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