Film Theory: Avatar and the Science of Waterbending (Avatar the Last Airbender)

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I am totally on board with the lore of Avatar The Last Airbender. They do a great job of building a world that feels real

unbelievable characters that you really care about because they're

Well-rounded and likeable but really really you're telling me I'm supposed to buy into this into a six legged flying

bison beaver bear that just flies around in the least aerodynamic way possible weighs like

3,000 pounds and can still somehow managed to outmaneuver flaming cannons fire bolts and lightning. Well, yeah actually believe it or not

It's entirely possible using evidence from how things work on the show

Practically everything we see done in the bending world is feasible using basic real-world scientific principles

Meaning that the Avatar isn't just some mythic master of the martial arts. He's also got himself one heck of a killer science fair project

Hello Internet, welcome to film theory the show that proves there's no age limit on a Saturday morning cartoon addiction

So first off, can I talk a little bit more about Appa from the cold open? Sure

Everyone's favorite sky bison might seem like one of the most unrealistic elements of Avatar The Last Airbender

But his powers of flight are indeed possible and I proved it in a series I did in partnership with Nickelodeon

Yeah, the Nickelodeon, you know

The people who produce the show in the first place the show is called factor diction and it's basically film theory with a bit more

Science some live-action experiments going on to focus on classic Nick shows like hey Arnold avatar

Rugrats and Drake and Josh you remember about a month ago when I did the goo lagoon episode of Spongebob and I gave you a

preview of what the show was gonna be about and you all pinky swore to me that even though I was spoiling some of the

Secrets that you'd still go and watch the episodes when I told you so so that Nickelodeon would be really impressed with me and all

of us

theorists and how passionate we are as a community well now is when I need you the most now is what I need you to

Go click the top line of the description and binge watch the first three episodes of Factor niche in one on SpongeBob

When I'm hey Arnold and one on Avatar and airbending and the realities of Papa's flight it's available on Facebook right now

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Please do me a favor and leave a comment saying how excited you are to see me working with Nickelodeon


It's like a dream come true getting to do something with them and I would love to do more in order to do that

I need to prove that people liked watching the show in the first place

So thank you so much in advance for doing that for me

It helps more than you could possibly know but now onward with a different but very related episode

Waterbending to me Avatar The Last Airbender is one of the most exciting fictional worlds ever

Created a world with four major tribes the air nomads the earth Kingdom the Fire Nation and the water tribes within each group

For individuals with the power to manipulate the given element air earth

Water, these are our benders with bending being one part ancient martial art in one part naturally given skill

however across time there will always be one person who can master all four of the elements that

Person is the avatar

Basically the embodiment of a great spirit of light who's tasked with keeping all the elements and balance when the show starts we meet Aang

A 12 year old or a hundred and twelve year old Airbender who's just been named as the next avatar?

He's told that the Fire Nation with all its firebenders have started barbecuing the other groups

And now he only has a few mere months to master all four elements to save the world

No pressure there, right and that was 12 years old. The biggest thing I had to worry about was my complexion hoo-boy

I was a pin bleep at for years

I've wanted to talk about the science behind some of these abilities with the recent announcement of the Netflix

avatar remake I finally have myself a good excuse because the great thing about the show is its

Logic sure

Lots of what we see on screen is magical, but it's magic that makes sense

highly advanced water benders can manipulate the human body because you know

The human body has a lot of water in it advanced earth benders can bend and warp metal because of the mineral deposits hidden deep

Within the ore but not only does the progression of abilities featured in the show make logical sense

but they also makes

Scientific sense when you stop and look at what exactly

Benders can and also can't do with their respective elements the magic of it all really just boils down to each bending type

mastering control over one key scientific principle

so with four types

Depending I can theorize about we have between now and when this new show comes out to make it through all the science of these

Cool abilities. So today I'm tackling. What is literally the coolest bending style of them all

Waterbending and by coolest I mean temperature-wise because we're dealing with ice and tribes that are located at the Arctic poles

I'm not trying to pass any judgment here on specific types of bending even though we know that earth benders are objectively the best

So the question today, how can you water Bend like Katara simply by using real-world science? Yep. Yep

Let's get started. Now first as we get started on this epic multi-episode journey. Let me lampshade a little bit obviously

I'm not claiming that the powers we see in Avatar The Last Airbender are real or can be directly

Replicated via science the show clearly conveys bending as an art form

Science an elemental manipulation is done through mastery of the different martial arts

So in that way, I'm not trying to explain away anyone's powers

I instead want to look at the

reality of

Making water behave like it does on the show

Based on the rules that we see on the show and then talk about the science that would theoretically make it happen


forces could make water move around like that or change to ice or

Generate a spontaneous tidal wave you could say this is all just a theory

But why would you so silly catchphrase to its credit the show provides a lot of?

Information about elemental bending and water gets some of the most solid evidence for instance the show establishes early on that

Celestial forces have a huge impact on bending ability, especially when it comes to water and fire benders

we learned early in the series that fire benders have been able to overpower all the other nations because they

siphoned power off of sozin's comet a fiery

Comet that passed by Earth and bestowed its flaming energy to the fire nation our hero

Aang is forced to train as quickly as possible to acquire his avatar abilities because sozin's comet is on its return trip giving the Fire

Nation so much power that not even the avatar will be able to stop on similarly for the Water Tribe

We learned that their powers are strongest during a full moon the waterbenders draw their power from the moon

And it is nearly full tonight with Katara specifically noting that waterbender powers are strongest at night

I've always noticed my waterbending is stronger at night

We also learned that eclipses have the opposite effect on benders

Firebenders and water benders both completely lose their abilities when the Sun or moon are respectively eclipsed just this

Information alone gives us key Intel about the underlying science behind bending for firebenders

It would seem like solar radiation is playing a key role in their powers since they lose those powers when it's blocked

But again, that's a theory for another day for water benders a lunar eclipse is gonna block their powers entirely

Now the moon doesn't emit any sort of solar radiation per se but it does exert another major force on earth gravity

gravity from the moon is in fact

What makes all water on Earth bend in the first place in the form of ocean tides and currents all caused by water?

sloshing around on the face of the earth

It's pulled literally bent outward by the gravity of the Moon on one side and then sloshes back on the far side of the earth

Effectively creating these bulges on either side of the world where the high tides are all the water in the middle is being sucked out

creating low tides and the show absolutely

knows that this connection exists and it does a really good job of reflecting it as a basic property of water bending from the

earliest episodes Aang and Katara practice push and pull bending creating tides

It's literally the first waterbending move that bang learns

they're making the moon's tides to create waves and they use this basic skill a lot to wash people out to sea or unbe to

Commandeer all starting with the fundamental idea that tides are controlled by the gravity of the Moon

So that's cool and all but I hear you asking what about this or this or this?

Well as good of a start as gravity as we know that things are gonna start to get a bit more complicated as we dip

our toes

into advanced water

Bending from the water whipped water shield ice bullet and good ol puddle to the face

This level of precision makes our gravity explanation feel a bit laughable. I laugh at gravity all the time

Gravity, so scientifically there has to be something else layered on here

That's gonna allow benders to control water more directly

The good news for all us aspiring avatars is that it's theoretically possible to bend water

not with Tai Chi or hand waving or various dances, but with the powers of

Electromagnetism now most of us are generally aware. That water is electrically

Conductive but not necessarily for the reasons that we expect. It's not the water itself. That's electrically conductive

It's actually the salts that exist within the water regardless, though

It's the reason that you don't go swimming in a lightning storm or your hair in a bathtub

it's because the salts within the water are super conductive and lightning or

Electricity flowing from your wall socket loves to run through it and as a result

We'll also run through you if you happen to be swimming in it

But electrically charging that water isn't gonna do anything to make it move just makes it more dangerous

that's why bending also requires the magnet part of

Electromagnetism if someone were to ask you if water's


most of us would say no right doesn't contain any sort of iron or metal doesn't really seem to do anything when I wave my

Magnet at it that's not entirely correct. The truth is that water is actually

Diamagnetic meaning that any magnetic field whether positively or negatively charged is actually gonna repel water

So if you put a magnet near some water

You'll see the water is being very slightly bent by the magnet pushed away

From the magnetic field now in this experiment

We have two syringes that are filled with equal amounts of water set to a string that allow them to freely rotate, right?

so if we present one of the sides with a magnetic field

What we should see is the water start to bend away

From those magnets in turn the syringes will start to spin away from that magnetic field

This is because of the diamagnetic properties of water where water isn't magnetic it actually rejects

Magnetism and thus wants to move away from it

And that's exactly what we see happening right here right where the syringes were

Level 2 the camera at a certain point now you start to see them moving slowly away

Rotating away from the magnetic field that I'm holding them to on this one side

And now if we present it in the opposite direction

You can see that now the syringes are moving the opposite way. This is to prove that it is indeed the magnetic field

That's causing this rotation and nothing else. This is quite literally water bending at a microscopic level

Where the magnetic fields are pushing the atoms of the water away in the syringe

So theoretically speaking a waterbender could do the exact same thing by creating

Electromagnetic fields that are strong enough they can actually push the water away from themselves

Creating all the cool awesome moves that they see them do in the show

science and magic and

bending now, if you're a physicist this explanation is gonna be pretty simplistic but for our purposes

It actually explains a lot of things that we see play out in the series

waterbenders rarely touch the water as they're bending it which makes sense because the water is always being

Repelled from them and the intricate curves and shapes that you see a-making are coming from the electrical field that's applied to the water water

Molecules generally have a small negative electric charge

so by creating small electrical fields that are also negative because like charges repel each other waterbenders could theoretically

Redirect the flow of the water midstream creating swirls Spears bubbles, whatever they wanted

Which is exactly what we see them creating with more and more

Precision over the course of the show early water bending moves focus on establishing an electromagnetic field for simple shapes

But once the bender learned to control the fields with greater precision

It's only a matter of time before their water spearing it up with the best of them. We also know that we're specifically dealing with

Electromagnetism and not simply magnetism from an unlikely source

The fire nation just like water and firebenders are related by their reliance on objects in outer space

They're also linked by their manipulation of electricity and charged particles in the season 1 episode the storm

We see our first instance of lightning redirection as uncle Iroh saves Zuko's boat from an electrical strike

We find out later that he learned this ability by studying waterbending philosophy ie studying

Electromagnetic fields that could be created in the air to repel charged lightning particles and bend them away from their targets the technique I am

About to teach you is one. I learned by studying the waterbenders

I mean

He says it's kind of like Tai Chi s philosophy

but we all know the truth we go on to see lots of other firebenders use this technique to either

redirect or create lightning from their hands

But it's all based on the principle of generating an electrical current and directing it through the air in theory in film

theory this same principle actually explains some of the whack year and more McCobb aspects of waterbending -

Including vine bending which we see in the foggy swamp tribe human bending and water purification

Plans and people are made of a huge amount of all of which can be manipulated using

Electromagnetic fields create a strong enough field and you can bend a vine by bending all the water inside of it by the same token

You can bend a person if all the water in their organs and bloodstream are being pulled in one direction

We see a select few water benders even cause people to lose consciousness using water bending presumably by preventing water

What's carrying all the blood from getting to the brain when it comes to other obscure water bending techniques like purifying water?

You know that although water is polar a lot of its

Contaminants aren't oils and dirts are all made of carbon meaning they won't do much of anything in an electromagnetic field

So water benders are able to pull the water away from the impurities deep polluting it and making it drinkable

So electromagnetic manipulation explains a lot of water bending techniques

But it still leaves us with one big missing piece that I can't just make melt away phase

Shifts the most advanced water bending techniques involve significant phase shifting between water's states of matter

Particularly liquid and solid ice to water and vice versa

The ice sled the ice ramp taggers drills even missed stepping which involves stepping on tiny little ice rods

They are all valid techniques of water benders not purely explained by electromagnetic fields

Or are they the techniques that we've covered involve manipulating the motion of large groups of water molecules puddles lakes ocean waves

But what if we wanted to manipulate motion on a smaller scale in chemistry and physics you learn about?

Thermodynamics and you find out that on the molecular scale. The idea of temperature is really a measure of motion molecules are moving fast

Well, we perceive that as hot that bowl of soup you got there is no different chemically whether it's hot or cold

It's just that the molecules in your hot soup are moving a lot and in your cold soup

They're just kind of sluggish the same goes with ice and water liquid water

Molecules move and flow and wiggle and have a good old water molecule time

But ice molecules are locked together in a crystal lattice structure just like you see in snowflakes

There's still a tiny bit of movement there

Like they can kinda wiggle around in their framework, but the motion isn't much less than in a liquid or gas phase

We know that advanced water benders have the ability to turn water from liquid ice - what are they really doing in those?



What a super small scale there

Relating water molecules to slow their individual movements or in physics terms their kinetic energy as they lose movement. They lose energy

Becoming colder if the bender is able to slow down the individual molecules enough

They'll start to lock together into that crystal structure. We call ice the key is the use of those same

Electromagnetic fields to slow the movement of individual molecules to lock them in place

So there you have it if we want to be water benders all that's really standing in our way is the ability to create

Concentrated magnetic fields at will by waving our arms around and then having that ability tied to an overwhelming reliance on the gravitational forces

Generated by the moon. No sweat, right?

Maybe one of the other bending abilities will be a little easier for us to master

I mean even Avatar Roku said that waterbending was especially challenging for him


Like I said if you want more avatar science right now and you still haven't done it

Please go and check out my episode of Factor Nixon on oppas airbending flight and then go watch the one on SpongeBob's

Underwater campfires you can have fire under water

In fact, I show it in the episode and then finally round it off with a discussion of hey Arnold's pigeon, man

All three of those episodes are available right now

With more on the way every Tuesday for the next couple of weeks link is down below

And like I said you watching that series really helps me out

Heck you might want to do more with me, which would be really cool working alongside

The people who created my childhood is really awesome. So thank you for your support

There link is where the arrows are pointing down below in the description and speaking of more episodes

make sure that you ring the bell to subscribe to film theory because you can bet that I'll be talking about more bending soon the

Science behind earth bending in particular is very very cool. And again totally rooted in real life science. Ah,

Get it routed it

so if you want to see that episode make sure you hit that subscribe button and let me know down in the comments that you

Are here for the avatar Ness now, you'll excuse me. October is starting to get close. You got to start stockpiling some spooky over here