'First Man' VFX Secrets Revealed in New 'Behind the Screen' Podcast

Director Damien Chazelle “wanted to do as much in camera as possible," explains VFX supervisor Paul Lambert.
Courtesy of Universal Studios

How did visual effects put a man on the moon in Neil Armstrong biopic First Man? A new episode of the THR Behind the Screen podcast, released today, reveals the answer.

Launched last week, Behind the Screen is a new weekly podcast series hosted by THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, featuring cinematographers, editors, composers, production designers and other artists behind the magic of motion pictures.

In the latest episode, First Man's Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Paul Lambert of DNEG describes how a combination of techniques involving models, miniatures, CG and even an LED video wall were used to realistically place the actors in space and on the moon. Director Damien Chazelle “wanted to do as much in camera as possible. Damien wanted to avoid any form of green screen or blue screen," Lambert explains.

This attempt for verisimilitude entailed, at one point, playing content behind the actors on an LED video wall. "During the spin sequence for the Gemini, rather than rotate the capsule with the actors in it, we rotated the content [on the video wall]. Because the screen was so big, you felt motion sick. Each time the content came up, the entire crew would turn around," Lambert says. "The actors did go through various skin tones during those shoots."

Research on the project involved visits to NASA as well. The filmmakers met with astronauts and consultants and unearthed some never-before-seen archival footage, which was used in the film.

Hear it all on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an exciting episode.