We’re only a week into the month of October and out of the gate we already have an Academy Award frontrunner. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity first picked up incredible buzz when it hit the festival circuit in late August and early September, screening at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, but now that the film has landed in theaters it has earned three more feathers in its cap: near universal critical praise, very strong audience reception, and shattered box office records. The hard work by the filmmakers and stars behind the film is paying off, but it was a long and challenging process to get the movie made.
The main attraction of Gravity is certainly the absolutely stunning visual effects work, which many critics have judged groundbreaking, particularly mixed with the director’s signature unbroken, flowing cinematography. But it was finding the balance between these two important factors that Cuaron believes was one of the biggest challenges in making the movie. Speaking during a press conference held in Beverly Hills, California a couple weeks ago, Cuaron explained that from the get go the production had to completely change its thinking about movement due to the fact that the story is set in space where the titular force is completely absent.
“Our brain thinks from the standpoint of gravity, of horizon and weight,” the filmmaker told the crowd of reporters. “It was a whole learning curve because it’s completely counterintuitive, and we started choreographing with pre-vis, meaning animations. The problem is that people that animators, they learn how to draw based upon horizon and weight. It was a big, big learning curve with experts coming to explain the physics and what would happen. You would tell who was the new animator in the room because it was a guy who was completely stressed out and wanted to quit.”
Not just a taxing process for the visual effects artists, making Gravity was also arduous for star Sandra Bullock (and no, we don’t mean the fact that she goes without make-up in the movie). In order to play Dr. Ryan Stone, a scientist who is sent into orbit to help repair a malfunctioning satellite, the Academy Award winning actress said that taking on the role meant needing to retrain her entire body from the neck down so that it would look as though it were reacting within a weightless environment.
“Everything that your body reacts to with a push or a pull on the ground is completely different than it is in zero g,” Bullock said. “So to make that second nature just took training and then weeks of repetition and then syncing it with Alfonso’s camera and the mechanics and mathematics of it all and then separating that from your head where you had to connect with the emotion and tell the emotional story.”
In order to get the shots and positions needed, it took more than a few pieces of special equipment on the set of the production, which Bullock ultimately found a way to be comfortable with. “There were various contraptions that existed on the soundstage which that, when I first saw them, you just made them your friend as quickly and as physically as you could because if you didn’t, they were so confusing and complex.”
As many incredible technological and visual achievements the film features, however, Cuaron doesn’t want people to solely focus on them. Instead, all of those leaps forward were made because they were what the story needed in order to be told visually. Asked about balancing the sound, visual design and atmosphere, the director said that it was when all three came together to help convey the emotional journey that it was most important.
“I think that each one of those tools on their own, they are meaningless,” the director said. “They can be cool, but they don’t convey the emotions you want… From the moment that we finished the first draft, pretty much nothing changed in terms of each one of the moments and the set pieces. What changed quite a lot was with the involvement of Sandra and George [Clooney] because suddenly it was the clarity of this emotional journey and how we were going to convey those emotions.”
Gravity is in theaters more and you can find out more about the film right here.