Documentary Filmmaking World Fairs and Expos

Christopher Chapman: Oscar winner made “A Place to Stand” for Expo 67

Expo 67, like the 1964 World’s Fair was a hot bed of film technology innovation. I already did one post on Charles and Ray Eames at the 1964 World’s Fair, now here is a story about Christopher Chapman. His film A Place to Stand was a big influence on many filmmakers including Norman Jewison director of The Thomas Crown Affair. Along with Haskell Wexler ASC (top right with me) and Pablo Ferro they created some memorable sequences. Art of the Title has great videos from this film. Pablo Ferro designed these five split screen sequences to highlight simultaneous actions and precise synchronization of a heist. Click here for more


From The Globe and Mail.

Ontario is Canada’s most populous region, covering an area bigger than France and Great Britain combined, but when IMAX was introduced at Expo 67, Christopher Chapman fit the province into just 18 minutes.


He made some 40 films for television, the National Film Board, movie theatres, tourism organizations, science centres and international expositions. But none proved as unforgettable or as influential as A Place to Stand, which he made without a script for the Ontario government to showcase the splendours of his native province. At Expo 67, in Montreal, it was projected in 70 mm on a screen measuring 20 metres by 9 metres, using nine synchronized projectors – the beginning of Imax technology.

Every part of the giant screen was alive with moving images of the landmarks, industry, waterways, wildlife, culture and people of the province, seen through what appeared to be shifting windows of varying sizes against a black background. Mr. Chapman, who died in a long-term care facility in Uxbridge, Ont., on Oct. 24, called his technique multiple dynamic imaging.

At Expo, where it was screened continuously, A Place to Stand was seen by two million viewers; after the fair, the film ran in the United States, Europe and in other Canadian cities, seen by 100 million people. Today it is being rediscovered by a new generation on YouTube.

People of a certain age can still sing its earworm title song, composed by Dolores Claman with lyrics by Richard Morris:

Give us a place to stand

And a place to grow

And call this land


A place to stand!

A place to grow!


The film collected dozens of awards, including the 1968 Academy Award for best live-action short subject, and an Etrog, the equivalent Canadian prize.

Fame never went to Mr. Chapman’s head; he said all he had wanted was to make people feel good. Visitors to his Uxbridge home in later years report seeing his Oscar statuette used as a doorstop.

“As a young filmmaker, I was inspired by Christopher Chapman,” says Michael Hirsh, who went on to co-found the Toronto animation company Nelvana and is now vice-chairman of DHX Media. “He was a great visual storyteller and made excellent use of the screen. Many of my friends at the time were also inspired by him to enter the film industry.”

He points out that Mr. Chapman was not a true documentarian but a maker of “very successful promotional films” using nature, comparable to the uplifting mountain films of 1930s German director Leni Riefenstahl.

Christopher Martin Chapman was born into a tumultuous household in Toronto on Jan. 24, 1927, along with his fraternal twin, Francis. Their mother, Doris Chapman, was a concert pianist and their father, Alfred Chapman, an architect who designed the city’s central public library at the corner of Beverley and College streets, now part of the University of Toronto. The twins were preceded by four elder siblings, Philippa, Howard, Robert and Sally. Another brother, named Julian, did not survive infancy.

The twins wanted only to be together, but Francis was soon judged to have a brilliant intellect and put into a special class, then sent to the elite University of Toronto Schools; eventually he studied at the Sorbonne. Christopher’s giftedness was harder to classify and he ended up in a vocational stream that did not lead to university. He learned paper engineering, a craft that produces paper models used for advertising and pop-up books.

Always interested in cars, he approached several automobile manufacturers when he was in his early 20s, with ideas for improving their products. He landed a job with the Ford Motor Co. in England, where he spent a year on headlight design. After returning to Toronto, he purchased a movie camera and taught himself to use it. His family owned land on Lake Simcoe and he moved to an unwinterized cabin there, getting his drinking water from the frozen lake, while filming the changes around him. The result was The Seasons (1954), a wordless short that won an award as film of the year and launched his true career.

More films about the wilderness followed, including Quetico (1958) about the provincial park and Saguenay (1962) made for Alcan. For the National Film Board he made Magic Molecule (1964) and The Persistent Seed (1964) before submitting a proposal for a technically daring film to be seen at Expo, initially at the Bell pavilion. It was rejected.

A year later, when Ontario’s bureaucrats discovered the province’s Expo project had not moved forward, somebody remembered Mr. Chapman’s proposal and invited him to adapt it for the province in the 18 months that remained till opening day – it was, he later said, a “technical nightmare.”

Mr. Chapman knew he wanted to use what are called travelling mattes. It was not a new technique – D.W. Griffith used it clumsily in his silent 1915 epic Birth of a Nation, and in France, Georges Méliès experimented with it – but no one had done it right.

The technique involves short lengths of film simultaneously running behind mattes, within the openings created by animators through masking the unused portions of the frame. As many as six tracks of film may be combined into a single frame.

Mr. Chapman criss-crossed the province with a 35 mm camera, shooting a total of 160,000 feet of film, from which he selected the most eloquent moments on two Moviola editing machines. (Some film was shot by David Mackay of TDF, the ad company the government had hired to stick-handle the project.) He then worked out the film’s story board.

His sister-in-law Penny Grey, who later worked with him, recalls that he had a prodigious visual memory and could remember everything he had shot.

The film scholar Aimée Mitchell, who examined Mr. Chapman’s 350-page editing book, writes in a recently published study, Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67 (edited by Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault) that he “laid out on the gridded pages … the positions of numbered images, the timing of their appearance and disappearance from view, and their movement within and across the frame. Each page is accompanied by notes and instructions.” With his technical supervisor, Barry Gordon, he then took all the notes and pieces of film to the only place capable of doing the final assemblage: the Todd-AO studio in Hollywood.

There word spread fast about the unorthodox Canadian filmmaker. One of the people who shook his hand and congratulated him after an early in-house screening was the actor Steve McQueen, who became a friend.

His deadline was fast approaching, leaving only two weeks for Dolores Claman to write the music and have it performed and recorded by a symphony orchestra and choir. The song’s theme had been suggested by David Mackay, based on a quote by the great ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.”

If placed sequentially, the film clips in A Place to Stand would take 90 minutes to view, instead of 18 minutes. It is this condensation that gives the film its thrilling drive. Mr. Chapman’s dynamic technique was immediately borrowed by director Norman Jewison for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), starring Mr. McQueen; it was used in the opening sequence of the 1970s sitcom The Brady Bunch; and it was used in The Boston Strangler (1968) and the disaster film Airport (1970). Today digital technology has made the effect much easier to accomplish.

After his Oscar, Mr. Chapman refused many invitations to work in Hollywood, according to his wife, Glen Chapman: “He was a very Canadian boy – he wanted to stay in Canada,” she said in an interview.

After much persuasion, he agreed to work with Broadway producer Gower Champion on a backdrop film for the musical Happy Times, but it was not a success. The show’s star, Robert Goulet, hated the film, which he felt upstaged him.

Among his later works were the Imax films Volcano, shot in Iceland, and Toronto the Good, both made in 1973; Saskatchewan: Land Alive (1980); Kelly (1981) made for Famous Players and his only feature film; and several 3-D films, one shown at Science North in Sudbury, another at the science museum in Chicago, another at Parc Astérix, near Paris – all made with his brother Francis, who became a CBC producer. Francis was particularly adept at calculating the correct camera positions for 3-D filming. The brothers also collaborated on A Sense of Humus (1976) for the NFB, a prescient film about organic farming.

In Mr. Chapman’s later years, until he began to develop dementia a dozen years ago, he took up still photography, producing dramatic large images of reflections on a lake.

Mr. Chapman served as president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and of the Directors Guild of Canada. He won many film awards and medals, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ryerson, and was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1987.

His first wife, Aljean Pert, whom he married in 1962, died of heart disease nine years later, leaving him to raise their young son, Julian. A year later he was introduced to Barbara Glen Kennedy, 18 years his junior, who then worked in public relations. They married in 1974 and lived and worked together until his death.

Mr. Chapman was predeceased by his elder siblings. Besides his wife, Glen, he leaves his twin brother, Francis; his son, Julian; and four grandchildren.

Making of A Place to Stand with Chris Chapman Expo 67

Chapman’s A Place to Stand was his first widely-promoted attempt to realize his multi-dynamic image approach. This is a fragment of the 70mmm film with sample images optically (photographically) printed as dynamic frames within the span of the 70mm frame.


The birth of A Place to Stand
By Chapman, Christopher
Pâquet, André (ed) How to make or not to make a Canadian film
(Montreal: La Cinémathèque canadienne, 1968)

The film for the Ontario Government at Expo 67 is for me the culmination of a desire I had some years ago to try a moving multiple screen technique. I had never seen it done but I, myself, had experimented with panning a projector over a very large screen and was fascinated by the viewer’s relationship to a panning camera and a panning screen.

In the conventional film for example, when viewing a pan across a landscape we watch the landscape move across a static screen. As soon as that screen moves with the pan we are watching a static landscape being revealed by a moving screen or “window”. While I did not explore this to any great extent in the Ontario film it was the basis for my direction of thought. It was this idea plus a dynamic screen technique (that I had heard of but not seen) that led me to explore the idea when I was originally making a presentation for the Telephone Association Pavilion at Expo 67. The dynamic screen consists of a matte covering the whole picture but allowing one part of the picture to be revealed through a “window”. This “window” would increase or decrease in size.

A phone call to a lab in Hollywood warned me against the dynamic screen technique as it had been a failure in its latest adoption. My concern was whether it was a failure due to technical difficulties or creative misuse. Later while already well into the Ontario film we saw a print of A Door in the Wall, using the dynamic screen, and it was clear that its failure was creative not technical.

When I was asked by David Mackay of TDF to produce and direct the Ontario film, there was no idea as to what the project involved. The only thing we knew was that we had to produce an unusual film in 18 months. My one desire then was to make a film that would give everyone as big boost and make them feel good, but it was not easy condensing Ontario – particularly a province that is so industrialized.

There was no script. Time would have been required to develop a definite theme idea but time was extremely limited. Out of our discussion emerged the dynamic-multiple screen concept that I had long dreamed of. The key was a gigantic flat screen – a “mural” surface that one really could move upon and break up with multiple images.

Barry Gordon, whom I had requested to be technical producer for the film, immediately set off for Hollywood to discover whether the required complicated processing could be done.

Shooting on location was exploring completely new territory. An early mistake was making the shots I wanted to retain on the screen through a complete sequence of events, too short. The movement of the camera and the action within the frame had to be considered in a new way, which in documentary shooting is not always possible. I had to consider less interesting shots or deliberately make a shot less interesting. Such a shot might be an important element in a sequence but not the dominant one. A multiple of equally interesting shots might confuse the audience. Shots that I used to look at as normal academy frame proportions I now looked at with an eye to vertical frames and horizontal frames, odd frames, small frames and large frames.

Since access to a 70 mm camera [sic] was impossible due to lack of time, another difficulty encountered was deciding, through consultation with Barry Gordon, whether a shot would retain its clarity when blown up to 70 mm. Blowing up 35 mm to such as screen as 66′ x 30′ which is the Pavilion screen, meant a very great stretch and not very many shots could stand it. This meant I would shoot a full screen landscape as 2 divided screens, which to me was unsatisfactory. Going to 3 or 4 composite screens was not the same problem as I used these as part of the design format.

180,000 feet of film were shot. Some additional footage of material I had not time to shoot myself was shot by David Mackay, using TDF cameramen. After completely familiarising myself with the footage, I worked out a storyboard of the entire film. Although it was theoretical, it did give me an impression of how the subject matter could be structured. I then had to devise my own charts as did Barry Gordon who translated my charts into his own lab charts in a language that the lab could comprehend. The lab was most impressed with the clarity of Barry Gordon’s technical instructions.

To edit the film I had a 2 picture head moviola which was the closest one could get to visualising the results. One could only use it to compare actions of any 2 shots at one time and designate the length of shots. In normal film editing, one works with the actual footage and soon discovers that frame or two on any shot can make a difference in rhythm. With the Ontario film I could never “see” the film develop. The charts indicated the movement of the shots. Because of the shortage in time their could be no changes in structure in any of the sequences once they returned from the lab. It was a tremendous discipline for me, for once I had made a creative decision, I could not change my mind. The entire concept of development therefore, was on paper in chart form.

Ken Heely-Ray of ADS (formerly of the NFB) laid the extremely complicated 6 tracks of film effects and music. It took 6 days to mix the 6 tracks at Todd-A-O in Hollywood.

When all the sequences of the film were finally assembled after 4 months of optical work, there were 2 days to assemble them, see the completed film for the first time and return it to the lab for final processing. This gave the composer Dolores Claman 2 weeks to write the musical score which was arranged by Jerry Toth. The basis of the song “A Place to Stand” was suggested by David Mackay from a quotation of Archimedes, and the lyrics were written by Richard Morris.

I am very grateful to the Commissioner of the Ontario Pavilion, J.W. Ramsay who, although he must have been anxious at many turning points, particularly since we were delving into such an unknown area of film, never once interfered in content, direction or completion. David Mackay of TDF also allowed me complete freedom, leaving all decisions to me. I feel that great deal of the film’s success is due to this trust.

The film was conceived as a mural or painting would be. Its development was very personal, consequently it has the bad and the good of a single concept. My own connection with the film now is only through the audience. Perhaps some day I will view it unattached.

More here.


Cinematography Technology VFX

VFX Legend Douglas Trumbull talks about the Future of Film … and Kubrick.

From the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Trumbull drives me a short distance from his home to a full-size soundstage and escorts me into a screening room that he has constructed to meet his ideal specifications: a wide wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling curved screen, with surround sound, steeply rigged stadium seating and a 4K high-resolution projector. As I put on specially designed 3D glasses and settle into stadium seating, he tells me, with an unmistakable hint of nervousness, “You’re one of the first people on the planet to see this movie.”

Ten minutes later, the lights come back up and I sit in stunned silence. The short that I have just seen, UFOTOG (a blending of the words “UFO” and “fotog,” the latter slang for press photographer), is stunning not because of its story — we’ve all seen movies about UFOs — but because it shows, as it was designed to do, what movies can look like if theaters, studios and filmmakers embrace the MAGI process through which Trumbull brought it to the screen: bigger, brighter, clearer and with greater depth-of-field than anything ever seen in a cinema before.

All of the aforementioned conditions are part of the MAGI equation, but the most essential element is the rate of frames per second at which a film is projected. In the beginning, the Lumiere brothers projected films at 18 fps, slow enough to result in the appearance of flickering —  hence the early nickname for the movies, “the flickers” or “the flicks.” That figure eventually increased to 24 fps, and has remained there, for the most part, ever since.

In 2012, Peter Jackson dared to release The Hobbit‘s first installment at 48 fps, which was supposed to create a heightened sense of realism, but which instead struck many as strange-looking and some even as nauseating. Many deemed the experiment a failure. Trumbull disagreed. He felt that if a digitally shot film was projected even faster — markedly faster, as in 120 fps, via a bright projector and onto a big screen — then the movie screen itself would seemingly disappear and serve effectively as a window into a world on the other side that would appear as real as the world in which one sits.


To the Moon and Beyond featured a 70 mm circular image projected onto a dome screen and took viewers on a journey “from the Big Bang to the microcosm in 15 minutes.” Two of the thousands who saw it were Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker, and Arthur C. Clarke, the writer, who came away from it convinced that an A-level sci-fi film — which eventually became 2001: A Space Odyssey — was possible. Kubrick contracted Graphic Films to produce conceptual designs for the project, but, once it got off the ground, moved it to London, at which point 23-year-old Trumbull cold-called the director and got a job on the film. His greatest contribution to it was devising a way to create a believable “Star Gate” effect, representing “the transformation of a character through time and space to another dimension.” Even though Kubrick alone claimed screen credit and an Oscar for the film’s VFX, Trumbull instantly became a name in the business.


A few years later, he made his directorial debut with Silent Running (1972), a well-received film that landed him deals at Fox, MGM and Warner Bros. — but all of them “unraveled for stupid reasons.” By 1975, “desperate because you can’t live on development deals,” he and Richard Yuricich proposed the creation of the Future General Corporation, through which they would try to identify ways to improve the technology used to make films. Paramount agreed to sponsor the endeavor — which, to them, was a tax write-off — in return for 80 percent ownership. Within the first nine months of its existence, Trumbull says, “We invented Showscan [a manner of projecting films at 60 fps]. We invented the first simulator ride. We invented the 3D interactive videogame. And we invented the Magicam process [by which actors can perform in front of a blue screen, onto which nonexistent locations can be projected to create virtual realities].” And yet, in the end, Paramount “saw no future in the future of movies” and failed to support their efforts, devastating Trumbull, who was under exclusive contract to the studio for the next six years. (The studio’s one gesture that he did appreciate: loaning him out to Columbia to do the special effects for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)

Trumbull got out of his Paramount contract in 1979 thanks to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The original effects team that had been engaged for the highly anticipated film couldn’t handle the job, something the studio realized only six months before its long-scheduled Christmas release date. The studio begged Trumbull to take over, and he agreed to do so — provided he was paid a considerable fee and released from his contract. He got what he requested and, to the detriment of his health, also got the job done on time.

Newly a free agent, Trumbull continued to take on special effects jobs for others — for instance, Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner (1982) — but his primary focus was on directing a film of his own that would demonstrate the capabilities of Showscan. For the project, which he called Brainstorm, he secured a top-notch cast, led by Natalie Wood, and a major distributor, MGM. Production got underway and was almost completed when, on Nov. 29, 1981, tragedy struck: Wood drowned under circumstances that remain mysterious to this day. Since Wood had only a few small scenes left to shoot, Trumbull felt that he could easily finish the film, but MGM, which was in dire financial straits, filed what he deemed a “fraudulent insurance claim” because “they wanted to get out of it.”

Doug Trumbull on motion simulator base for “In Search of the Obelisk” (1993) VistaVision ridefilm at the Luxor Las Vegas.
Doug Trumbull on motion simulator base for “In Search of the Obelisk” (1993) VistaVision ridefilm at the Luxor Las Vegas.

Photo courtesy of Mice Chat.

Then, in 1990, he was approached about making a Back to the Future ride for Universal Studios venues in Florida, Hollywood and Japan. Others had been unable to conquer it, but he made it happen — and in a groundbreaking way: “It took you out of your seat and put you into the movie. You were in a DeLorean car. You became Marty McFly. You became a participant in the movie. The movie was all around you.” It ran for 15 years, he says, but was “dismissed as a theme park amusement.” He felt it was something more. “This was a moment where, for the first time in history, you went inside a movie.” Even though others failed to see larger possibilities, he says, “That kinda kept me going for a long time because it validated that we could be here in the Berkshires and make breakthroughs that no one else was able to do in Hollywood or anywhere else.”

In 2009, James Cameron‘s Avatar, a digitally shot 3D production that grossed a record $2.8 billion worldwide, changed everything. Its success spurred, at long last, filmmakers to transition en masse to digital photography and theaters to transition en masse to digital projection — at which point Trumbull made a crucial discovery. He realized that digital projectors run at 144 fps — twice as fast as Showscan had been able to — but films were still being made at 24 fps, with each frame just flashing multiple times. “Could we do a new frame every flash?” he wondered. If so, he reasoned, it might just give people a reason to put down their smartphones, tablets and laptops and actually buy a ticket to see a movie in a theater.

After years of work on his farm, Trumbull is finally ready to unveil UFOTOG. Its first public presentation will take place on Sept. 11 as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Future of Cinema conference (at which Trumbull will also give a keynote address), and it will also screen days later at the IBC Conference in Amsterdam. At both venues, he says, his message will be rather straightforward: “It’s not rocket science, guys. It’s just a different shape, a different size, a different brightness and a different frame rate. Abandon all that crud that’s leftover from 1927. We’re in the digital age. Get with it.”

The cost of these changes, he insists, will be rather negligible: projectors are already equipped to handle faster frame rates, and would require only slightly more data time and render time; theaters are already adopting brighter projectors that employ laser illumination, which uses a longer-lasting bulb to produce twice the amount of light; and theaters, he believes, will soon recognize that they are in the “real estate business” and that it is in their interest to have fewer total screens but more big screens, for which the public has demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium.

Trumbull’s main objective, though, is “to show the industry what it is possible to do” with MAGI. He says he’s “dying to show” UFOTOG to filmmakers such as Jackson, Cameron and Christopher Nolan, whom he regards as kindred souls. But mostly, he wants to challenge the industry one more time, warning it, “If you want people to come to theaters, you better do something different.”

Animation Dolby

Dolby Presents: Silent, a Short Film

The recent Oscar telecast made me think again how fast things change. It wasn’t that long ago that the Dolby Theatre was called the Kodak Theatre. I just read that IMAX theaters in Los Angeles are switching to laser projection. Even the Chinese Theatre is going with the IMAX Experience. Technology has certainly changed film making as we knew it, (and caused me to start this blog).

Anyway, Dolby released a short about film sound and I thought it would be nice to show it and the “making of” that goes with it. “Silent” reminds me of Disney’s film Paperman.

“Silent” is an animated short film created by Academy Award® winning Moonbot Studios. It celebrates how storytellers, inventors, and technology work together to create cinema magic.
The story follows two street performers who dream of bringing their “Picture and Sound Show” to life. When they discover a magical contraption inside an old theatre, they embark on a cinematic adventure of sight and sound to find the audience they always wanted.

Dolby Presents: Silent, a Short Film from Dolby Laboratories on Vimeo.

Dolby Silent – The Making Of from Dolby Laboratories on Vimeo.



Cinematography Oscars

Congratulations to Alfonso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki.


Great minds think alike.

Facing the Void. From American Cinematographer.

The 3-D feature is enhanced by long takes and fluid camerawork that immerse the viewer in the beautiful but dangerous environment of space with a groundbreaking level of realism and detail. It is the fruit of a five-year collaboration involving director Alfonso Cuarón; cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC, AMC; visual-effects supervisor Tim Webber, and their talented teams. Longtime friends Cuarón and Lubezki have worked together on six features to date, including Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men (AC Dec. ’06). Webber supervised visual effects on the latter.


The technical and aesthetic accomplishments of Gravity become all the more impressive when Lubezki reveals that the only real elements in the space exteriors are the actors’ faces behind the glass of their helmets. Everything else in the exterior scenes — the spacesuits, the space station, the Earth — is CGI. Similarly, for a scene in which a suit-less Stone appears to float through a spaceship in zero gravity, Bullock was suspended from wires onstage, and her surroundings were created digitally. (Most of the footage in the space capsules was shot with the actors in a practical set.)


In many ways, Gravity provides a new paradigm for the expanding role of the cinematographer on films with significant virtual components. By all accounts, Lubezki was deeply involved in every stage of crafting the real and computer-generated images. In addition to conceiving virtual camera moves with Cuarón, he created virtual lighting with digital technicians, lit and shot live action that matched the CG footage, fine-tuned the final rendered image, supervised the picture’s conversion from 2-D to 3-D, and finalized the look of the 2-D, 3-D and Imax versions. “I was doing my work as a cinematographer on Gravity,” says Lubezki. “In the process, I had to learn to use some new tools that are part of what cinematography is becoming. I found it very exciting.”


Cuarón notes that whenever he was tempted “to do a camera move just because it was cool, Chivo would not allow that to happen.” He cites the example of the opening take, which ends with Stone drifting away toward open space. “When we were doing the previs, as she started floating away, I said, ‘We don’t need to cut. We can keep following her in the same shot, so the first two shots would be just one shot.’ But Chivo said, ‘I think when she’s floating away is the perfect moment to cut. If this were the chapter of a book, this would be the last phrase of the chapter.’ And he was right. Otherwise, we would have started calling attention to the long take and creating an expectation that that’s what the film was about. But that’s not what it’s about. The camerawork serves … I don’t want to say it serves the story, because I have my problems with that. For me, the story is like the cinematography, the sound, the acting and the color. They are tools for cinema, and what you have to serve is cinema, not story.”


Lubezki shot most of the live-action material in the film with Arri Alexa Classics and wide Arri Master Prime lenses, recording in the ArriRaw format to Codex recorders; the package was supplied by Arri Media in London. (Panavision London provided a Primo Close Focus lens that was used for a single shot.) He filmed a scene set on Earth on 65mm, using an Arri 765 and Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, to provide a visual contrast to the rest of the picture.


The robot arm was originally designed to assemble cars, according to Webber. He explains that Warner Bros. executive Chris DeFaria read about a San Francisco design-and-engineering studio, Bot & Dolly, which had used the arms to move a camera. Webber adds that the production worked with Bot & Dolly to add increased flexibility to the system, including the ability to adjust the speed of the preprogrammed moves so they could be adapted to the actors’ performances. To create even more options, they added a special remote head that was manned by camera operator Peter Taylor. Based on a Mo-Sys head, this remote unit was adapted to make it smaller and lighter, partly so that it would block less light. It could be operated live or set to play preprogrammed moves driven by the previs.


Gaffer John “Biggles” Higgins, who also worked with Lubezki on Children of Men, marvels that he has “never seen anything like the set of Gravity.” Apart from the LED Box, he notes, there were also other, slightly more traditional setups. For interiors of the space capsule as it hurtles to Earth, for instance, the filmmakers used an Alpha 4K HMI without its lens to simulate the sun, moving the source around the stationary capsule with a crane and a remote head. Higgins says they selected the Alpha because “it is the only head that can be operated shooting straight down.” He adds that Lubezki would provide ambient light by punching powerful tungsten 20Ks through 20’x 20′ frames, using two layers of diffusion, Half and Full Grid Cloth, as well as green and blue gels, to simulate sunlight. “These diffusions were mainly used on the real capsules,” explains Higgins. “The green and blue filters were stitched to the back of the closest diffusion, the 20-by-20 Full Grid.”


Full list of winners here