Space Odyssey: The Making of Gravity

Trevor Hogg talks to production designer Andy Nicholsonproduction visual effects supervisor Tim Webber, visual effects supervisor Tony Clark, animation supervisor Max Solomon, compositing supervisor Mark Bakowski, compositing sequence lead Theo Groeneboom, and matchmove supervisor Amélie Guyot about getting lost in space with filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. Beware there are spoilers…
Andy Nicholson

I first met Alfonso Cuarón [Children of Menon a Monday in London after receiving an incredible script [co-written with his son Jonas] midday Saturday,” recalls Andy Nicholson.  “Gravity [2013] was to be set almost entirely in low earth orbit and in zero-G. It was unlike anything I had read before and our 30 minute meeting lasted almost two hours.”  A major element of discussion was the research material gathered over the weekend by Nicholson.  “We went through a selection of NASA images that I had sourced online. We talked generally about the project and began discussing what was important about the look, that it had to be photorealistic and how that could be achieved.”  The Mexican filmmaker was impressed with his British colleague.  “Soon after I got the job I met with Alfonso, David Heyman [Producer] and Tim Webber [VFX Supervisor] at the offices of Framestore where we looked at an early ‘techviz’. What I saw was an inspiration. It suggested a way to achieve a complicated zero-G shot by moving lights and camera within a CG set around an almost stationary actor. On-screen the actor would appear to be moving.”

Alfonso Cuarón

“The ‘techviz’ was a CG animation of a figure sitting on a rig similar to a bicycle seat with separate camera and lighting rigs moving around them and a wireframe image of the set that was also moving, but independently, projected around everything,” explains Andy Nicholson.  This concept would become a backbone approach for establishing much of our shooting methodologies. There would eventually be many other rigs using similar principles, the most elaborate being a ‘12 wire’ rig which we would use for flying Sandra through the ISS [International Space Station].  Simulating the proper movement was tricky.  “When someone is hanging on wires [or otherwise] gravity often works against the movements you are trying to achieve. There is a natural tendency to swing around during changes of momentum and you have to be prepared to counteract that or make it work for you. Sometimes it took a lot of takes to get right.”  The set design accommodated the wirework.  “In the sequence where Sandra climbs towards the airlock over the outside of the ISS she moves from one hand hold to another across the surface of several modules. We couldn’t achieve the shot by building a traditional set so instead we built small ‘proxy’ sections of the ISS that didn’t have all of the detailing of the real capsule but had handles and grab points that exactly matched our ISS CG model and were of the right colour to give the correct lighting bounce. This meant that Sandra’s performance would match up with the computer animation to be added later.”

“There was little set building that was straightforward or traditional,” states Andy Nicholson.  “In every case we needed to define the extent to which each set would be physical or virtual, how that combination would work and where the limits of each would be. For some sequences we also needed to work out how a physically built set could articulate off-camera to help achieve particular shots and camera moves.”  Nicholson notes, “My approach to Designing Gravity was the same as that for any film which is set in a specific environment. However, everything about my Art Department’s structure and output was tailor-made for the film. I’m very used to liaising with VFX houses when it comes to set extensions or modifying existing landscapes and locations but Gravity was different because much of the final output was to be built as fully CG.”  Digital environments allowed for more flexibility. “One of the great things about building a virtual set was that if needed you can change details or even set size during the ‘shoot’. You aren’t tied to the limits of a physical set. There is a sequence where Ryan [Sandra Bullock] and Kowalski [George Clooney] are closely followed as they travel over the exterior of one particular ISS capsule and it is longer and has repeated details for that part of the sequence than the same capsule when seen in wider shots.”

“The sequence with the Chinese airlock near the end of the movie was one that moved between a physical and CG build,” reveals Andy Nicholson.  In the end, the cost of doing it either way was roughly equivalent but the camera move and the way the set had to be lit would be so restricted by building a physical set that a full CG environment was the only way to go.”  A complicated practical effect had to be created.  In the dream sequence with George and Sandra in the Soyuz the camera passes through the entire body of the capsule. To achieve this, the main control panel had to be divided into three pieces which could, on demand, move in and out on rails independently, silently and seamlessly. Each segment the control panel had to continue working throughout. It was a real physical-mechanical ballet that involved up to 16 people.”  Shot composition had an impact on the design process.  “It was important that Framestore knew in advance roughly how close many props would be to camera because they would model their detail accordingly.”  Samples had to be built.  “My Prop Department fabricated physical ‘reference’ pieces of everything from solar panels to parachute sections for Framestore’s modellers and lighting and texture artists.”  Nicholson adds, “When we didn’t provide physical samples I sourced and then annotated a huge archive of photographs for Framestore detailing every finish that would be built in CG.”

Items were acquired via the Internet.  “When it was appropriate to purchase physical items and space memorabilia even eBay became a resource,” remarks Andy Nicholson.  “We found things like mission patches, space shuttle tiles, pieces of Soyuz parachute cord, and used them.  It was more efficient than us trying to make a copy.”  A pivotal piece of astronaut equipment had to be manufactured.  “The ‘proxy’ NASA helmets that George and Sandra wore on set had to exactly match their CG versions in the movie because you had to frame their faces perfectly in order to work out shots and give a accurate ‘bounce’ reference for lighting.  We built and designed them in 3D on computer around 3D scans of both actors’ heads. Getting something to look great in CG, work for all of the shots required and still sit properly on a human torso as a physical piece of costume was a challenge. 3D printing and CNC machining were used extensively for elements of the helmets. The same processes were often used for props and pieces of the Soyuz and Shenzhou.”

“Once you have researched the reality of something you can decide on how you use that information for the story being told and world being created,” states Andy Nicholson.  “It becomes the backbone to your design process whether you’re creating an extension to the Hubble telescope or a new type of airlock.  My design for the Tiangong [Chinese Space Station] was developed from research covering almost everything that has gone into space from Skylab through the Mir Space Station to the ISS.  The Soyuz capsule hasn’t changed much from the designs of the late 1960s. It has a new computer console but the actual body of the Soyuz has been altered little. It has a proven reliability.”  The continuous shots allow the eyes of the viewer to wander.  “You are in the Soyuz capsule with Ryan for a long time and often the camera is less than three feet from the set so there is time to study everything closely.  Consequently, details like the labels on bags, their stitching and even translations of buttons on consoles are important to get right. Additionally, [and constantly] we were trying to make everything look like it was being shot in zero gravity.”

YouTube was useful tool in viewing uploaded space agency videos.  “We found a great series of videos by Japanese Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa demonstrating zero gravity on the ISS with regard to mass, weight and velocity which we passed on to Framestore’s Animators during the time leading up to the shoot.”  Replicating the weightlessness of space was a big issue.   “Pretty much everything was hand key-frame animated in computer. If you have an EVA tool that is being used in zero-G it will be on a tether and floating around. You can’t just ‘program’ the tool to sit there floating around with the tether undulating.  You have to animate the movement of the tether and the tool and their effect on each other. It can be time consuming. Framestores’ animators did an amazing job.”  Practical effects were incorporated out of necessity.  “When you have no gravity any unsecured seatbelts would just float around so in a physical set these would have CG. But you can’t do that all of the time as the cost would be prohibitive.  To solve this we made seatbelts with armatures that could be fixed into any position and appear to float.  Zero gravity was the most difficult thing to deal with because real gravity was everywhere all the time!”

Subscription-based enthusiast sites like space.comand nasaspaceflight.com provided obscure information for such items as EVA manuals.  “The Soyuz capsule was exhaustively researched. Ryan’s character would have to go through several in-flight procedures so we asked NASA Astronaut Andy Thomas to help us,” states Nicholson.  “Andy gave us a lot of great general advice and went through a series of critical protocols in a mock-up of the real Soyuz capsule. Sandra was amazing at memorizing these sequences and it meant that many of them, like that for separating from the ISS have a good degree of authenticity.”  George Clooney [Michael Clayton] also benefited from the gathering of information.  “We generated and printed ‘Mission Packs’ in the Art Department with background information for Sandra and George. Each pack was specific to their scripted roles.  For instance, George’s had a section on how the hand controls work on the jet pack so he wasn’t just moving things left to right; he could have a basic knowledge of how things worked.”

“The ISS is not this gleaming white minimal spaceship,” observes Andy Nicholson.    “At its most basic the ISS is a series of pressure vessels full of computers and life support equipment. But everything has a beautiful efficiency of engineering and showing all of that detail was very important. The design approach throughout was to look at what’s real, take notes, and adapt and/or refine as necessary.”  The International Space Station had to look weathered from the years of being occupied by astronauts.  “The texture varies hugely over the different modules of the ISS. Some modules are now 14 years old and they’ve been continually occupied. When you’re zero-G and say some gravy escapes from a from a food pouch while you’re eating it’s going to float off until it sticks on a wall panel somewhere. As many of the panels are covered in fabric it’s then going to stay there until that wall panel is replaced! Some of that kind of detail was put into the set builds, both virtual and physical.”

 “The design of the interior of the ISS began in the Art Department,” explains Andy Nicholson.  Through research & discussions with Alfonso we developed the capsule sets as full 3D models with the detailing concentrated on the sections that had specific character interaction [like doors]. These sets were then sent as 3D models to Framestore to be incorporated into the previz so that the animation could be refined and developed by Alfonso. They would then send back notes and the 3D models complete with camera paths and these were used to update and augment our designs. Alfonso was able being able to study progress at any point in the Art Department or Framestore. This cycle was repeated until the sequence was approved. At which point Chivo [Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki] could pre-light the models to prepare them for the physical shoot.”  The famous space vessel comes to an untimely demise. “The destruction of the ISS was phenomenally realised. Sandra struggling to release the parachute from the Soyuz while the ISS was being torn apart in the background absolutely blew me away.  Working with Alfonso in the Art Department we had produced ‘key-frame’ concept art [sequential ‘snapshots’ of a sequence] for pivotal moments of many scenes including the re-entry of the Shenzhou and the destruction of the ISS. For each sequence, there would be four or five ‘key-frames’ to communicate as clearly as possible to the animators a starting point for Alfonso’s vision for the shots. The end result was incredible.”

“There are so many beautiful photographs taken of Earth from the ISS,” observes Andy Nicholson.  “During pre-production amazing new high resolution images became available showing the Northern Lights and cities at night.  Great time-lapse films also began appearing on some NASA websites. We carefully studied and designed a route over the earth for the story and selected different time-of-day backgrounds for each sequence. Then we integrated views and backgrounds that would enhance particular moments in the story.  The Earth was one of the hardest things to render well in CG. I know Framestore put in a lot of R&D into cloud formations and weather patterns.  The Earth in Gravity is not hard a surface texture with simple clouds. There are weather patterns and cloud layers, its subtle and nuanced…and it moves.”  Gravityeffectively blends CG and practical effects.  “With the exception of the interiors of the Shenzhou and Soyuz capsules, the tunnel of wheat in the Tiangong, parts of ISS seen the in fire sequence and a half-scale model of the Shenzhou capsule [used in the splash-down sequence] everything was fully CG.” The attention to detail was critical in order for the space thriller to be believable.  “Giving the right amount of specifically annotated and physical reference helps hugely when you’re creating something virtual but you can still struggle to produce verisimilitude. Gravity’s photorealism is a great credit to Framestore. What they have achieved in collaboration with Chivo [whose contribution to Gravity is well documented and cannot be understated] is exceptional.”   Nicholson adds, “So much about the production process on Gravity was unique. It is a privilege to have been a part of it.”

Tim Webber
“I first heard about the film at the beginning of 2010 when Alfonso came in and talked us through it for 45 minutes; it was gripping and we all came out very excited,” remembers Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Webber (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) who works for Framestore.  “Alfonso had certain rules that would come up again and again. Like ‘don’t make it like an apple box’.  Alfonso kept using the phrase ‘apple box’ when we would be posing the characters in the previz standing the right way up and he would want them upside down instead, or have the two of them at different angles so it felt more like zero gravity. Alfonso didn’t want them upright as if they were standing in a box. We were always going for stuff that felt real, we always had to do the research and be as real as possible but break the rules when would could. Other than that, Alfonso would articulate what he wanted it as we went along. We would work on something and revise it, do a bit of animation, light something and work it out as you go.”  Webber communicated with Andy Nicholson and Emmauel Lubezki.  “We would discuss everything down to the exact quality of a single lens flare, or the torches we would use to put on their heads to represent their helmet lights. The gaps between the light and the light box we would discuss in intense detail. We would go over everything really carefully.”

“With the more live-action shots it was more of a traditional previz,” explains Tim Webber.  “But all the heavily digitally created shots it was more extensive than it would be in a normal movie, although in the dialogue when it was just the two of them it wasn’t as extensive; there were degrees of how much detail we had to get into depending on what the shot was.”  Previz was a critical communication tool among the different production departments.  “Having a really detailed previz is helpful because it means everyone is clear to what they are talking about.  There are fewer misunderstandings when you are talking about things because you have the previz to look at, but really it’s all about close collaboration.”  Techviz was also created.  “Previz and techviz are actually completely different things,” explains Framestore Animation Supervisor Max Solomon.  “Previz is the next stage after storyboarding where the director can develop his shots further in a virtual space, a fantastic tool on Gravity as he was free to explore all the potential of weightlessness of characters and cameras without the limitations of traditional shoot techniques.  Techviz was the process of analysing the previz and exploring shoot methodology options to find the best technique for filming what the director had choreographed in it. Often camera moves were too extreme or actors too precariously manipulated and the action was moderated to allow for feasibility whilst trying not to compromise the director’s vision.” 

“We needed some form of motion-control,” remarks Tim Webber.  “To use the robot was a difficult decision because it was tricky and risky and expensive because it had to be shipped over, but there was a degree of speed, flexibility and dexterity that we could get out of a robot that we couldn’t get out of a traditional motion control camera.  The light box was the only way we could get the lights to move in a lot of shots because we couldn’t physically move them.  The 15 foot light that we were using had to be four feet away to get even close to the softness of light we get from the Earth. It could work for some shots but wasn’t going to work for all of them. The speed with which we had to move it especially would have made it impossible.”   A traditional practical effect was used sparingly when making the astronauts appear to be floating in space.  “We only used wires occasionally, and rarely swinging. When we did use wires they were there more as help and support, and we used puppeteers.  When we used the 12 wire rig which is a completely different wire rig; you don’t swing on it.  You have precise control over the position of the actor; it was designed to remove swinging.”

A symbolic image occurs when Sandra Bullock drifts into a position where she resembles a fetus in a womb. “It was certainly one of the hardest shots in the sequence even though there isn’t much going on in it,” states Tim Webber.  “The way she floated and the environment around her looked had to be immaculate because the audience is sitting there looking at it for an extended period of time.”  A dramatic sequence is when the perspective shifts to the spinning out of control Bullock.  “The shot when the camera goes into and then out of her helmet was also very involved.  It’s interesting how so many people ask about that; it’s not one I would have expected.  It was one long continuous shot of her and we needed different lenses at different parts of the shot as it gets so close up. It was not possible to film it as one continuous take, so we had to shoot separate bits and join them invisibly together. We had to change lenses to something that could get that close to a face.  Choreographing all of that to happen while the lights are spinning, and getting the timing right, and all the separate elements to work with that move was tricky; not to mention getting the focus right when you’re that close to a face  because you have such a shallow depth of field.”

“We spent days studying NASA pictures and putting our shots up against them,” states Tim Webber.  “We were incredibly lucky that NASA take so many pictures and videos and publish them all on their website and YouTube, and are happy to let everyone use it as reference. In terms of locations you can’t go to, you could not ask for more or better reference material.  Lens effects were something that we had done before; it was just building tools on top of tools that already exist.”  Practical effects had to be augmented as well as producing digital doubles.  For the exteriors all of the bodies in space suits and a few of the faces when further away were digi-doubles,” reveals Framestore Compositing Supervisor Mark Bakowski.  “There weren’t loads of practical effects for the exteriors, some of the spray into the lens and lens dirt was, and of course all the lens flares were. At some points the breath is actually that of Tim Webber, or Compositing Supervisor Anthony Smith.”

The interior shots consisted of multiple techniques to give Ryan the weightless feeling, ranging from simple two-point wire rigs, to being strapped on a turning bicycle seat, to light box setups or sometimes a combination of all three,” remarks Framestore Compositing Sequence Lead Theo Groeneboom.  “The different setups served different purposes, sometimes the focus would be on upper-body and hands performance, at other times only the face would be in focus. All these different techniques would then have to be blended seamlessly in post in order to create the illusion of a single uncut shot. Some of the interior shots included up to eight different setups that needed to be combined.  Each setup would have to be rotoscoped, cleaned up, warped, body tracked, morphed with the other setups, dimentionalized [converted to stereo – all the stereo conversion for the CG shots was done at Framestore], and re-staged into the virtual world that was the inside of the ISS.  This also resulted in having a ‘virtual’ version of Ryan inside the ISS that would create realistic reflections, shadows and contact points for when she was interacting with the virtual environment. The rendered environment was then matched to the shot setups to bridge the gap between the on-set lighting and CG lighting.”

“The only other vendor that worked in a significant capacity on the visual effects was Rising Sun Pictures and we had an open relationship with them,” states Tim Webber.  “We sent lots of assets to them we had built that they used and we discussed rendering techniques with them; Rising Sun Pictures were happy to fit in with what Framestore were already doing. I was dealing with them two or three times a week viewing stuff, so we worked closely together.”  Webber notes, “The biggest complication was that we were using a new rendering tool [Arnold]. It’s very computationally expensive rendering software, but it made a big difference to the look of the film. What was difficult was making sure we were lean with our renders and that we didn’t render too often, and that we optimized the shaders. We did a huge amount of work optimizing the shaders to reduce renders times to a fifth of what they were, lots of things like that; otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to render it in time.”


“On the whole shots were composed the way we wanted them to be in 2D, and that worked 3D,” states Tim Webber.  “There are a few moments when we definitely pushed it further, maybe with the teardrop but I’m not sure we wouldn’t have done the teardrop almost the same anyway. There are a few times where we made sure something wasn’t on the edge of the frame because that is distracting in 3D, but that’s a minor technical issue. On the whole the whole I would say it made very little difference, the way the film was made, the two just worked together, you didn’t have to think about it too much.”  A number of sequences standout to Webber, “I often mention the animation where Ryan is pulling out the boards in the opening shot; people are always shocked when they learn that is mostly all CG. When I first saw the simulation of the damage happening to the ISS in a really basic multi-coloured rough form, I could tell from the way everything was bending, buckling and breaking up that the sequence was going to be great. It had something about it that was already fascinating to look at.”

“We worked on Gravityin the summer 2011,” states Peanut FX Matchmove Supervisor Amélie Guyot.  “Peanut opened in 2009 and had done some work for Framestore on a few projects before Gravity. Before Peanut I had also personally worked as a freelancer at Framestore as the tracking lead for Two-Face in The Dark Knight [2008] and on Where the Wild Things Are [2009].   We’re very happy that Framestore has been one of our most regular clients; we are currently working for them on Robocop for which we tracked 42 shots so far.   On Gravity, I believe they knew from the beginning that the tracking work would be quite heavy and thought of us as a back-up plan to help them concentrate on the artistic tasks.”  Familiarity between the two companies was an asset.  “As we were already used to work for Framestore, the tracking specifications were quite straight-forward and we didn’t need to speak with Tim Webber [The Dark Knight] directly. Plus with tracking, no feelings are involved; it either works or doesn’t.”

“Framestore needed pixel-perfect camera and object tracking for the helmets from multiple cameras, sometimes on very long shots,” explains Amélie Guyot.  “The biggest challenge was that the helmets had to match perfectly from every camera’s point of view, whereas their positions on set were not always ideal. On some shots the camera tracks were a bit tricky too due to big parts of the background consisting of black dim-out fabric that moved because of the actors’ cables. Also as you know, some of the shots were quite long. We tracked about 6.5 minutes of the film, so in total 9398 frames multiplied by 3 cameras. Needless to say it was a bit time-consuming!”  Guyot remarks, “From the beginning we were thrilled to be part of this ambitious project. We knew it would look great from looking at the footage and from hearing how our talented friends at Framestore were working alongside the cinematographer and director.”


Contributing 17 shots that encompass over 2.5 minutes of footage was Rising Sun Pictures.  “RSP was approached by Executive Producer Nikki Penny [Clash of the Titans] to bid on the re-entry sequence for Gravity,” explains Visual Effects Supervisor Tony Clark (Blood Diamond) who co-founded the Australian VFX company in 1995.   “We had Framestore’s previz as a starting point, and we worked with her and the Studio to get an understanding of the needs of the sequence from there. The early weeks involved us speaking with Alfonso and Tim [Webber] to get their take on the sequence to help drive our technical and creative development of the sequence.”  Clark remarks, “Tim, and Alfonso, would use reference footage and the previz to help describe what was required for various elements in the sequence. This was done through a large amount of cineSync sessions and video conferences; these sessions usually included a batch of YouTube reference clips that had certain elements that they wanted to see in the re-entry sequence, from how plasma works to the movement of a parachute when it deploys.”

Tony Clark
“The previz was a huge factor in the composition of the shots,” states Clark.  “Our first stage for some of the early audience screenings was to take the previz and rework it in our pipeline with our assets and rudimentary effects. As the destruction, flame and plasma was a huge element in terms of frame composition.  We needed a way to determine how these would look on the screen, whilst hitting the story points from Alfonso in order to feel peril for the character in the capsule, and to get an incredible sense of speed [re-entry speeds can near 17,500mph]; all without any near reference to help sell the speed. It was a balancing act, which the previz assisted by giving us guidance on first thoughts. Some shots moved significantly away from the previz, whereas others looked close to what was originally envisioned.”


“We were lucky in that our shots which while long were relatively shot compared to Framestore’s work,” notes Tony Clark.  “Continuity, however, was an important factor in terms of the colour of flame/plasma, the amount of destruction, and the view over the earth. We had a number of cheat sheets on plasma and flame colour, to determine the hues that we would see at various points in the sequence. Destruction was also considered, where we had a set of areas that were broken throughout the sequence as more and more elements of the space station get sheared off. The Earth views had to make sense and work for the sequence, as well as where she ends up on land. Thankfully there’s a two minute monologue by Sandra Bullock’s [The Blind Side] character halfway through the sequence, so that allowed a transition of sorts as we progressed further in to the atmosphere.”


Tiangong Space Station had to be recreated digitally.  “In addition to receiving renders from Framestore’s shots including the asset, which included an incredible amount of detail and fidelity,” states Tony Clark.  “We always had the reference from astronauts in space, and the IMAX feature on Space. This was constantly referred to as we worked up our shaders and textures to match the level of photoreal detail that is required to sell the station and to have it match with the rest of the movie.”  Another key element was the Shenzhou capsule.  “We researched a large amount of reference from capsules that had already re-entered from space. The Soyuz capsule was one that had a large amount of reference online, and it was used to help define the look for the re-entry burn and texture once it deploys its parachutes.”  A familiar setting had to be inserted.  “Earth is something that has been photographed a lot from space, such as the ISS time lapse footage – and even astronaut’s candid snaps. We had to use a combination of reference photography that was digital matte paintings on top of a CG Earth that we created.”


“There are lots of science and experiments on flame/plasma in re-entry,” observes Tony Clark.  “But as there is no specific filmed reference available due to the forces involved we needed to create something that was hyper real which the audiences would believe and also be true to physics – albeit ‘movie physics.’”  The Internet did come in handy as a resource tool.  “There are plenty of cloud and parachute reference out there online.  We gathered this footage, stabilised it, and used that as a guide for how our parachute system needed to work. It all came down to providing a moment of suspense as the audience wonders if the parachute will take or not.”  Clark states, “For lower altitude shots, we used reference material that we gathered from a weather balloon that we sent up in to the atmosphere. We ended up capturing raw images and HD footage from a weather balloon that went over 23 miles in to the atmosphere. Early on VFX Supervisor Tim Webber wanted to explore this as an option for photographic reference, as there was an area of reference that was lacking [the area between space and where planes can fly] the balloon was the perfect option, and gave us great reference for that altitude.”


“We provided a render of the Shenzhou capsule as it splashes in to the water,” states Tony Clark.  “We match moved and tracked our CG model with a live action model that was done outside of the Studios in the UK; this final composite was finished at Framestore, where they integrated the capsule, water splashing, and real prop to create the final shot.”  Images were referenced taken by famous American space agency.  “The level of detail and clarity of material coming from NASA was outstanding, including shots of the earth and of the craft in orbit. Additionally there were other various footage [such as those on the tail of booster jets or timelapse from the ISS] which gave us incredible reference to guide the look of various elements in our sequence.”  Clark remarks, “Our biggest challenge was creating a look for the flame and plasma that worked for the sequence, in addition to the destruction trail and debris. This was an iterative, creative process with Tim and Alfonso as we came up with different ideas based on discussions and reference that we shared.”

3D had to be accommodated.  “As it was thought about early on, it didn’t complicate the process too much,” states Tony Clark.  “We worked with the Stereographer, Chris Parks [The Tree of Life] early in the sequence to get a lock off on the stereo depth for the shots within the sequence, and as we delivered we always had stereo shots available for review. We also had the ability to manipulate the depth for a scene creatively based on the needs of the shot. Once a scene had been assembled with true 3D depth we were asked to creatively override various features to create a more dynamic spatial relationship.  This often involved introducing greater dimensionality to the Earth’s surface to allow the audience to feel a curvature.  This required us to develop visualisation tools that allowed us to measure relationships and introduce the required offsets; these sometime required a second round of geometric projection based distortions.”  A particular image stands out for the visual effects veteran.  “The top down shot over the ocean as the various pieces of debris break up; that shot always amazes me and it worked so well in the cinema.”  All of the hard work has paid off at the global box office as Gravity has earned over $430 million.   “It’s great to see how Gravity has been received around the world, and the RSP team was proud to be a part of it!”


Production stills © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

VFX images © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. Images courtesy of Framestore and Peanut FX.

Many thanks to Andy Nicholson, Tim Webber, Tony Clark, Max Solomon, Mark Bakowski, Theo Groeneboom, and Amélie Guyot for taking the time to be interviewed.

To learn more visit the official websites for GravityFramestoreRising Sun Pictures, and Peanut FX.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

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