Alfonso Cuaron has gathered quite a following from his work as director on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to his widely adored Children of Men. So, you can see why he was given four full years to work on Gravity, but also the support of the studio who invested in his project in many ways… including developing technology that he used to make audiences feel they were lost in space along with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
Movie Fanatic caught up with Cuaron and immediately had to start with how on Earth (pardon the pun) he managed to give space a 360-degree feel, unlike anything we’ve ever seen on film before. “That was the biggest challenge, from early on. Even before getting into the technical solutions, when we were considering the choreography, our brain thinks from the standpoint of gravity, horizon and weight. It was so weird to try to do it. It was a whole learning curve because it’s completely counter-intuitive,” Cuaron said.
And what was teased in the Gravity 3D clip was just the beginning. There was so much more that went into capturing what audiences will be blown away by when the film lands October 4.
“The way you start choreographing is with pre-visual animations. The problem is that animators learn how to draw based upon horizon and weight. It was a big learning curve with experts coming to explain the physics of Zero G and what would happen. You could tell who the new animator in the room was because it was the guy who was completely stressed out and wanted to quit,” he said and laughed. “Eventually, it gets like second nature, but it was a tough one.”
Cuaron is also quick to point out that what is teased in the Gravity trailer is merely the tip of the iceberg of the brilliance of his star Bullock. “She was very involved, early on, not only with the animations, but blocking and re-staging because everything was pre-programmed,” Cuaron said.
“She would go with her trainers and have conversations about the rigs and the stunts, and then say, ‘Okay, what do I have to reinforce in my body?’ Also, with the pre-visual animation, she said, ‘With the motion, if I’m going to keep my arm holding like this and floating, how much strength do I need to have?’ The workout she did was very specific.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment Cuaron has gotten since Gravity wowed audiences at the Venice Film Festival and then the Toronto Film Festival is that of the real men and women who have been in space. “It’s very humbling,” he admitted.
“You can write a whole fiction, and you’re talking to people who have gone through that, in real life. There were certain things that informed the script. In an early draft, we had scenes that, after talking with one astronaut, we realized were absolutely moronic. It was stuff that would never happen. And even though this film is not a documentary and it’s fiction, we wanted the frame of that fiction to be as plausible and accurate as possible.”
Considering he does not have a doctorate in science and has never been in space, to get it so right could be his greatest career accomplishment.
“With the physics of space, we tried to be super-accurate. There are a lot of physics that are involved in traveling in space, and we had to take our leaps, in terms of fiction. The truth of it is that when you’re talking to those people, you don’t care about your movie anymore. You just want to hear about what they have gone through. You want all of the details.”
His film deals with what happens when astronauts are on a space walk working on the Hubble telescope and debris from a Russian satellite sends them spinning into space. Cuaron’s appreciation for those who do go into space only intensified through the making of Gravity.
“It’s amazing. In real life, they have hundreds of alternative procedures for each thing that happens. In 40 years of space exploration, there has been only a handful of incidents,” Cuaron said.
“There are missions all the time. You’re going to the most hostile place that any human has been -- ever. It’s because these people are so well-trained. And they are not trained just to do what they are supposed to do. They have to have alternative thinking for many other procedures. These people are really remarkable, and that’s something I admire in the space program. It’s a bunch of people who are so qualified that you just feel stupid. You feel like a movie director,” he said, laughing.
Another facet of the film that truly makes the audience feel as if they were in space, miles away from Earth, is that Cuaron consciously never shows anyone on the ground. You hear Mission Control, but never see them.
“That would break the existential experience that you get with the characters,” Cuaron said.
But he also cautions that what is teased in these Gravity clips is about much more than space travel. “You can see this film as just a big metaphor. This is a film about a woman. Forget about space. It’s a film about a woman that is drifting into the void. It’s about a woman who is a victim of her own inertia and who lives in her own bottle, and she confronts all of this adversity that brings her further and further away from human connection, and a sense of life and living,” Cuaron said.
“All of these other elements are voices that are part of her own psyche. They represent that surge of life. Even as she’s despairing, there’s that part of you. Your brain can be telling you, ‘I’m giving up,’ but there’s something that makes our species keep on going. Life keeps on going.”