There are a few perks to my job as a mad scientist, and one of them, as I recently learned, is being able to tell my colleagues that I can't attend their terribly important meeting because I'm going to set my hand on fire.
In the movies, people on fire stumble out of burning buildings all the time. If you look closely, however, you'll notice that they are almost always fully dressed, and that they tend to keep moving. These are two important factors that make the stunt much easier.
To function and avoid injury while on fire, you need to put something between yourself and the flames. But you can't coat yourself with plain water because it just runs off. So stuntpeople use clothes containing super-absorbent polymer fibers, which keeps the water in place (it's pretty much the same material used in diapers). A layer of clothes treated this way will keep them cool for quite a while, but they have to continue to move forward so the breeze keeps the flames out of their uncovered face.
If a scene requires showing bare skin on fire, stuntpeople use a special fire-protective gel containing water, which can be applied in a smooth, clear layer that is nearly invisible, especially when the action is moving fast and there's a lot of fire to distract the viewer. To show you what it looks like up close, I covered my hand in the gel and then painted on some thinned-down contact cement, which produces a very nice opaque yellow flame when lit.
Because we needed my hand to be perfectly still for the camera, I couldn't use any movement to help stay cool, and my hand started to feel pretty warm after just a few seconds—but not before we got photographic proof that my meeting excuse was for real!
I extend thanks to Dr. Thomas Kuntzleman of Spring Arbor University for
suggesting this topic and providing assistance.
ACHTUNG! Do not try this—people who play with fire get burned. This stunt requires professional training and preparation, and still there are plenty of things that can go wrong.
I have done this with hairspray, a lighter and a bucket of water. Not that I would advise readers to do the same...the smell of singed hair isn't pleasant, especially when its yours.
Is this the same stuff they suggested you spray on homes to keep them fire-resistant during forest fires?
I remember doing something similar when I was 11 or 12 years old. I used lighter fluid. Never got burned. Impressed the hell out of my friends. Maybe lighter fluid was different 65 odd years ago.
Dam, this is so crazy! I wish I had a chance to safely play with fire!
Being a professional Fire Eater and Breather, I can attest to the dangers associated with playing with fire. I just wanted to point out that contact cement is a rather toxic substance to be used for a stunt burn; the fumes are rather nasty. Professionally fuels such as white gas, kerosene and lamp oil are preferred.
I'm assuming the substance in question is Zeller International Zel Jel?
Some people never get too old to learn new ways of being stoopid.
Can we now play with fire? lol