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All I need to know about "Gravity" to be excited about seeing it later this year is that it's the latest film from director Alfonso Cuaron.
However, based on details that emerged online today, my interest level has skyrocketed, and it sounds like something very special is in store for us when the film does finally arrive in theaters. It also sounds like next year I should do my best to attend the 5D | FLUX conference at USC, where Chris deFaria spoke about "Gravity" and confirmed some of the things I've been hearing about the film since it began production last year.
The screenplay, by Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron, and Rodrigo Garcia, deals with how a team tries to survive when a missile is fired at a satellite while they're all at the International Space Station, and the explosion creates a chain reaction of debris moving at 30,000 kph, threatening their ability to ever make their way back to Earth. On the title page, the film is described as "a space suspense in 3D," and it sounds like technology was on their mind from the moment they started work on the film.
What is surprising is how it sounds like the process worked, and it makes me think that we've probably never seen anything like "Gravity." Chris deFaria is the man in charge of VFX and animation at Warner Bros, so he was speaking about the development of the film from a technical level, and he makes it sound utterly unlike any other George Clooney/Sandra Bullock movie you can name.
On his blog, Immersed in Movies, Bill Desowitz recounted the comments that deFaria made about the process:
“Instead of trying to create real people and what they’re doing, let’s turn it around and create almost an entirely animated film and then backwards engineer the people into that film,” he explained. “As a matter of fact, let’s not even engineer the people into the film, let’s engineer their faces. So you’ve got these little faces inside these little helmets. But there was a big hiccup that we came to I didn’t realize until later, which was that we began building it as an animated film and Alfonso had an idea that he wanted the shots to be incredibly long, and I said, ‘How long?’ And he said he wanted the first shot to be really long. And I said, ‘You mean, 40 seconds?’ ‘No, 17 minutes.’ So it ends up the film only has 156 shots in the entire two-hour movie, many of them six, eight, 10 minutes long.
“But the moment we went to work prevising this, we went into shot production. We were prevising shots and the assets we were building digitally and the angles we were creating in the camera, we were virtually committing to during that process. But when we began to bring in both the production designer [Andy Nicholson] and the DP [Emmanuel Lubezki], we realized that we were committing to many things, not just shot design but lighting, direction, every prop, every single doorway, every single distance so that when we shot somebody’s eyes, they were converging at the right distance point. And we had a myriad of tools to deal with that. But we didn’t create the virtual world and let the live action drive what was ultimately going to be the shot. We actually created the shot and then made the live action work within it.”
Okay, first of all… that sounds awesome. I love long uninterrupted takes, and I love what it forces directors to do. This sounds like Cuaron has pushed himself to try something utterly new, and I'm dying to see what Framestore does with the VFX on the film. They're going to have to aim for something photo-realistic, especially since there's nothing about the script that couldn't happen in real life. This isn't the sort of film where you're creating aliens and monsters and superheroes and dogfights in outer space. This is about recreating something we recognize as real and doing so in a way that utterly fools our brains.
Desowitz mentioned that the film is being post-converted into 3D, but if the process is the way he describes it, there really wouldn't have been anything to "shoot" in 3D in the first place. If they're building every environment in the computer, then it's a simple matter of rendering it out to 3D in the first place, and you're not really post-converting if you build all your digital environments in 3D.
It's a fascinating quote, and it makes me very curious about how this is going to affect the film dramatically. Cuaron doesn't make choices like this simply because they "look cool," so my guess is he's trying to make the audience feel like they're trapped the same way the characters are, and if he can truly make the audience feel that same claustrophobia, then all of this technical effort will be worthwhile.
"Gravity" opens November 21, 2012.