If you were lost in space, wouldn't you want heavenly stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in your orbit? In this heart-pounding, eye-popping thriller, medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) when disaster strikes. Debris from a defunct satellite destroys their shuttle, leaving them tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling into the void. With time and oxygen running out, they scramble to find a way to survive. How did the actors, director Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), and his creative team create this spectacular space odyssey? Blast off to our 5 facts in 3…2…1…
1. The Stars Align: The script by Cuarón and his son, Jonás, proved irresistible to Clooney, who had been looking for a project to do with good friend Bullock. Everyone involved knew they would need to push the boundaries of moviemaking to portray a story in zero gravity. Cuarón brought in special effects supervisor Tim Webber (The Dark Knight), who suggested a completely virtual setting. The result is a hybrid of live action, computer animation and CGI, with backgrounds, sets, and even some costumes rendered digitally.
2. The Light Dawns: Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki faced a tough challenge—how to light the actors in a way that would seamlessly blend with computer animation. He found inspiration at a concert when he noticed that the lighting director had cleverly used LEDs to create beautiful effects and projections. Lubezki then built a "Light Box," over 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide, at Shepperton Studios in London. The interior featured 196 panels fitted with 4,096 LED bulbs, which could cast the needed light and colors and alter them at any speed.
3. Sandra and Iris in the Box: To shoot inside the Light Box, filmmakers used a motion-controlled camera affixed to a large robotic arm, the type used in automobile manufacturing. (The crew nicknamed the contraption "Iris.") Bullock spent many days within the confines of the box, secluded from other people on the set. They were concerned about how much time the actress spent in isolation, but since Bullock's solitude mirrored that of her character, she incorporated the lonely experience into her performance.
4. Defying Gravity: One of the obstacles in making Gravity was gravity itself—in other words, how to create the illusion that there isn't any. Conventional wires didn't provide the floating effect the filmmakers wanted, so they built an intricate 12-wire apparatus that resembled a high-tech marionette. The production hired top-tier puppeteers, including three artists who operated the title character in the play War Horse, to help make Bullock soar through the International Space Station.
5. Bullock's Got Bollocks: To prepare for the physically demanding role, Bullock participated in an intense training program for months before production began and throughout filming as well. Plus, she worked with a coach to learn how to move slowly and fluidly as if in zero gravity—but while still speaking in a normal cadence. It's tougher than it sounds! That's not to mention all the emotional demands as well, as her character goes into some dark, dark places.