In a CGI-dominated world, the process for discovery is controlled, narrow and almost too predictable. With practical effects, we are free to explore randomness and more organic visuals without the technical constraint. Results are more artful and less deliberate.

So we rolled up our sleeves, got our hands wet and chased non-digital practical effects magic.

Our subject, a 3D-printed “Z” letterform, needed to be buoyant enough to resist falling to the bottom of the water tank and heavy enough to not float to the surface.

Miniature props. Nimble production. Impactful results.

The 3D material we worked with had a density that would zero out in water. Floating became more problematic than sinking. Additionally, we knew that filming artistic experimentation meant discovering magic moments that would happen only once.

To lessen our variables and control the pose of our letterform, we used neodymium magnets to lock “Z” in place. After perfecting the rigging, we were able to film simultaneously from several angles on two cameras so we could capture details the first and only time they occurred.

Vetting took place on a smaller scale in pint glasses.

Only the most curious reactions received further exploration in the tank.

Starting out, we knew that acrylic paint was denser than water and wouldn’t flow naturally on its own.

Canola, sunflower and olive oils were too thin and buoyant and pulled ink straight to the water’s surface. We tested heavier additives — corn syrup, and honey — looking for a substance that would dissolve in water while adopting the pigment. All of them thinned the ink too much. Add in the factor of tank depth, and a pigment cloud began to occlude the letterform.

Making ink cascade and flow over our miniature props.

The solution was combining various pigments with dish soap. The soap broke the water’s surface tension and enabled the paint to flow faster and freer, while retaining its structure.


Contrary to what one might assume, we didn’t film at super high speed. Filming was done on a super macro lens — the dramaticswere captured as they flowed.

How it looks, that’s how it was.

In an increasingly CGI-created world, analog practical effects still have something to say.

Serious about being a disruptor?

Let’s talk.