Could an astronaut survive in space removed from his spacecraft? One of the few filmmakers capable of bringing this question to life could be Children of Men‘s Alfonso Cuarón.
Director Alfonso Cuarón, producer David Heyman and star Sandra Bullock (in her first Comic-Con appearance) comprised Saturday’s San Diego Comic-Con panel to answer that question.
Cuarón described the story of Gravity as being about two astronauts stranded in space, and that the entire shows the faces of only Bullock an her co-star George Clooney. The director wants the audience to feel as if they’re really floating in space, so he sought to create a truly immersive experience. Before rolling a clip, he noted that in the trailer, the marketing tam used loud explosions, yet there’s no sound in space, so those sounds aren’t included in the actual film.
A clip followed fettering Clooney and Bullock in EVA outside a space shuttle performing repairs, when suddenly Mission Control tells them to abort the mission as a Russian missile that was launched to destroy a stray satellite has caused unexpected debris to cascade and scatter across the atmosphere, heading toward them faster than a high-velocity bullet. No sooner than they hear that when the debris flies toward the shuttle, demolishing about half of it, sending Bullock’s character spiraling off into space. The entire amazing 5-minute clip was one unbroken take, similar to the now-famous car ambush from Cuarón’s Children of Men.
Bullock was intimidated at first by the technology involved in shooting the film to create the illusion of weightlessness. A typical workday required Bullock to be insulated in a 9X9 cube isolated on the stage while lights and camera controlled by robots moved around her. It took a while for her to get in and out of the rig, so she usually decided to sty in the rig all day.
Heyman described the camera robot as being able to motor down a track at 25 mph only to stop an inch from Bullock’s nose, on a dime. If the robot wasn’t able to stop suddenly Bullock said she wouldn’t have been able to get out of the way. Add to that, she said she was claustrophobic. She learned two weeks before shooting that she wasn’t going to be shooting in the “vomit comet” a parabolic flight able to create weightlessness for 20 seconds at a time, so the robot rig was the necessary alternative. Bullock, being isolated from the rest of the stage, had to communicate with Cuarón via headphones, and he would often play a soundscape of effects for her to get her in the mood.
Bullock said her daily physical regimen to train was mostly gymnastics and dancing, to strengthen her core. Cuarón said that there could have been easy ways to produce this film, but that wouldn’t be as fun as pushing the technology to the limit to create a better illusion, and the studio was completely supportive. Heyman praised Cuarón as a madman who knows no fear and wouldn’t settle for anything but the best, a pain in the ass, but in the best way (a statement which drew laughs from the crowd).
Cuarón said his influences for this film varied from Vanishing Point, Runaway Train, and Spielberg’s Duel. Cuarón was asked how difficult it was to create long unbroken takes of complex action. He said it’s not difficult for him, it’s difficult for everyone around him, and he praised the actors contribution and the collaboration of his crew for making him look good.
Gravity comes to theaters on October 4, 2013.
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All photos by Dave3 for Geeks of Doom