Gravity Defies All Odds

By Shakala Alvaranga 3-1-14

Neil Corbould Special Effects Artist
Neil Corbould Special Effects Artist

Special effects veteran Neil Corbould has been working in film for over thirty years. A glance at the 1978 Superman set was all it took for Corbould to realize he wanted to work in the movie industry. Since then, he has worked on several successful films including Saving Private RyanBlack Hawk Down, and Gladiator. One of his most rewarding ones, though, may be a film he’s been working on for the past two and half years: Gravity.

It is no surprise that the visual effects department of Gravity played a crucial role in the creation of the 2014 Best Picture nominee. After several trials and tests, Corbould and his team dissected frame by frame how he would make the film. Director Alfonso Cuaron challenged himself and his team to make the imaginable a reality. “It was quite hard because he is a very passionate director and he’s a perfectionist as well,” Corbould says. “He won’t take no for an answer.”

Gravity’s visual effects department had to find a balance between computer generated effects and what they wanted to be real. “A lot of it was CG, but having that practical element and being able to spin their bodies to make it look like they were spinning through space really added to the feel of the movie and made it a realistic,” Corbould says. “If they had on CG faces, I don’t think it would have had the same impact.

The groundbreaking special effects were part due to the 12-wire rig Corbould and the department created. “I think it was just a new way of thinking, thinking outside the box,” he says. The 12-wire rig suspended actress Sandra Bullock and allowed her to fly around in 3D space. They also constructed a tilt plus rig that flipped Bullock and actor George Clooney around inside a “light box”. The 20-foot tall light box created the illusion of spinning in space without actually spinning the actors. Fixed with 4,096 LED bulbs, the LED panels changed at any speed and lit both actors. Corbould says both Bullock and Clooney did a fantastic job at making their rigs look easy. “They’re actually in motion and their strapped to the confined rigs and to give a performance on top of that is amazing.”
In Gravity, Bullock plays astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone who is drifted farther and farther into space after her shuttle is destroyed. With Clooney by her side, the two embark on an unforgettable heart-pounding thriller. Gravity is up for ten Oscar nominations this Sunday including Best Director, Best Visual Effects, and Best Picture.