Space Shuttle Endeavour Opened for Unprecedented Movie Shoot

THR got a firsthand look as virtual reality filmmakers and Oscar-winning VFX artists use new technology to give viewers an up-close look at the spacecraft
Chuck Null

This story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour might be grounded at its permanent home at Los Angeles' California Science Center, but thanks to new technology, it will fly again — at least virtually.

Starting Sept. 29, engineers from NASA, the United Space Alliance (a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture) and the Science Center began a massive effort to open the payload bay of the 170,000-pound vehicle one last time before the spacecraft, which moved to Los Angeles in 2012, is mounted vertically in a permanent exhibit at the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, a $250 million facility slated to open in 2018.

To capture the historic moment, members of the Hollywood film community — including two Oscar winners, VFX supervisors Ben Grossmann (Hugo) and Craig Barron (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) — were on hand, as well as the virtual reality startup Jaunt and camera maker Red. While it's all still being finalized, the footage they are shooting will give viewers a close-up look at the shuttle.

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Display hardware manufacturer Barco, according to its "cinemavangelist" Ted Schilowitz, intends to use the material in its new Escape theater system, which effectively strings three screens together to create a Cinerama-like panorama. (Escape recently was tested in five U.S. theaters showing Fox's The Maze Runner). The footage also might become available through the Jaunt virtual reality player, for use with upcoming brands of VR goggles like the Oculus Rift. And it may be used in future displays at the Science Center, too.

"This is the first and only time a payload bay was opened outside of a purpose-built NASA facility," says Science Center trustee David Knight.

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THR was invited to observe the shoot, which includes two prototype Jaunt virtual reality cameras, a rig that held seven Red Epic Dragon cameras and a LIDAR scanner that was enlisted to create a 3D digital representation of Endeavour. "We did different types of capture to prepare for future experiences that we can give to children and adults," says Grossman. That might include a simulation, for example, through which a viewer gets to fly a mission aboard the shuttle.

Are you reading this, James Cameron?

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