Virtual Lighting Key, Says ‘Gravity’ Lenser Lubezki

David Heuring
VarietyFebruary 12, 2014

It’s a delicious irony that “Gravity,” perhaps the most technologically complex cinematic undertaking of the year, was originally conceived as a return to simplicity.

“Four or five years ago, we planned on doing it in Europe with a tiny crew of just a few people,” says d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki. “It was geared to be cheap, with one or two great actors. The script was really brilliant and beautiful. We wanted it to be very simple.”

Of course the project evolved, and in the end required incredibly sophisticated technology, including a huge lightbox lined with more than 4,000 LED bulbs that projected images of space that were sometimes reflected in the shot. The box, cameras and images were all remotely controlled in precision choreography, at times seamlessly shifting from subjective to objective.

Lubezki says he took inspiration from the LED projections at a Peter Gabriel concert.

“Six months earlier, we could not have done this movie the way we did it,” he says. “Almost every piece of equipment that we used was either custom-made or just coming out on the market and in beta testing. It’s exciting but very scary because if something breaks, suddenly you have to stop production.”

The cameras he used were Arri Alexas, with Codex Digital Recorders ensuring the maximum amount of data was captured, resulting in greater flexibility in post.

“The amount of information and the quality of the information was far superior,” he says.

To an unprecedented extent, director Alfonso Cuaron depended on Lubezki’s talent and eye throughout the entire shoot, from previsualization through visual effects and post.“On ‘Gravity,’ a big part of my collaboration was to do the virtual lighting,” says Lubezki. “I was able to do all the lighting for the movie, and to collaborate on the framing and design of the shots. I was lucky to be included in the movie that way. And virtual lighting is not more or less than the conventional lighting we have always done. But it is every bit as important. Who better than a cinematographer to understand what light should be doing in a scene?”

Related stories

Chris Munro: A Filmmaker Who Specializes in Sound

Skip Lievsay: Double Nominee Wrings Feelings From Sound

'Gravity' Soared On the Wings of (Very) Busy Animators

Get more from Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Newsletter