For mind-blowing TV, it’s hard to beat The Fabric of the Cosmos.
Teleportation, time travel and the theory of a “multiverse” populated by our doppelgangers are part of the cutting-edge physics explored in the four-episode series on PBS’ Nova.
Then there’s engaging host Brian Greene, a physicist who understands plain speaking.
Top it off with visual effects that turn complex ideas into eye candy and you’ve got a fun ride, starting last night with What Is Space? and airing on consecutive Wednesdays through Nov. 23.
Subsequent chapters include The Illusion of Time, Quantum Leap and Universe or Multiverse? — which explores the startling, tantalizing theory that our universe may be among an infinite number of different worlds that form the so-called multiverse.
The challenges of depicting these concepts were as vast as the universe — or maybe the multiverse — and a dazzling opportunity, said Ricardo Andrade, founder and creative director of Pixeldust Studios, which handled the effects.
“Everybody loved it because we knew we were involved in something special,” Andrade said of the 20-plus people who ended up working on the project.
A majority of each episode in Fabric of the Cosmos includes special effects achieved with green screen in which Greene was filmed in front of a blank screen and techniques including 2D and 3D animation filled in the scenario.
Greene, whose book The Fabric of the Cosmos is the basis for the series, vetted each bit of on-screen wizardry.
Among Andrade’s favourite achievements was the Quantum Club, a fantasy night spot where Greene hangs out to explain quantum physics, which rules the universe on the smallest of scales.
Using multiple, layered camera shots, the sequence shuffles people around the club in surprising ways — making them vanish, teleporting them from one spot to another — as illustrations of quantum mechanics.
When Greene heads to the pool table, the balls stand in for erratic electrons while the host adds some tongue-in-cheek humour.
“He hits a cue ball and in the next pool table all the balls fly off,” Andrade said.
“Then a second Brian Greene looks over his shoulder, and a third Brian Greene looks over. He sees Brian No. 2 and says, ‘I want to have what he’s having,’ and they wink at each other.”
Among Pixeldust’s most challenging tasks was the depiction of the theoretical multiverse.
“Some universes look like ours, some are plasma, some are unrecognizable. How do we represent something that is unrecognizable?” Andrade said.
The solution was to use blob-like colours “with no shapes, no squares or circles. ... Such a memorable thing, to represent nothing on the screen. That’s crazy, huh?”
Online: Each episode of The Fabric of the Cosmos will be streamed at video.pbs.org in conjunction with the broadcast.