Recreating ‘Gravity’: How innovation paved the way to Oscar

In honor of the 86th Academy Awards I am highlighting the film ‘Gravity‘, 10 time nominee and winner of 7 Oscars. As a film of technological wonder and monumental undertaking that has redefined the craft of filmmaking and probably will for years to come. One I sadly missed the opportunity to see on the big screen, but hey that’s why there’s Redbox.

Nevertheless, a glance through the images and videos online quickly drew this beautiful space story into perspective and its not surprising that it has taken the world and Hollywood by storm.

This Oscar winning film was made possible by the ingenious collaboration of director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Tree of Life), and Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Webber (Framestore), who together revolutionized the process of filmmaking. A feat they managed to accomplish by inventing and combining new and old technologies. The first was a light box, which essentially was a large LED projection cube that helped to realistically recreate the environment for the actors, while helping to properly illuminate the scene. The technology was inspired by similar technology used in concerts.

In addition they created robotic rigs that enabled them to recreate the feeling of zero gravity and create the illusion of the actors moving in space; most of which was controlled by a team of puppeteers. While the sequences actually involved only the camera moving.

However, the most amazing thing about ‘Gravity‘ is the way it was created by merging live action and CG animation. Most of the film, probably unknown to audiences, was hand-animated in the computer from the beginning stages through the completion of the film. Unlike most films which are post-effects only.

This process was only made possible by pre-visualizing the whole film prior to any actual production taking place and for those unfamiliar with the process it’s basically a pre-planning, 3D storyboard tool used to plan out the shots, timing, and animation before production begins, giving one a sense of what it might look like. It’s also a great tool to see what technical problems might arise. Interestingly too ‘Gravity‘ doesn’t use a green screen at all, as it would affect the light quality and composite.

On the whole the visual effects shots were primarily handled by Framestore in London whose work is featured in such films as the Harry Potter Films, Children of Men, and Iron Man 3. While in addition effects companies Prime Focus, Third Floor, and Rising Sun also contributed to the final VFX shots.

Overall the project was a massive undertaking taking four to six years to make, but it all paid off in the end. Not only with accolades, but by advancing the art and technology of filmmaking.

For a more detailed breakdown or look at how Gravity was created check out the links below.