Gravity won a total of seven of the ten Oscars that it was nominated for at the 86th Academy Awards. What are the makings of a film that sees success during the awards season? These bits of trivia might give you an idea....
1. The story grew from a desire to make a 90 minute edge-of-your-seat experience. Alfonso Cuarón and his son/co-writer Jonás thought ‘hey, this should be set in space, an astronaut falling untethered into the black.’
2. Protagonist Dr. Ryan Stone, even before gaining her traditionally-male name, was always going to be a woman.
3. The VFX artists had to take lessons in zero gravity physics in an attempt to overcome their Earth-gravity animation tendencies.
4. The filmmakers of course had to stray from reality a bit when it came to the costumes and props used by the astronauts. Their suits, for example, had to be designed in a way that allowed the actors to reach their hands above their heads, something that isn’t possible in a NASA space suit.
5. Only the actors’ faces were filmed practically. Everything else seen on screen was computer generated. Thus, one could almost argue that Gravity is an animated film.
6. Lighting the actors by traditional means was foreseen as problematic. The cinematographer found inspiration for his solution at a concert.
7. Sometimes more than one take was spliced together into a single unbroken shot to create a performance that was, in one way or another, better than any individual take.
8. The stars seen in Gravity’s space consist of the 120,000 stars that are most visible from Earth. 120,000 wasn’t enough to accurately fill the frame, however, so some artistic liberties were taken. The effects artists replicated those 120,000 true-to-life stars several times over in order to blanket the screen. They were working with 3 million stars in the end. Efforts were also made to show the appropriate stars in relation to where the characters were in space and where the camera was pointing.
9. It took 10-15 hours, sometimes even longer, for the computers to render a single frame of the film.
10. Upon completion, a visual effects producer pointed out something he found cool about Gravity: it’s a film that can be viewed from any position (on your side, upside down, etc.) and still look ‘right.’ When putting that theory to practice, director Alfonso Cuarón liked the effect so much that he decided it needed to be applied to the first six minutes of the movie. So halfway through the 12-minute long extended opening shot, during which there would be no cuts, the film had to be rotated 180 degrees. Simulating the camera’s smooth rotation at that point in time resulted in a need to re-render the entire opening... a three-month process. “And I guess that’s the reason why they don’t like me to see the film again,” said Cuarón.
11. Every visor of the astronauts’ helmets was a digital creation. Of course, the reflections on those visors were CG as well.
12. In the above shot, Sandra Bullock was locked into place on a bicycle seat thanks to a few straps secured around one of her legs. That leg had to be digitally removed and recreated. So the leg you see on the far side of Sandra is actually fake.
13. Surround sound design was used not just for things like ambient noises and character dialogue, but for the music as well. Different elements of the score would come from different places in a surround sound environment. If you see debris flying from one side of the screen across to the other, then maybe the intense music follows that trajectory across your speakers.
14. At the end of the movie, Dr. Stone’s capsule lands in a lake. You might think ‘oh, she’s on Earth, not in space, so they could finally film a sequence containing no CGI!” Not the case. The underwater scene was all computer generated (aside from Sandra Bullock swimming around). The scene on the surface of the water was actually filmed at Lake Powell, which is completely brown. All of the greenery was added in post production.
15. OH MY GOD. They actually filmed in space! Well okay, they obviously didn’t film in space... BUT OH MY GOD they actually inserted a pair of astronaut filmmakers into one of the shots. Brilliant. According to Alfonso Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is the cameraman seen in the visor's reflection and the director is holding the boom mic.
16. Finally, when prompted during a Reddit Ask Me Anything, Cuarón had this to say about an ending he’d considered that had Dr. Stone not surviving: “We had an alternative ending in which after landing on Earth, Ryan will get back on her feet and as she's walking away Matt Kowalski falls from the sky and crashes her to death. And then cut to black. Create scroll in silence.”
Source: Blu-ray special features