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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!)

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, 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.