|Powers of Ten|
Title card for the 1977 "Final" version
|Directed by||Charles and Ray Eames|
|Based on||Cosmic View (1957) by Kees Boeke (book)|
|Narrated by||Judith Bronowski (1968), Philip Morrison (1977)|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Distributed by||IBM (sketch)|
Pyramid Films (final)
|1968 ("Sketch" version)|
1977 ("Final" version)
|8 min ("Sketch" version)|
9 min ("Final" version)
The Powers of Ten films are two short American documentary films written and directed by Charles and Ray Eames. Both works depict the relative scale of the Universe according to an order of magnitude (or logarithmic scale) based on a factor of ten, first expanding out from the Earth until the entire universe is surveyed, then reducing inward until a single atom and its quarks are observed. The first film: A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in the Universe — was a prototype and was completed in 1968; the second film: Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero — was completed in 1977.
The Powers of Ten films were adaptations of the book Cosmic View (1957) by Dutch educator Kees Boeke. Both films, and a book based on the second film, follow the form of the Boeke original, adding color and photography to the black and white drawings employed by Boeke in his seminal work.
The 1977 film has a number of changes from the prototype, including being entirely in color, moving the starting location from Miami to Chicago, removing the relativistic (time) dimension, introducing an additional two powers of ten at each extreme, a change in narrator from Judith Bronowski to Philip Morrison, and much improved graphics.
In 1998, Powers of Ten (1977) was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
This version of the film has two clocks in the corner showing the comparison between the viewer's time and that of earth time. As the viewer's speed increases, earth time, relative to the viewer, also increases. It was installed in the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum's Life in the Universe gallery at the time of the museum's opening in 1976, until the gallery's closure in 1978.
The film begins with an overhead view of a man and woman picnicking in a park at the Chicago lakefront — a one-meter-square overhead image of the figures on a blanket surrounded by food and books they brought with them, one of them being The Voices of Time by J. T. Fraser. The man (played by Swiss designer Paul Bruhwiler) then sleeps, while the woman (played by Eames staffer Etsu Garfias) starts to read one of the books. The viewpoint, accompanied by expository voiceover by Philip Morrison, then slowly zooms out to a view ten meters across (or 101 m in scientific notation). The zoom-out continues (at a rate of one power of ten per 10 seconds), to a view of 100 meters (102 m) (where they are shown to be in Burnham Park, near Soldier Field, then 1 kilometer (103 m) (where we see the entirety of Chicago), and so on, increasing the perspective and continuing to zoom out to a field of view of 1024 meters, or the size of the observable universe. The camera then zooms back in at a rate of a power of ten per 2 seconds to the picnic, and then slows back down to its original rate into the man's hand, to views of negative powers of ten—10−1 m (10 centimeters), and so forth, revealing a skin cell and zooming in on it—until the camera comes to quarks in a proton of a carbon atom at 10−16 meter.
He helped write the script and narrated the 1977 film "Powers of Ten," also by Charles and Ray Eames, in which a camera zooms from a couple having a picnic in Chicago out to the limits of the cosmos and then back down through the woman's hand to the level of atoms and quarks. In 1992, he and his wife, Phyllis, with the Eameses, turned it into a book. Correction: April 28, 2005, Thursday: An obituary on Tuesday about Dr. Philip Morrison, a Manhattan Project scientist who helped assemble the first atomic bomb and later campaigned against it, misstated the release date of "Powers of Ten," a film narrated and partly written by Dr. Morrison that takes viewers to the outer edge of the cosmos. It was released in 1968. (It was rereleased in 1977.)