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Company Blog


By Lumistar's Chief Scientist

November 15, 2013

Hollywood’s Good, Bad & Ugly of Thermal Vision

Lumistar Movie Photos With Infrared

Thermal Imaging is often portrayed as something its not in Hollywood movies. For example, sometimes it’s portrayed incorrectly as being able to see through walls such as the beginning of Mission Impossible III. While MIT is working on x-ray technology that let’s armed forces get an approximate idea of how many people are in a building with little boxes representing the people, the technology is still in progress and certainly doesn’t involve the infrared spectrum. On the other hand, being able to use what is essentially long wave invisible red light, or infrared, to see through walls is absolutely impossible. Not even the use of powerful satellites using infrared technology is it possible to see in houses, no matter who says it, the physics say it’s – mission impossible! One of the most laughable misrepresentation of thermal infrared is the movie The Expendables. In the beginning scene where the heroes are rescuing a hostage they use futuristic thermal infrared goggles, a strategic high-tech advantage over their enemies in the dark. When the lights come on they are completely blinded as if it were night-vision when it it clearly is thermal infrared. Thermal infrared looks exactly the same with high light exposure or darkness as modern digital sensors are looking at the invisible infra-red energy. I suspect when they originally wrote the script and shot the scenes they intended it to be that greenish amplified moonlight night-vision, but Sylvester Stallone and the special effects department figured it would look cooler as thermal imaging in post-production, the heck with the science. In the movie Oblivion, thermal imaging is used for guardian droids to identify threats and looks somewhat similar to the Terminator movie franchise. Androids are often portrayed as having thermal vision as machines don’t have “cones” and “rods” in their eyes, medical terms describing how living beings can transition their vision in darkness. Therefore, without thermal infrared these machines would be vulnerable as they would see as a grainy CCTV camera would in the dark. These android movies can partially be overlooked because these moves take place in the sci-fi future and some of the technology is a way to go. (Or is it? See next month’s blog.) Finally, on the other extreme, the thermal infrared technology of the 1980’s was used in the movie Predator, represented by an alien’s everyday vision.  I’ve met with the scientist that was the consultant for the camera used in Predator several times, and the technology was state-of-the-art for of the 1980s. But as you can see from above movie still, today’s Lumistar cameras are literally 32x or more better than what was the most expensive resolution of the 80’s produced. Unfortunately, some camera companies still have not advanced that far from the 80s and look like the primitive vision of an alien creature that can make the interstellar travel to earth but can’t see too well. (Note:  I just realized every movie I can recall off-hand involving thermal vision either has Tom Cruise or Arnold Schwarzenegger in them.)