space

The Evolution of Space Movies

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July 20 marks the 48th anniversary of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon — prompting the well known quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But that wasn’t the first or last time that space played a major role in motion pictures.

Today, we’ll look at some significant moments for space in film, beginning with the New York Film Academy itself.

In celebration of the 48th anniversary and the launch of JSWT, here’s a list of space movies in Hollywood and how they’ve evolved over the years.

“Apollo 13” (1995)

Ron Howard directed the 1995 docudrama space adventure, “Apollo 13,” featuring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. The film dramatizes the 1970 mission for American’s third Moon landing. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise aborted the mission, after an on-board explosion left the astronauts without most of their oxygen supply and electric power.

“Apollo 13” was considered a technically accurate movie—Howard sought NASA’s assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for the cast. Howard even had permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to give a more realistic feel to the movie.

The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound.

“Mission to Mars” (2000)

“Mission to Mars,” directed by Brian De Palma, takes place in 2020 when a manned Mars exploration mission goes wrong. An American astronaut, played by Gary Sinise, coordinates a rescue mission to save those who were on the exploration missions.

The film employed special effects that involved the NASA spacecraft and Martian vortex, which were created by various digital effects companies. More than 400 technicians were involved in the production of special effects, which ranged from visuals to miniatures, and animation.

“Gravity” (2013)

 

What happens when a space shuttle is destroyed after mid-orbit destruction? Director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 movie, “Gravity.” Sandra Bullock and George Clooney portray two American astronauts who are stranded in space and can’t return home because of their damaged space shuttle.

The cinematography, musical score, Bullock’s performance, visual effects, and the use of 3D all contributed to the critics’ positive reviews. “Gravity” received 10 Academy Award nominations and won seven, and was awarded six BAFTA Awards.

“Interstellar” (2014)

“Interstellar” is a movie focusing on the survival of mankind—a team of astronauts travel through a wormhole to find a new planet that can sustain human life. The science fiction film was directed, co-written, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. The movie’s cast included Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, and Michael Caine.

The film was shot on 35 mm in anamorphic format and IMAX 70 mm in Alberta, Iceland, and Los Angeles. Extensive practical and miniature effects were used in the film, and Double Negative created additional effects.

“Interstellar” won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Production Design.  

“The Martian” (2015)

Matt Damon portrays a stranded astronaut in the 2015 film, “Martian,” directed by Ridley Scott and based on Andy Weir’s novel, “The Martian.” The film follows Damon, whose character is presumed dead and left behind on Mars, and struggles to survive while others attempt to rescue him.

Twenty sets were built on a soundstage in Budapest, Hungary, and Wadi Rum, Jordan was also used as a backdrop for filming. The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and nominated for seven Academy Awards.

NYFA & NASA

Did you know the New York Film Academy has worked with NASA?

In 2014, the New York Film Academy collaborated with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help raise awareness for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

NYFA, NASA, and Northrop Grumman used visual storytelling to give the audience insight into the development of JWST. The telescope is scheduled for completion and launch in 2018 — and JWST will replace the famous Hubble Space Telescope. New technology will allow scientists to continue studying galaxies, the formation of stars and planets, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Do you have a favorite movie about space? Let us know below! Learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

Ways to Create Space When Filming in a Small Area

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If you’re having trouble making a confined area appear larger when filming in a small area, you’re not alone; professional filmmakers also find themselves returning to the drawing board when attempting to create space and illustrate depth and scale in a small area. And even with all the fancy CGI and other advanced technology at their disposal, filmmakers often choose to rely on techniques that have been around for almost as long as cinematography itself.

Below are some of the ways you can make your small space feel much grander and make the most out of a limited area — so that you’re not forced to cut any awesome ideas you had in mind. With enough practice, soon you’ll also have an eye for making even a tiny room appear bigger.

DEEP SPACE

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One of the oldest tricks in the book for creating the illusion of depth is called deep space, and can be used to trick the audience’s brain into imagining that the space is deeper than it actually is. Why do we use the word “trick?” Because any screen you are looking at, whether it’s a movie screen, a computer, or your handheld device, the image has height and width but there is no depth. The audiences’ eyes are always focused on the surface of the screen. Depth is an illusion created by photography. But in the look of “deep space,” we are doing everything possible to enhance this illusion.

Here are a number of things you can do to create deep space:

1. Use wide-angle lenses.

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Wide-angle lenses expand space, while telephoto lenses compress space. By using the wide-angle lens, we can create the illusion that the space is much deeper than it actually is. The wider the lens, the deeper the space.

2. Use high number F. stops.

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Using the higher number F. stops (f. 11, f. 22, f. 32) when exposing your image, will dramatically increase your depth of field.  Depth of field is a technical term used to describe how much of the image is in focus. We can have everything in the frame from three inches to infinity in focus or we can shrink depth of field so that someone’s eyes are in focus and the tip of their nose is out of focus. By using high f. stops, we can put the background into focus; the audience will be more likely to look at it. And when they do, their brains will be fooled into thinking that they are refocusing from the foreground to the background and back again, heightening the illusion of depth.

3. Stage your actors perpendicular to the flat picture plane.

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By staging one of your actors in the foreground and another in the background, the audience will be fooled into imagining that they are looking into the distance of the shot.

4. Move your actors perpendicular to the flat picture plane.

Watching the actors move toward or away from the camera will reinforce the illusion of depth in your shot.

5. Move the camera perpendicular to the flat picture plane.

Moving the camera into or out of the shot, even slightly, is like taking the audience by the hand and leading them through the space, giving the depth more credibility.

6. Light with shadow.

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Shadow is something our brains use to determine the depth of objects. Just imagine if I drew a circle on the page. It would appear flat. But as soon as I began to shade it, the circle would have the illusion of a third dimension. So use light to create shadow on your actors and your set, to reveal the contours and depth of your image.

7. Place bright objects in the foreground and keep the background dark.

Bright objects have the illusion of advancing, while dark objects have the illusion of receding. By placin actors in bright costumes, against dark backgrounds, we can enhance the illusion of depth.

8. Place warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background.

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Just like bright and dark objects, colors have a similar effect. Warm colors have the optical illusion of advancing, while cool colors have the illusion of receding. So by placing actors in warm colored costumes against cool colored backgrounds, we can, once again, enhance the illusion of depth.

A SIMPLE TRICK FOR DEALING WITH EXTREMELY SMALL SPACES

This all sounds good, doesn’t it? But what if you’re shooting in a really small space, say a bedroom in a typical student apartment. It’s probably the size of a closet! Perhaps the room is so small, you can’t even get the camera inside it. Some cameras are large. If you throw in the tripod, assuming you’re using one, you might find that you’ve taken up 2-3 feet just with the camera. In addition, some lenses have a minimum focusing distance. In other words, even after squeezing the camera into the room, you can’t get far enough away from your subject to focus on it.

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Well, here’s a handy guerilla shooting technique: shoot into a mirror. That’s right. Get a mirror and mount it on the wall and back your camera away. By doing this you can effectively double your distance from your actor. If the mirror is 3 feet from the actor and the camera is 3 feet from the mirror, you’re now 6 feet away from the actor. This means you can use a longer lens if you choose and solve that tricky problem of minimum focus distances. Of course, your image will be flipped left to right. But if that bothers you, you can always flip it back again in the editing room. Naturally, the better the mirror, the less likely you’ll have ripple distortion in the reflected image.  

What’s your favorite trick for capturing expansive footage in a small space? Let us know in the comments below!