Walter White did not have $80M

In Season 5, Episode 14 of Breaking Bad, Walter White claims to have $80M buried in the desert.

I ran the numbers and he doesn't even have half of that.  

There's a scene in Season 5, Episode 8 where Skyler takes Walt to the storage unit to show him a huge pile of money that she can't launder:  

Skyler struts around and claims that she has no earthly idea how much money is actually there. She says that she has resorted to weighing it because she's incapable of actually counting it. Which definitely drives home the two main points of the scene:

  1. "Goddamn Walter, you need to chill out. This doesn't seem like it's about the money anymore man."
  2. Skyler is the worst character in the show

But, I was wondering, is this what $80 million dollars actually looks like?

So, of course, I rolled up my sleeves and spent entirely too much time figuring out exactly that.

Modeling the Pile - Web / AR Viewer

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I figured the best way to get a good idea of exactly how much money was in that room was by recreating the pile in 3D. Go ahead, give it a whirl and imagine how it would feel to stand in that room with all that cash.

 

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If you aren't browsing this site on a smart phone, then I HIGHLY encourage you to go get it so that you use AR to place this pile of cash in the room and walk around it.

 Lack of Continuity

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Continuity in TV shows and movies is when props, places, details of events, and people are kept consistent every time that you encounter them throughout the content.

Note that during the series, there is actually two scenes where you can see this massive pile of money. The first is in Episode 508 "Gliding Over All" with Walt and Skyler, the second is with the henchmen in Episode 510 "Buried". Where we get to see Huel break down and "Scrooge McDuck it" and lay on a literal bed of money:

At first I thought this was great that there are two different scenes with different points of reference, but I noticed that the piles of cash are actually pretty substantially different.

Henchmen

The first difference is that in Walt's scene there are 12 columns and only 10 (with one extra on the side) in the henchman scene. The second is that the stack is actually slightly higher in the henchmen scene (40 vs 45) stacks of bills high.

I originally thought these differences were just because they tore down the set and just threw together the pile again with slightly different dimensions. However, I noticed that the types of bills that are visible in each scene are entirely different.

We can see here that from the henchmen scene, that there is mostly $100s, $50s, and $10s: 

zoomed henchmen top of bills

But a similar view from Walt's scene shows us that there's only $50s and $20s: 

walter zoomed top of bills

So we can probably gather that this is an entirely different pile of bills scene to scene.

So I took measurements and made estimates for both. 

Estimating Volume of the Pile

Counting how many stacks of bills Walt has in his storage unit can be estimated by counting the rows, columns, and height. There's also some side piles on the front and back that I added as line items to improve our estimates: 

S5E08 Pile

Description Length Width Height Stacks in Volume
Main Pile 12 14 45 7560
Extra Front (tall) 12 1 20 240
Extra Front (short) 12 1 8

96

S5E10 Pile

Description Length Width Height Stacks in Volume
Main Pile 11 14 40 6160
Extra Side 9 1 39 351
Extra Back 10 1 24 240

So Why couldn't Skyler Count this Money?  

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Bills In case you are wondering, the pile of cash in the storage unit would weigh about 1600 lbs (750 kgs).

So given that after a few hours of staring at screenshots of the scene I was able to put together a pretty comprehensive estimate of how much cash was in that storage unit, why did Skyler have no idea how much money was there? 

It seems ridiculous to me that she wasn't keeping a ledger or even a rough count of how many stacks of bills she was taking there after each delivery.

It was even stacked neatly into a nice rectangular prism, so she could have taken the obvious step to just count the dimensions and estimate the count of stacks of bills.

You know, sorta like I've done here. 

But no, her best idea was to weigh the money, but she decided not to do it because the stacks were of different denominations. Which is a fair point, but even so it could get you way closer to an accurate estimate of the value. 

Estimating the Distribution of Denominations

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Bills are generally banded with currency straps into stacks of 100 bills at a time. The bands are generally printed with a denomination specific amount of the whole stack to make for quick counting.

We need to know what kinds of bills each of those stacks is.

Luckily, in these scenes, there are a couple moments where we actually have a relatively close-up view of the tops of the bills:

Over henchmen shoulder Over Walt's shoulder. Money texture.

From these views, we can calculate the distribution of bills that we should expect to see in each pile:

S5E08 Count

Value Count Weight E(this_bill)
$100 0 0% $0.00
$50 93 73% $36.33
$20 35 27% $5.47
$10 0 0% $0.00
$5 0 0% $0.00
Totals 128 100% $41.80

 S5E10 Count

Value Count Weight E(this_bill)
$100 17 26% $25.76
$50 30 45% $22.73
$20 1 2% $0.30
$10 12 18% $1.82
$5 6 9% $0.45
Totals 66 100% $51.06

 

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Expected Value is a mathematical term that is used to describe a sort of average value. The E(this_bill) means the Expected Value of this bill. In this case, it would be like if we pulled out several stacks, added them all up, and then divided by the number of stacks we pulled out. 

Putting it all Together

Now that we have an estimate of the volume of the piles and an estimated expected value of the stacks in each pile, we can calculate the estimated value of each pile:

S5E08 Pile
Description Length Width Height Stacks in Volume
Estimated Value
main 12 14 45 7560 $31,598,437.50
extra front 12 1 20 240 $1,003,125.00
extra front 12 1 8 96 $401,250.00
Grand Total 7896 $33,002,812.50

 

S5E10 Pile
Description Length Width Height Stacks in Volume
Estimated Value
main 11 14 40 6160 $31,453,333.33
extra side 9 1 39 351 $1,792,227.27
extra back 10 1 24 240 $1,225,454.55
Grand Total 6751 $34,471,015.15

 

Average Pile
Description Length Width Height Stacks in Volume
Estimated Value
Walt Pile 7896 $35,491,298.97
Hench Pile 6751 $34,471,015.15
Grand Total 7323.5 $34,981,157.06


Now the scholars amongst the readers will notice that this is certainly absolutely NOT the $80M that big bad Mr. White claims to have had when Hank is being held at gunpoint in S5E14. 

And sure maybe Heisenberg was just stretching the truth to help a brother-in-law-in-need, but it's interesting to think that even that absurd pile of cash is "only" $35M. 

PS: If you want to see what a liar looks like: Episode 514 "Ozymandias" at 08:30 mark. 

Some other things I tried 

At the beginning of this project, I was pretty convinced that I should try and produce a 3D reconstruction of the original scene. My first attempt was using a technique called photogrammetry which allows you to reconstruct geometry using only pictures of a scene. 

I had used this technique before to reconstruct simple scenes, so I was pretty convinced that I should be able to extract all the unique perspectives from the original scene and then use them to stitch together a 3D model of pile of cash that I could use for the basis of my estimates. 

I rented a GPU server from Lambda Labs and spun up a headless version of Meshroom. I then downloaded the videos from YT using youtube-dl. I then went through the videos in iMovie to edit out all the components of the video that didn't focus on the pile of cash. I exported the final clip that was ~2 minutes long and extracted all the frames from the videos using ffmpeg

Now I had about 3400 images that I could use run the photogrammetry on. However, most of these frames were not from unique perspectives. So I aborted my first attempt after 2 hours of running. 

After realizing that I should only include the frames that contained unique information, I selected a final subset of 38 frames. There is a moment in the Walter/Skyler scene where the camera gently pans in front of the stack of cash. This is perfect for photogrammetry because it provides smooth transitions between different perspectives. The algorithm is then able to do a much better job of figuring out what the actual geometry of the underlying object in the scene is.

But my results from this pain-staking, 12 hour process were these absolutely horrible and unusable models: 

Terrible upside down image of walters 3d reconstructed money pile

This one you can at least see the resemblance with the scene, but Walter looks truly demented: 

demented walter reconstruction

It was at this point that I gave up, and just decided to model the pile directly, which ended up taking way less time and obviously produced a much higher quality model.