MOTW: Behind-the-Scenes Facts About the Film "Gravity"

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
February 4th, 2014

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Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris, "Gravity" features mechanical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone, who is on her first mission to space. Veteran astronaut and soon-to-be retiree Matt Kowalski guides Dr. Stone on the mission. However, when disaster strikes, the two are left alone with only each other, spiraling out into the blackness, hoping to figure out a way to get back to Earth alive and together. Below is a handful of interesting facts about the award-winning film and the filming of.

Perfect Lighting

Director Alfonso Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber determined "Gravity" needed an all-digital environment to make the film look real. The Earth, sun and stars in the background needed to have the same lighting as the actors' faces. When the characters walked inside space stations, tumble in space or change directions, the lighting had to perfectly match the lighting on the backdrop. In order to do this, a 9-foot cubic box, known as the "light box," held an actor and the light from the screen. The scene backdrop then moved as needed to create the illusion of movement and a real-space feel.

Physical Training

Astronauts must be in peak physical condition due to the demands of going into space and the aspect of weightlessness. Because of this, actress Sandra Bullock was put through 6 months of physical training while she worked with the written script along with director Alfonso Cuarón. Her character's breathing had to be exact to dictate her emotions, such as breath connected to stress and lack of oxygen, so a good part of her physical training focused on that. Due to her in-depth training, her emotions captured during the filming were highly rehearsed and choreographed while looking like they were actually happening spontaneously. Bullock also had to perfectly coordinate her moves to the wire rig attached to her and the camera in order to look like an actual astronaut. Her physical training helped her hit specific marks at different points in each shot.

Changing Cast

Sandra Bullock was not the first choice for the part of Dr. Stone. Originally cast for the part was Angelina Jolie, but she dropped out after the film had to be put on hold due to funding issues. Other actresses considered for the lead role were Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Carey Mulligan, Sienna Miller, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall and Olivia Wilde. Four years after Alfonso Cuarón wanted to originally shoot the film, technology finally caught up with his vision. He then cast Sandra Bullock and Robert Downey Jr., who dropped out of the project in late 2010 due to scheduling conflicts. Other actors were considered for the male lead before George Clooney was finally selected. Ed Harris was added to the cast as the off-screen voice of Mission Control, which fitted him based on his past experience with astronaut movies, such as "Apollo 13" and "The Right Stuff."

Falling Debris

While some parts of the film are ridiculed as not being accurate to science, the film's debris cascade is a very real possibility. While larger debris pieces from rockets and old satellites are easy to miss and are cataloged, smaller pieces from dust or meteorites are capable of puncturing spacesuits so quickly that holes would mysteriously start appearing. The scenario of bigger pieces falling, which would make space exploration missions or satellites impossible for many decades, is called Kennsler Syndrome. This event happens rather quickly in the film, but it would be much slower in real life. Also, the debris is not capable of quickly knocking out both the Hubble and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, as it did in the movie, because of the distance between the two in reality.
Clooney Saves the Day

Director Alfonso Cuarón was unhappy with how to resolve the issue of Dr. Stone's character getting home alive after she discovers her rocket ship is out of gas. Clooney wrote the scene where Stone, as she is lowering her oxygen levels in preparation to die, has a dream in which she is talking to Clooney's character, Kowalski. He talks Stone into taking a last chance at survival. As Kowalski vanishes from the scene for the last time, the audience feels the weight of his loss while Ryan Stone finds the will to keep going. This scene was not original to the script, but Clooney emailed Cuarón one night with this idea after hearing Cuarón was struggling with this scene, and the scene made the script.

While not 100 percent of the movie "Gravity" is accurate to actual space exploration, the basic ideas of this 2013 film hit the mark and the audience's interests. It must have impressed several people, as the film was nominated for 10 Oscars while winning a Golden Globe for Best Director in a Motion Picture.