If you thought going to the moon was complicated, try shooting a thriller set in the depths of outer space. Director Alfonso Cuarón spent nearly five years attempting to perfect the look of zero gravity for the thriller Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney (out Oct. 4).
"We wanted to shoot the whole film showing zero gravity with the actors moving in a choreographic way," say Cuarón, perhaps best-known for directing 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. "This has never been done before. It was a journey of learning. But it looks pretty darn good." Gravity, which Cuarón wrote with his son Jonás, opens the prestigious Venice Film Festiva on Aug. 28 in Italy, and Cuarón will show off footage at the July 18-21 Comic-Con in San Diego.
The film follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a medical engineer on her first space shuttle mission, alongside veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). Their routine mission goes very, very wrong when the shuttle is destroyed, leaving them tethered together and spiraling in space. A scene where Bullock struggles to make it back into the International Space Station shows the scope of the film work. It required numerous processes to show the floating, from elaborate wire work to encasing Bullock in a specially constructed 9-foot cube. And that was before the computer graphics were added.
"Sandra had to be in tremendous shape for this kind of filming," says producer David Heyman. "When she was not shooting she was either spending time with her son or working out for these scenes."
The return to the space station might show a moment of calm for Bullock's character, who nearly perishes in her space suit, but it also highlights why outer space is such a scary mental concept.
"She's confronted with the idea that Earth is so far away. She can see the whole Earth and she doesn't belong to it," says Cuarón. "What is really scary for people is being lost or alone in the immensity of the void."
The filmmakers had the task of depicting some of the great celestial bodies in the galaxy, and used computers to map and shoot millions of stars and the Earth in various states. After pulling it off, Cuarón was struck with the majesty of the planet, which becomes a major character in Gravity.
"When you see this Earth from outer space with all of its beauty and colors, you don't see all of these separations between these countries," says Cuarón. "Earth is just one organic, beautiful thing. We happen to live in a very stunning and beautiful place."