David Fincher on The Social Network’s Bad Breath

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 13 2011 5:49 PM

David Fincher on The Social Network’s Bad Breath

On theDVD edition of The Social Network ,released on Tuesday, you can learn a lot about the film's visuals —l ike howdirector David Fincher hired a mime to infiltrate Harvard's campus when heneeded to light an archway and the school wouldn't give him access. (The mimewent in equipped with a battery pack light.)

Unfortunately, what you don't getis a satisfying explanation for that awfulCGI cold-weather breath , which is the second-worst visual crime in thefilm. (The first being casting an actor who is actually lesshandsome than the real-life Divya Narendra. The man's an Indian DonDraper!)

Advertisement

The choo-choo-train clouds thatemerge from Jesse Eisenberg's and Andrew Garfield's lips are so obviously fake,it's jarring. On the DVD commentary track, one of the actors asks, puzzled, "Did they add this mistbreath?" *

Fincher, for his part, has thisto say:

The breath inthis is faked. Not that it wasn't ridiculously cold anyway, but we did not havethe humidity that it required to have people's breath be visible, and I justfelt to ask people to stand out in this kind of cold weather and not see thebreath was unfair.

Unfair to whom, precisely? Certainlynot to Eisenberg and Garfield, who, as Vultureput it , are constantly under threat of being "upstaged by their own breath"in those chilly campus scenes. I say the effects were unfair to the viewingpublic, who were probably sufficiently convinced of the cold by the snow andthe shivering actors.

Just how cold does it have to beto see your breath? First off, it's not really your "breath" you're seeing it'sthe water vapor from your lungs, which condenses into a liquid as it hits thecolder air outside your body. According to weather.com, while there are some complicating factors, this will usuallyhappen at temperatures around or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit

Perhaps Fincher was motivated bythe challenge of creating life-like "mist breath" according to visual effectsgurus Colin and Greg Strause, it's oneof the most challenging effects to render in CGI . Apparently, moviewizardry can createidentical twins , shapethe perfect alien boobs , and make a manwith half a face , but they can't make a little cloud come out of yourmouth. Why? I've got calls out to some of those wizards, and will follow upwhen I hear back.  

Clip from The Social Network © Columbia Pictures 2011. All rights reserved. 

* Correction, Jan. 14, 2011:   The original version of this post identified the person who asked about the "mist breath" as screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.