LEDs Help Gravity Movie Makers Simulate Zero-Gravity

Sandra Bullock stars in the film Gravity (Warner Brothers)

Sandra Bullock stars in the film Gravity (Warner Brothers)










You may have seen news about the new George Clooney and Sandra Bullock movie Gravity. The movie details the story of how two shuttle astronauts deal with a shuttle accident while servicing the Hubble Space Telescope.  The movie includes stunning shots showing the actors floating in space.  One trick that the filmmakers used to simulate zero-gravity was LED lighting.

While many movies like Apollo 13 have used parabolic airplane flights to show zero gravity, the director of Gravity wanted longer shots.  The parabolic airplane flights only give you 20 to 30 seconds of weightlessness at a time, so director Alfonso Cuarón looked into alternatives.  Some scenes relied on the actors swimming underwater. Others suspended the actors from wires with puppeteers pulling strings while robots filmed from various angles.

However, the most surprising zero-gravity shot tool was a very large LED light box enclosure filled with thousands of programmable LED lights.  The lights were programmed to show scenes of Earth and space. With the actors inside the enclosure, robotic cameras captured close ups of the actors faces to simulate space.  While the actors were stationary, the light patterns were not, simulating motion and something that appeared to be weightlessness.  The nice thing about this technique was that the actors could see exactly what was happening so they could react to their visual references.  The various shots were blended into the final movie simulating zero gravity.

You can see the trailer here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiTiKOy59o4

For Further Reading

NBC, Movie Tech: How ‘Gravity’ threw Sandra Bullock into zero gravity, http://www.nbcnews.com/science/how-gravity-threw-sandra-bullock-zero-gravity-big-screen-8C11326787

The Daily Beast, Alfonso Cuarón on the Making of His Instant Sci-Fi Classic ‘Gravity’, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/10/03/alfonso-cuaron-on-the-making-of-his-instant-sci-fi-classic-gravity.html

LED Lighting & the Road to Success

Space on store shelves for lighting is filled with LED and CFL bulbs.

Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company says that the global LED lighting market will grow 34% from 2010 to 2016 (CAGR).  The researchers expect the LED lighting market to grow to almost $94 billion US by 2020, representing close to 60% of the total lighting market.  Market penetration of LEDs in general lighting (also known as solid state lighting) is about seven percent In Asia, North America and Europe, but is expected to expand to around 70% by 2020.

Government subsidies and regulation worldwide have promoted alternatives to incandescent lighting to save energy.  Recently, enforcement efforts to promote alternative lighting took a slight turn, but it may not matter.  That horse may have left the barn as other governments around the world are moving ahead with their regulations and incentives

During the first week in June, Republicans in the US House adopted a provision designed to give Thomas Edison’s invention a little more life.  Language in the provision blocks enforcement of the new energy standard for lighting.  The first phase of the standard, passed as part of Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, has been challenged by members of Congress connected to the Tea Party. In a Bloomberg story, Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican that sponsored the light bulb amendment said, “People are sick of the government treading where it just doesn’t belong.” The US Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

Despite the politics and regulations, the allure of saving money may be enough to propel the LED light bulb to success in the US. LED light bulbs have made significant progress in the manufacturing community.  Many manufacturers have already retooled and transitioned to make the next generation light bulbs.  The North American market for suppliers of LED lamps is estimated to be about $55 million, and projected to grow by about 32% per year between 2012 and 2016, said Konkana Khaund, building technologies research manager at the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Solid state lighting is gaining ground around the world simply based on the economics of energy savings and low maintenance costs.


LEDs Magazine, Lighting market report predicts strong growth for LED lighting, http://ledsmagazine.com/features/8/9/13

Bloomberg News, House Adopts Measure to Halt Light-Bulb Efficiency Law, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-06/house-adopts-measure-to-halt-light-bulb-efficiency-law.html