The Making of 'Gravity' With Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
11:21 AM PST 1/10/2014 by THR Staff
Director Alfonso Cuaron digs into the groundbreaking visual effects of the awards contender, while cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki says of the risky project: "It was going to be incredibly complicated, and he didn't have an answer."
"It breaks all the rules," says producer DavidHeyman, who reunited with Cuaron after they worked together on 2007's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. "It's a female-driven space movie, with two actors in their late 40s and early 50s hidden by visors so you can't see their faces clearly. And the technology was always a question mark."
Even the Visors Were CG
In the end, about 80 percent of the film is photo-realistic CG: For the scenes set in space, only the actors' faces come from live-action photography. Everything else -- the environment, the space suits, even the visors -- was CG.
The first screening, in summer 2012, was an unmitigated disaster. AlfonsoCuaron had just shown his movie, a space-set survival tale titled Gravity, to its first test audience and was reading the comment cards. "Why aren't there any aliens in this?" read one, while another said, "I wish there was a monster in this." The audience didn't get it. The studio was nervous and Cuaron felt just like his film's own astronaut, spinning with no ground beneath his feet. "It was a horror," says Cuaron.
The story of a woman reconnecting with life reconnected Cuaron with his desire to make movies. He recalls how, in the beginning, Jonas said to him, "Your films are all right, but they are filled too much with rhetoric." That forced Cuaron to reevaluate himself and his art. He realized that he had begun to take himself too seriously. "You become suspicious that entertaining is not profound," he says. "Through this, I was able to reconnect to why I loved movies as a kid."
Robert Downey Jr. was attached to star, but dropped out, forcing Warners to go after such A-listers as WillSmith, BradPitt and TomHanks before hitting up George Clooney.
Cuaron knew Gravity's success would be dependent on how convincingly they could immerse audiences in a weightless world. "It was going to be incredibly complicated, and he didn't have an answer," admits Cuaron's longtime friend and cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, who -- with VFX supervisor TimWebber and production designer AndyNicholson -- helped Cuaron work out the production challenges.
'Comic-Con Changed Everything'
It was as late as July's San Diego Comic-Con International that things began to turn around for the film. When the film's bravura opening debris-strike sequence was shown during the movie's panel, the 6,500 people in attendance were silent in rapt attention. And then they went wild.
"Comic-Con changed everything," recalls Cuaron. "I could see Sue Kroll getting excited, and we thought, 'Well, maybe there's something there.' "
Figuring Out the Light
One of the biggest challenges facing Cuaron and his team was figuring out how to match the lighting of the actors, who were shot on set, with the virtual lighting created in the computer. "The camera would need to move around the actors, and the lighting had to go through similarly complicated moves," says VFX supervisor Tim Webber.
Creating Zero Gravity
Adds cinematographer Lubezki: “The objective was to make the actors as comfortable as possible because in zero gravity, you would not see stress on their faces when they are upside down.”
Close to Final
Sandra Bullock in the third of four photos showing how an image from Gravity was created.
The Completed Image
Cuaron says he deliberately avoided watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as he “would have been paralyzed.”