2013’s Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, pushed the limits of CGI and forced cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to reconsider the way in which he projected his ideas onto the screen, in addition to how mood and emotion was seen in the film. With no obvious way to film on location, given the outer space setting, Lubezki had to resort to filming on set, using a number of long, sweeping shots that mashed together to resemble one continuous shot.
This helped keep the audience invested in the action, as Lubezki indicates:
“When you immerse the audience in those shots, how different emotions come out of that, as opposed to cut, cut, cut. When we are creating very long shots made with different elements, we learned how to stitch them together and how to keep the flow and rhythm.” (Tangcay, 2015).
Using a wide-angle lense, the opening scene begins with the ship of astronauts Kowalski and Stone (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, respectively) drifting into view as they begin work on the Hubble Telescope. The sweeping “elastic” shots, as explained by Lubezki, allow for an ease of change between a close-up, long shot and then another close-up, for example. It plays a significant role in the opening scene, as it allows us to see the scale of the operation and the size of space (and thus changing the sense of place in scene), but also get in close enough to see the emotion and reaction from both astronauts.
This style of lengthier cut was reflected throughout the entire film – with only around 200 cuts in previs animation, compared to the 2,000 on average a film would usually have. It provides a significant smoothness to the film in general but also allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the action.
The use of technology greatly influenced the colour palette on display in Gravity, too – creating a new rig nicknamed the “light box”, this large array of LED panels allowed for accurate reflection of lights in space, to be used on the astronauts’ helmets. This helped bring something of a finishing touch to the project as the pale blue glow of Earth was reflected in their helmets for story reasons.
The colour palette is combined in this particular shot with the frantic voiceover and the reflection of the planet in Ryan’s helmet, as well as the dark void of space behind her. This combination of colours and motion indicates the severity of the situation and changes the emotion and mood of the scene entirely. The depth of field is affected slightly too, as even though the void of space sees us focus on her already, Stone’s facial expression and especially the spinning reflection warrants singling out. This reflects a change in mood and emotion, as Ryan’s frantic flailing is the only other audio – space’s vacuum means there are little to no sound effects.
Tangcay, R. (2015.) Interview: Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki talks shooting The Revenant and Bear Attacks. Accessed 17th August, 2016. http://www.awardsdaily.com/2015/12/18/interview-cinematographer-emmanuel-lubezki-talks-shooting-the-revenant-and-bear-attacks/
Lang, B. (2013.) How ‘Gravity’ Revolutionised Visual Effects And Blasted Sandra Bullock Into Space. Accessed 17th August 2016. http://www.thewrap.com/how-gravity-revolutionize-visual-effects-and-sent-sandra-bullock-into-space/
Benjamin, B. (2013.) Facing the Void. The American Society of Cinematographers. Accessed 2nd August, 2016. https://www.theasc.com/ac_magazine/November2013/Gravity/page1.php