuit 1986 Tri Star Pictures
2010: the Year We Make Contact 1984 MGM
Galaxy Quest 1999 Dreamworks SKG
Independence Day 1997 Twentieth Century Fox
Star Wars Twentieth Century Fox

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