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Stuntman and special effects coordinator Steve Wolf shows how actors can fall from a 20-story building without injury and how houses can be set ablaze safely in movies…all through science.

Episode filmed live at the 2015 World Science Festival in New York CIty. The full Cool Jobs program from that year can be viewed online.

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Steve Wolf:

How are you? Hi, my name is Steve Wolf.

Dashton Wolf:

And I’m Dashton Wolf.

Steve Wolf:

And our family has been doing stunts and special effects for about 27 years.

Dashton Wolf:

My dad has thrown people off roofs, crashed cars, lit people on fire, and blown up buildings.

Steve Wolf:

So we have every opportunity to get hurt. We work with a lot of science, though.

Dashton Wolf:

And safety.

Steve Wolf:

And safety too, thanks. I always forget that. So I want to show you how we blow up people in movies. You guys seen stuff where someone’s diffusing the bomb, and then the bomb goes off, and then you get blown away? Dash, look, I want you to diffuse that one right there, okay?

Dashton Wolf:

Okay.

Steve Wolf:

And CJ, will you help me with this? Because I need more mass than I’ve got. Ready? Fire in the hole! Three, two, one. Nice. I like that. That was fun. That was simple pulleys and pendulums. You’re a good stuntman, son. You can take that off. So I get to do a lot of fun stuff on movie sets, right? Like my son told you, I crash cars and I blow up people and throw people off roofs, so we want to make sure we take really good care of ourselves and be ready to go to work every day, not miss any work. If the movie star misses work because he’s sick, what’s the rest of the crew supposed to do? Especially if he’s in every scene. Big, expensive problem. So we have to make sure that we eat right, take good care of our bodies, drink a lot of water, get some exercise once in a while, and then when we’re working with chemicals and making fires, we need to apply the same safety standards.

Steve Wolf:

You guys like fire? Good. So I’m going to show you what happens. What I do is I make it out of fuel, which is anything that burns, and then I need oxygen, which I borrow from this room. I won’t take too much of it. And then I need to have heat and I have to have a chemical reaction. All right, now before I expose you guys to these chemicals, of course, we always want to follow chemical safety, right? So we’re going to release this stuff in the air, we want to know if it’s safe for us. I developed this rule for chemical safety called ‘the five in rule’. The five in rule says if you’re going to be in contact with something, touching it, if you’re going to be inhaling something, ingesting something, or injecting something, then you have to read the instructions. That’s the only way to know.

Steve Wolf:

It says right here, the contacts of this [inaudible 00:02:37] are safe for human inhalation. What does that mean? Safe to breathe. Right. Long term exposure may cause hair loss. I don’t believe that. Come on. Now let me see. All right, that seems to be working. All right, so I’m going to get a little bit of fuel. This is a fuel called propane, by the way, it’s a hydrocarbon fuel. It’s made out of which two elements? [inaudible 00:03:04], it’s zinc and selenium. But it’s hydrogen and carbon. So we bring our fire into here and now we’ve got our house on fire, because when we’re making a house on fire in the movies, we don’t use real houses because real houses will burn down in about 20 minutes. We have to have a house that can stay on fire for as long as we need it to.

Steve Wolf:

If we’re not filming over here, we don’t need fire there. If this is like the twins jump out of the window over here. So we can just fire, “You can come over here too.” Excuse me. Yeah, I’m talking to you. Thank you. I need you over here. Good. Thank you. Excellent. All right. All right, good. This is what we want you to do, but this is just rehearsal. I need you to wait back in the bottle now. Yeah, you’ll get to come out again in a minute. Thanks. Good. All right.

Steve Wolf:

You guys know I’m just messing around, right? You can’t tell fire where to go. As much as I thought that you could when I was six. But really what we’re doing here is we were just playing around with these valves back here. So by opening and closing valves, we can control where the fire goes on a movie set. You guys know what a valve is? It’s a simple mechanical device that controls the flow of a fluid. You know what fluids are? Yeah, okay. I’ll give you a hint. Two out of the three states of matter are fluids, and solids are not one of them. Liquids and gas, right. Anything that takes the shape of the container you put it in is a … Oh, excuse me a second. Hang on. Didn’t realize I had my house so dirty here. Just clean that up for you. All right, there we go. Look at that, it looks like my kids’ room after a play date, huh?

Steve Wolf:

You know what this is? This is actually evidence that we had a chemical reaction here. This stuff is something we just made today. It wasn’t there before because the crew did a great job cleaning this thing up to make sure it looked nice for you. This is stuff called carbon. You know what this can do to you? Who says kill you? Absolutely right. 10,000 pounds of carbon falls on your head? Boom, you’re dead, just like that. Other than that, this stuff won’t hurt you at all, maybe just get you a little bit dirty. And there is actually a dirty little secret about carbon, and that’s that you’re made out of it. It’s not just you, it’s your parents and teachers and everything that you eat. Every living thing on this planet is made out of carbon.

Steve Wolf:

Now why do we set houses on fire in movies? Looks cool, right? But the thing is, you couldn’t have a whole movie just about a house on fire, you have to have somebody stuck in the house. Maybe they’re hiding up on the roof and they’re trying to get away from the fire, they’re trying to figure out how they’re not going to get eaten up as the fire burns through the roof. What are they going to do? Ah, they’re going to have to jump off the roof. Now there’s a secret to jumping off roofs, okay? The secret is, it doesn’t matter if the roof is one foot high or the roof is 500 feet hight, all that the stunt person has to do, I’m going to show you, all that they have to do is take one step, and what does the work of getting them to the ground? Shh, that’s my secret. I go to work, I take one step, gravity does all the work, but I get to keep all the money. It’s a pretty good deal, right?

Steve Wolf:

Is there anyone who wouldn’t want a job like that? Go to work, take one step. Your job’s done. Get your money, go home. No? Why not? You think that’s dangerous? Okay. Some people think it’s dangerous. In 27 years of stunt work, I really can’t remember one time I ever saw anyone get hurt falling. I’ve seen some people get killed landing. That’s a completely different part of the stunt though, right?

Steve Wolf:

So when we land, we make sure we have something nice and soft underneath us. We use air because air is a gas and gases are compressible. You can squeeze them and they give you a nice soft, safe landing. Then we just have to figure out how we can get back up again so we can jump again, because it’s not daredevil work, it’s science. I’m an engineer and we have to figure out how these things get done safely. So when we want to get back to the top of a tall building, we use this technology called an elevator. But if we’re filming in the jungle and we have to get up on top of a cliff or pull someone up from a deep crevice in the ground, then we have to have some simple machines that we can bring with us and set up anywhere.

Steve Wolf:

So there’s six different type of simple machines. What are they? You have wheels and axles, levers, wedges, screws, inclined planes, and pulleys, and pulleys have always been my favorite, I’m going to show you why. I’ve got a bunch of pulleys here and when I was in fourth grade, my teacher drew on the blackboard and she said that using pulleys, you could lift things that are heavier than you are. I’m going to need to borrow you for a second, Bob. Yeah.

Bob:

They told me all the cool kids wear these now.

Steve Wolf:

Bob’s actually wearing a professional harness just like the one I had access to when I was in fourth grade.

Bob:

Oh, nice.

Steve Wolf:

When I went in my house to see if my teacher was right when she said I could lift things that are heavier than I was if I had pulleys. So I hooked up some pulleys in my backyard and I ran in my house looking for something heavy to lift, and the first thing I found was my mom. And she was a great sport, she let me actually hook her up to this thing and lift her up. Thank you, Mom. Appreciate it.

Bob:

Wait, how high up are we going?

Steve Wolf:

There’s my mom right here, by the way. Who are my trained guys? We’re going to see if these things actually work, all right? Let me explain how this thing works. One pulley just changes the direction of the force of a rope, all right? But if you use more than one pulley, it divides the load, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, okay? It divides the … A load is a physics term for something that’s being lifted, so it divides the load by the number of ropes that are holding it up.

Bob:

Okay.

Steve Wolf:

So if you want to do the math, just think that pulley stands for pieces of line. How many pieces of line are there that are holding you up? It’s taking some liberties on spelling, but in English, you can do that.

Bob:

10?

Steve Wolf:

Gentlemen, come on over here. All right, so we’re going to start to pull down on that rope. Go ahead, pull fast. Pull, pull, pull. We’re going to see what happens. We want to make sure this stuff is strong, right? Not strong like if you sit on it, it crushes. That’s compressive strength. We’re looking here for tensile strength, which is you pull on something and it doesn’t break, and he seems to, so far, be going up.

Bob:

My life is in the hands of middle schoolers.

Steve Wolf:

Oh my, you are in trouble. Whoa. Is everything good with that? What do you think, CJ? Yeah, looks good? Oh, I did forget something. Darn, I always forget something. I said whenever we have a stunt person in the air, we have to have something nice and soft underneath. There we go. What’s your name?

Marion:

Marion.

Steve Wolf:

Marion, how are you? How old are you?

Marion:

I’m 13.

Steve Wolf:

Marion, you’re 13?

Marion:

Yeah.

Steve Wolf:

All right, guys. Will you hold this for a minute? Let go of the bottom part here. So Marion, I’m going to be honest with you, you actually have all the danger right now. You know what this tells me though? This tells me that you’re very brave, you’re willing to take some risks, and in the science community, that’s going to be a good thing for you. All right, so guys, I’m going to have you let go of this for one second and we’re going to see if Marion can hold Science Bob up by herself. We just want to make sure that we’re right underneath him though, just in case anything goes wrong.

Steve Wolf:

Marion, look at that. So can we take this a step further? I just want to see. Can you put your pinkie in there? All right. So this is not a blackboard, right? This is real science here. Marion, what you just proved, actually, you just proved two incredibly important physics concepts. The first thing that you just proved is that using pulleys to multiply your force. A 13-year-old girl is able to hold up a man who weighs enough to preside over an audience of 720 people, which is phenomenal. But you know what else you just proved? Marion, you just proved that a girl with her little pinkie could easily do the work of any four men. Nice work. Nice job. All right, should we let this guy back down? All right, we’re going to let you back down, Bobby. Coming down.

Bob:

All right.

Steve Wolf:

Clear the runway. Foam up the runway, he’s coming in hot!

Bob:

Oh!

Steve Wolf:

Ow. What just happened to my hand? Friction. That’s bad, right? The F-word. Don’t like that. Two things rub together, they create friction. Good. All right. We’re going to get you out of this. Thank you so much.

Bob:

Awesome, guys.

Steve Wolf:

You guys were awesome. Thank you. Cool. All right. Parents, thank you guys so much for bringing your kids out here today because it’s your support of your kids’ interest in science that allows them to go off and do crazy stuff like I do. Thank you so much.

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COOL JOBS: MOVIE STUNTMAN

Stuntman and special effects coordinator Steve Wolf shows how actors can fall from a 20-story building without injury and how houses can be set ablaze safely in movies…all through science.

Episode filmed live at the 2015 World Science Festival in New York CIty. The full Cool Jobs program from that year can be viewed online.

Transcription

Steve Wolf:

How are you? Hi, my name is Steve Wolf.

Dashton Wolf:

And I’m Dashton Wolf.

Steve Wolf:

And our family has been doing stunts and special effects for about 27 years.

Dashton Wolf:

My dad has thrown people off roofs, crashed cars, lit people on fire, and blown up buildings.

Steve Wolf:

So we have every opportunity to get hurt. We work with a lot of science, though.

Dashton Wolf:

And safety.

Steve Wolf:

And safety too, thanks. I always forget that. So I want to show you how we blow up people in movies. You guys seen stuff where someone’s diffusing the bomb, and then the bomb goes off, and then you get blown away? Dash, look, I want you to diffuse that one right there, okay?

Dashton Wolf:

Okay.

Steve Wolf:

And CJ, will you help me with this? Because I need more mass than I’ve got. Ready? Fire in the hole! Three, two, one. Nice. I like that. That was fun. That was simple pulleys and pendulums. You’re a good stuntman, son. You can take that off. So I get to do a lot of fun stuff on movie sets, right? Like my son told you, I crash cars and I blow up people and throw people off roofs, so we want to make sure we take really good care of ourselves and be ready to go to work every day, not miss any work. If the movie star misses work because he’s sick, what’s the rest of the crew supposed to do? Especially if he’s in every scene. Big, expensive problem. So we have to make sure that we eat right, take good care of our bodies, drink a lot of water, get some exercise once in a while, and then when we’re working with chemicals and making fires, we need to apply the same safety standards.

Steve Wolf:

You guys like fire? Good. So I’m going to show you what happens. What I do is I make it out of fuel, which is anything that burns, and then I need oxygen, which I borrow from this room. I won’t take too much of it. And then I need to have heat and I have to have a chemical reaction. All right, now before I expose you guys to these chemicals, of course, we always want to follow chemical safety, right? So we’re going to release this stuff in the air, we want to know if it’s safe for us. I developed this rule for chemical safety called ‘the five in rule’. The five in rule says if you’re going to be in contact with something, touching it, if you’re going to be inhaling something, ingesting something, or injecting something, then you have to read the instructions. That’s the only way to know.

Steve Wolf:

It says right here, the contacts of this [inaudible 00:02:37] are safe for human inhalation. What does that mean? Safe to breathe. Right. Long term exposure may cause hair loss. I don’t believe that. Come on. Now let me see. All right, that seems to be working. All right, so I’m going to get a little bit of fuel. This is a fuel called propane, by the way, it’s a hydrocarbon fuel. It’s made out of which two elements? [inaudible 00:03:04], it’s zinc and selenium. But it’s hydrogen and carbon. So we bring our fire into here and now we’ve got our house on fire, because when we’re making a house on fire in the movies, we don’t use real houses because real houses will burn down in about 20 minutes. We have to have a house that can stay on fire for as long as we need it to.

Steve Wolf:

If we’re not filming over here, we don’t need fire there. If this is like the twins jump out of the window over here. So we can just fire, “You can come over here too.” Excuse me. Yeah, I’m talking to you. Thank you. I need you over here. Good. Thank you. Excellent. All right. All right, good. This is what we want you to do, but this is just rehearsal. I need you to wait back in the bottle now. Yeah, you’ll get to come out again in a minute. Thanks. Good. All right.

Steve Wolf:

You guys know I’m just messing around, right? You can’t tell fire where to go. As much as I thought that you could when I was six. But really what we’re doing here is we were just playing around with these valves back here. So by opening and closing valves, we can control where the fire goes on a movie set. You guys know what a valve is? It’s a simple mechanical device that controls the flow of a fluid. You know what fluids are? Yeah, okay. I’ll give you a hint. Two out of the three states of matter are fluids, and solids are not one of them. Liquids and gas, right. Anything that takes the shape of the container you put it in is a … Oh, excuse me a second. Hang on. Didn’t realize I had my house so dirty here. Just clean that up for you. All right, there we go. Look at that, it looks like my kids’ room after a play date, huh?

Steve Wolf:

You know what this is? This is actually evidence that we had a chemical reaction here. This stuff is something we just made today. It wasn’t there before because the crew did a great job cleaning this thing up to make sure it looked nice for you. This is stuff called carbon. You know what this can do to you? Who says kill you? Absolutely right. 10,000 pounds of carbon falls on your head? Boom, you’re dead, just like that. Other than that, this stuff won’t hurt you at all, maybe just get you a little bit dirty. And there is actually a dirty little secret about carbon, and that’s that you’re made out of it. It’s not just you, it’s your parents and teachers and everything that you eat. Every living thing on this planet is made out of carbon.

Steve Wolf:

Now why do we set houses on fire in movies? Looks cool, right? But the thing is, you couldn’t have a whole movie just about a house on fire, you have to have somebody stuck in the house. Maybe they’re hiding up on the roof and they’re trying to get away from the fire, they’re trying to figure out how they’re not going to get eaten up as the fire burns through the roof. What are they going to do? Ah, they’re going to have to jump off the roof. Now there’s a secret to jumping off roofs, okay? The secret is, it doesn’t matter if the roof is one foot high or the roof is 500 feet hight, all that the stunt person has to do, I’m going to show you, all that they have to do is take one step, and what does the work of getting them to the ground? Shh, that’s my secret. I go to work, I take one step, gravity does all the work, but I get to keep all the money. It’s a pretty good deal, right?

Steve Wolf:

Is there anyone who wouldn’t want a job like that? Go to work, take one step. Your job’s done. Get your money, go home. No? Why not? You think that’s dangerous? Okay. Some people think it’s dangerous. In 27 years of stunt work, I really can’t remember one time I ever saw anyone get hurt falling. I’ve seen some people get killed landing. That’s a completely different part of the stunt though, right?

Steve Wolf:

So when we land, we make sure we have something nice and soft underneath us. We use air because air is a gas and gases are compressible. You can squeeze them and they give you a nice soft, safe landing. Then we just have to figure out how we can get back up again so we can jump again, because it’s not daredevil work, it’s science. I’m an engineer and we have to figure out how these things get done safely. So when we want to get back to the top of a tall building, we use this technology called an elevator. But if we’re filming in the jungle and we have to get up on top of a cliff or pull someone up from a deep crevice in the ground, then we have to have some simple machines that we can bring with us and set up anywhere.

Steve Wolf:

So there’s six different type of simple machines. What are they? You have wheels and axles, levers, wedges, screws, inclined planes, and pulleys, and pulleys have always been my favorite, I’m going to show you why. I’ve got a bunch of pulleys here and when I was in fourth grade, my teacher drew on the blackboard and she said that using pulleys, you could lift things that are heavier than you are. I’m going to need to borrow you for a second, Bob. Yeah.

Bob:

They told me all the cool kids wear these now.

Steve Wolf:

Bob’s actually wearing a professional harness just like the one I had access to when I was in fourth grade.

Bob:

Oh, nice.

Steve Wolf:

When I went in my house to see if my teacher was right when she said I could lift things that are heavier than I was if I had pulleys. So I hooked up some pulleys in my backyard and I ran in my house looking for something heavy to lift, and the first thing I found was my mom. And she was a great sport, she let me actually hook her up to this thing and lift her up. Thank you, Mom. Appreciate it.

Bob:

Wait, how high up are we going?

Steve Wolf:

There’s my mom right here, by the way. Who are my trained guys? We’re going to see if these things actually work, all right? Let me explain how this thing works. One pulley just changes the direction of the force of a rope, all right? But if you use more than one pulley, it divides the load, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, okay? It divides the … A load is a physics term for something that’s being lifted, so it divides the load by the number of ropes that are holding it up.

Bob:

Okay.

Steve Wolf:

So if you want to do the math, just think that pulley stands for pieces of line. How many pieces of line are there that are holding you up? It’s taking some liberties on spelling, but in English, you can do that.

Bob:

10?

Steve Wolf:

Gentlemen, come on over here. All right, so we’re going to start to pull down on that rope. Go ahead, pull fast. Pull, pull, pull. We’re going to see what happens. We want to make sure this stuff is strong, right? Not strong like if you sit on it, it crushes. That’s compressive strength. We’re looking here for tensile strength, which is you pull on something and it doesn’t break, and he seems to, so far, be going up.

Bob:

My life is in the hands of middle schoolers.

Steve Wolf:

Oh my, you are in trouble. Whoa. Is everything good with that? What do you think, CJ? Yeah, looks good? Oh, I did forget something. Darn, I always forget something. I said whenever we have a stunt person in the air, we have to have something nice and soft underneath. There we go. What’s your name?

Marion:

Marion.

Steve Wolf:

Marion, how are you? How old are you?

Marion:

I’m 13.

Steve Wolf:

Marion, you’re 13?

Marion:

Yeah.

Steve Wolf:

All right, guys. Will you hold this for a minute? Let go of the bottom part here. So Marion, I’m going to be honest with you, you actually have all the danger right now. You know what this tells me though? This tells me that you’re very brave, you’re willing to take some risks, and in the science community, that’s going to be a good thing for you. All right, so guys, I’m going to have you let go of this for one second and we’re going to see if Marion can hold Science Bob up by herself. We just want to make sure that we’re right underneath him though, just in case anything goes wrong.

Steve Wolf:

Marion, look at that. So can we take this a step further? I just want to see. Can you put your pinkie in there? All right. So this is not a blackboard, right? This is real science here. Marion, what you just proved, actually, you just proved two incredibly important physics concepts. The first thing that you just proved is that using pulleys to multiply your force. A 13-year-old girl is able to hold up a man who weighs enough to preside over an audience of 720 people, which is phenomenal. But you know what else you just proved? Marion, you just proved that a girl with her little pinkie could easily do the work of any four men. Nice work. Nice job. All right, should we let this guy back down? All right, we’re going to let you back down, Bobby. Coming down.

Bob:

All right.

Steve Wolf:

Clear the runway. Foam up the runway, he’s coming in hot!

Bob:

Oh!

Steve Wolf:

Ow. What just happened to my hand? Friction. That’s bad, right? The F-word. Don’t like that. Two things rub together, they create friction. Good. All right. We’re going to get you out of this. Thank you so much.

Bob:

Awesome, guys.

Steve Wolf:

You guys were awesome. Thank you. Cool. All right. Parents, thank you guys so much for bringing your kids out here today because it’s your support of your kids’ interest in science that allows them to go off and do crazy stuff like I do. Thank you so much.