While the film was Mexican-directed and partly
American-financed, the studio that created the visual effects —
which have been nominated for an Academy Award — is British,
adding to the accolades UK firms have accumulated in the field.
"It's not a movie where we're putting visual effects into a
film," said Tim Webber, who was visual effects supervisor for
"Gravity". "It's a movie that is created using visual effects
from the ground up."
British talent was propelled into the industry limelight by the
"Harry Potter" series, which involved UK companies Cinesite,
Double Negative and Framestore, where Webber is director of
"The Harry Potter series was a sort of backbone but the industry
grew up to be quite significant around it and by the time it
ended there was plenty of other work going through London to
keep it going," Webber said in an interview.
In "Gravity", which has been nominated for a total of 10 Oscars,
producers had to contend with the challenges posed by a film set
entirely in space as well as replicating the look and feel of
weightlessness in a 3D movie environment.
"Gravity affects every tiny movement," Webber said.
To ensure the film looked as realistic as possible, "an awful
lot" of the film had to be created on the computer and shots of
the actors' faces would then be added in, meaning the lighting
had to be perfect, Webber said.
The first step was to create a previsualisation of the whole
film, basically an animated version of the movie where
everything, from lighting to the actors' movements, was planned
out in advance.
"When we got to the set ... we knew exactly what the movement
was going to be at every moment and exactly what the lighting
was going to be so that we could make sure that we were filming
George's and Sandra's faces to fit in with that movement," he
said, referring to stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
To achieve the perfect effect, Webber's team devised a "light
box", a 10x10-foot box with giant, bright screens on the inside,
to replicate the environment around the actors.
Cuaron's shooting style compounded the difficulties. About 70
percent of the 91-minute film consisted of just 17 shots, Webber
said, meaning a significant number of shots were several minutes
long, in sharp contrast to most films in which shots only last a
few seconds each.
The opening scene is almost 13 minutes long, starting with an
awe-inspiring view of Earth from space and gradually zooming in
to three astronauts working on the Hubble telescope.
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The camera rotates seamlessly around the telescope,
following Clooney's stomach-turning orbits and alternating between
close-up views and more panoramic ones.
"All of those different types of shots would be rolled into one so
we had to find solutions that worked across all (of them)," Webber
When Bullock says that keeping her lunch down in
zero gravity is no easy feat, it is hard not to sympathize as the
rolling movements of the camera recall the nausea-inducing swell of
COMPETITION AT THE PUB
The success of "Gravity" has highlighted the work going on in the
visual effects industry in London, centered in the small, buzzing
district of Soho.
"Lots of film studios or film directors are coming
to Framestore and saying 'I saw what you did on "Gravity" and it was
amazing and makes me keen to work with you'," said Webber.
The company has its hands full with a new film for Disney-owned
Marvel Studios, "Guardians of the Galaxy", as well as two films that
will be released later this year, "RoboCop" and "Dracula Untold".
The fact that the companies are all within walking distance of each
other has fostered a healthy sense of competition which encourages
innovation, Webber said.
"We all bump into each other down at the pub. That's a very strong
environment for visual effects to develop in," he said.
Britain's 71.4-billion-pound ($118-billion) creative
industry, including film, TV, software and music, was a bright spot
in the economy in 2012, contributing 5.6 percent of UK jobs,
according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
While total employment rose by less than 0.7 percent between 2011
and 2012, jobs in the creative industry increased by 8.6 percent, it
The UK government has shown its willingness to support the industry
in its half-yearly budget in December by offering more generous
terms in its Film Tax Relief scheme.
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Sonya
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