For director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), the new sci-fi thriller Gravity isn’t just another title on his already impressive résumé. It’s his shot at fulfilling a childhood dream. ”When I was a kid, my first choice of profession was to be an astronaut, before I decided to become a filmmaker,” says the native of Mexico City. ”I grew up with the Apollo program, the landing on the moon. It’s something that is very dear to me.”
Shooting Gravity didn’t actually take Cuarón into orbit — but it did bring him to the frontiers of moviemaking. To tell the story of a first-time astronaut (Sandra Bullock) who is marooned in space after a mishap separates her from her co-pilot (George Clooney), Cuarón knew that the bulk of the movie would have to take place in zero gravity. And hoisting his stars up on cables just wasn’t going to cut it with modern audiences. ”When you’re using wires, you’re limited by the axis of the wire. And also by how long an actor can be upside down without seeing the strain on their face,” says Cuarón, who used as little wirework as possible for the film. ”It’s not very performance-friendly.” Instead, the director invented a system of motion-tracking lights and cameras — attached to the kind of robotic arms used in car manufacturing — to create the illusion of weightlessness on screen. ”When the actor is floating and spinning around, we want the audience to feel they are floating and spinning around too,” Cuarón says. In other words: Prepare for liftoff.