zero gravity

That brings us to the point of the set visit when we were taken into the trailer where the kids have "school" while they're on set. And not Battle School-school but actual school, since they're all minors and need to be educated, even when making a major motion picture. We used that area to sit with the cast (Asa Butterfield, Aramis Knight, Conor Carroll, Moises Arias, Khylin Rhambo, Suraj Partha, Hailee Steinfeld and Nonso Anonzie) and director Gavin Hood to discuss the film. One of the first topics discussed was preparing for the Zero Gravity scenes. Apparently, an astronaut spoke to the kids about what it's like to move around in zero gravity during the first week of filming. According to Butterfield, "He showed us lots of videos about what zero G does to your body and sort of the way to move in it, because in a lot of the films, they make zero G look like you need to move in slow motion and he said you can do whatever you want in it. The reason everyone moves slowly is so when they let go, it doesn’t spin off somewhere."

Later on that day, we got to speak with stunt coordinator Garrett Warren, who talked about about doing the zero gravity scenes in a bit more detail, and working with the people from Cirque du Soleil to design them. Part of that involved going wireless:
You know, more important than anything was the fact that the rigs that we put forward, were going to be rigs that the actors could use to perform weightlessness in and of it, by themselves, without someone touching them, or even wires interfering with their extremities. So, a lot of the times, when people are doing weightless work, you’re in a harness and wires and you’re constricted by the wires that are by the side of your body. I wish I could have a rig and show you guys. But, for the most part, people have to get it to tilt forward or tilt back. So, of course, we were going to get rid of that by using the different apparatus and get rid of the wires altogether. And already we were experimenting with this gymnastics rig, this spotting belt that people use in gymnastics. I don’t know if you guys have ever seen it. It’s what they teach people how to throw spins on a trampoline with, without killing themselves. But what happens is, they’re not designed to carry a weight. They’re designed to spot you. It’s a spotting belt basically.

However, we went to the Cirque people and said, "Can you show us how to beef this up?" And, in fact, they had already had an idea, a prototype, that they were using. So we beefed it up and made it this really thick metal ring and then we took that ring and we were either able to connect by wires or we connected it by what we call a lollipop arm. And the lollipop arm is what really was inventive and innovative for the zero G world. All of you could float. All of you, no matter what your size, your height, your weight, or your experience, can absolutely float, spin, twist, do whatever you want to do. In fact, that’s what made it brilliant, because all the kids were able to do all of the work themselves without anybody touching them. And if you wanted to do this and stay here and move you could, without moving anywhere, but if you touched something, you actually would float away.

I wish I could tell you that this is the part where they took us somewhere and let us float around in zero gravity. Alas, that was only in my imagination. But hearing Warren discuss the stunts, it does sound like these kids got to do some cool stuff for this movie, and everything we've seen in the trailer indicates that the efforts paid off. Of course, wires were necessary for some things, and it sounds like that got really complicated at times:
We created, we erected a cage above everyone. We made them marionettes. We literally made a marionette cage above 13 people and were able to go like this, and move people like they were little puppets and so forth, in this world, and be able to grab each other. And so, the fun thing was that they’re all in and of themselves controlled by wires, but they’re all controlled within one big, huge cage, which was great.

It was awesome. It was awesome. I can’t tell you how much fun it was. And I’m really proud of it and I have to admit that I’m very fortunate to have been given the freedom that I did by the producers as well as Gavin. Gavin was amazed when it came to all of this stuff and you know, he says, "Go for it. Let’s see what you can do." He didn’t just shut us down. He said, let’s see what it’s like to do it for real. He didn’t want it to be CG anymore and he didn’t want it to be stunt people either. As much as we had Cirque performers, their job was to teach people rather than to do it for them.

You can take a look at some behind-the-scenes footage from the zero gravity room here.

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