Brand New Set

There is a new set in town, baby, and, boy, is it amazing! I only just saw it for the first time last Friday… On the call sheets it’s called ‘Int-Stellar Bomb’- the interior of the Stellar Bomb.

Bomb_setIt’s a massive set- the biggest on the film- filled with an oil-like substance made by the Set Decorating Department. Obviously, oil itself wouldn’t be ideal on set, so they made it out of safe materials: cellulose, water and aniline dyes. They mixed it all together in different huge vats and then drizzled out the gloopy mixture to fill the entire set.

Running above the lake of oil are two catwalks on which the action takes place. I can’t tell you what ‘action’ exactly, but I can tell you that Cillian Murphy and Cliff Curtis were filming there yesterday, though the rest of the filming is going to be Cillian on his own.

We had some physicists come to visit last week- two of whom Cillian spent time with at CERN Particle Physics Lab in Geneva to prepare for his role. As we walked along the catwalks on the Stellar bomb set they said, ‘It’s just like being on shift’, because the set felt so similar to one of their experiments.

The inspiration for the ‘lake’ on this set was the Super-Kamiokande Neutrino detector in Japan. Of course, you all know that’s where they have been detecting and studying neutrinos. And, of course, you all know that neutrinos are produced in nuclear reactions in the Sun. Considering that several million billion neutrinos flew right through your head while you’ve been reading this sentence, one can only imagine how difficult it’s been to detect and study them…

Don’t Be Light

Shed some light on (a problem)

See the light

Light at the end of the tunnel

Bright idea

To be bright

I see what you mean

To see eye to eye

The answer flashed before his eyes

Mind’s eye

All of those little phrases have to do with knowledge, intelligence and the mind. Not surprisingly, the phrases which imply a lack of knowledge have to do with lack of light or an inability to see:

A shot in the dark

Remain in the dark

A shadow of doubt

A blind spot

A hazy notion

Even the period of time in our history which is considered to be an age of great ignorance and lacking great cultural and scientific achievements is called The Dark Ages.

In pre-classical Greek they used the same word, phaos or phos, for both ‘light’ and ‘eye’ and Aristotle considered the eyes to be the gateway to the intellect. Other ancient Greek words related to phaos and phos are: phantasia “appearance, image, perception, imagination,” phantazesthai “picture to oneself,” phantos “visible,” phainesthai “to imagine, have visions”.

Our words ‘fantasy’, ‘fantastic’, ‘phantom’, ‘phantasm’ – all of which have to do with ’seeing’ something in your mind- come from the Greek word for ‘light’.

Hey, we don’t even have to stick with the Greeks. In Latin, the word for light was lux or luc-. Today when we use the word lucid it can either mean, essentially, to be sane, or we can have a lucid dream, which is when we know we are dreaming. Sanity and the knowledge that we are experiencing a phantasm are all connected to ‘light’.

The metaphor that light is knowledge is as clear as day.

What is light though? What is this thing that we need in order to know, to understand, to… be?

Light is a particle known as a photon. It’s a wave of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength which is visible to the eye.

And if Sunshine is refracted through a prism, it is broken down into a rainbow.


Interview With The Bad Astronomer

One of the best astronomy websites out there is Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (2014 update: here is Phil’s old site). Phil is an actual, real-life professional astronomer who started Bad Astronomy in 1998 to right some wrongs about space science which he had noticed on TV and in films. He says, “As television and movies have become better and better at shaping our views of the world, it is becoming more and more important that we understand what it means to be scientific. Like it or not, those that understand science and technology will always have the advantage over those that don’t. If everyone had even a basic grasp of scientific principles, this planet would be a better place.”


I must point out that, contrary to what a non-science fan might think, Bad Astronomy is by no means dull or dry. Phil’s blog makes me laugh out loud and I can easily lose a couple hours (at least) on the messageboards which are as fun, funny and lively as any others out there, and more popular than most. One of my very favourite sections of Phil’s site, however, is the ‘Bad Movie’ page. Phil reviews films based on whether or not the astronomy contained in them is good or bad. Example: ‘Contact’: Good movie with basically good astronomy. ‘Men In Black’: Good movie with some bad astronomy. ‘Armageddon’: Just bad all around.

The other day I decided to Skype Phil to have a chat about Sci-Fi, bad movie science and travelling to the Sun…

Have a listen.

Space Food

The first person to eat in space was the first person to travel there… which was…. Anyone? Anyone?

Right. Yuri Gagarin.

During his 118 minute, one-orbit-around-the-Earth mission on the 12th of April, 1961, Gagarin experimented with eating solid, pasty and liquid foods as he remained in constant radio contact with the Earth. No one knew whether it would be possible to actually swallow in Zero G, they thought perhaps the food would catch in the throat. Yuri Gagarin, however, had no trouble eating, even though they evidently hadn’t thought of presentation when it came to preparing the meals.

Russian cosmonaut food from the 1970s. Photo from NASA.

Russian cosmonaut drink from the 1970s. Photo from NASA.
Russian cosmonaut coffee with milk from the 1970s. Photo from NASA.

Soon after Gagarin’s flight, the Americans were in space. Mercury astronauts were also confronted with unappetising meals made of bite-sized cubes, freeze dried foods, and semi-liquids in aluminium tubes. They reportedly had a difficult time rehydrating the foods, found the food-in-tubes unappealing and discovered that the crumbs from the bite-sized cubes were a threat to the on-board equipment.

Food kit used by Mercury astronauts. Included are packets of mushroom soup, orange-grapefruit juice, cocoa beverage, pineapple juice, chicken with gravy, pears, strawberries, beef and vegetables and other assorted food containers. Photo from NASA.

By the time of the Skylab missions in the early 70s, American space food was relatively sophisticated. Skylab had a freezer and a refrigerator, their food trays doubled as warming devices, they ate with a fork, knife and spoon (all of which were held to the tray by magnets when not being used) and they even had a dining table.

Skylab food. Out of tray, starting from bottom left: grape drink, beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef sandwiches and sugar cookie cubes, In tray, from back left: orange drink, strawberries, asparagus, prime rib, dinner roll and butterscotch pudding in the center. Photo from NASA.

The three members of the prime crew of the first manned Skylab mission dine on specially prepared Skylab space food in the wardroom of the crew quarters of the Skylab Orbital Workshop (OWS) trainer during Skylab training at the Johnson Space Center. They are, left to right, Scientist-Astronaut Joseph P. Kerwin, science pilot; Astronaut Paul J. Weitz, pilot; and Astronaut Charles Conrad Jr., commander. Photo from NASA.

These days eating in space is easy and routine. Meals take 30 minutes to an hour to prepare- some foods need only to be rehydrated using either hot or cold water produced by the Shuttle Orbiter’s fuel cells. Though they don’t have a freezer or refrigerator as Skylab did, they do have a forced air convection oven used to heat their meals. Their eating utensils include a fork, knife and spoon as well as a pair of scissors to cut open packages. They even have condiments- including mustard, ketchup, hot sauce and liquified salt and pepper.

Selection of food available on the ISS. Photo from NASA.

Mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka is using chopsticks to eat his meal on the middeck of the Discovery during the STS 51-C mission. A food tray is floating on his lap and another is attached to the middeck lockers. Photo from NASA.

In the future, on missions to Mars, extended stays on a Moon base, perhaps even a mission to the Sun, they will require a much wider variety of foods to prevent boredom with mealtimes and to discourage dangerous weight loss. Foods with an extremely long shelf life and high nutritional value, such as dried pulses, nuts and seeds, will be an absolute requirement.



Extended space missions will have to rely fairly heavily an advanced life support system in order to grow fresh food and to replenish oxygen supplies. Fresh fruit and vegetables not only enhance the flavour of meals in space, where often people’s sense of taste is dulled, but they contribute to the need for antioxidants which help to combat the effects of radiation.


A New Word

I’ve invented a new adjective. And I’m using it.

suttirat (soo’-tir-at) adj
1. Passionately concerned with details. I’m getting all suttirat about my photos.
2. Methodical in one’s approach. I need to be more suttirat in order to do it.
3. Generally just cool. That’s just so suttirat.

Suttirat Anne Larlarb is the Costume Designer on ‘Sunshine’. She’s in charge of everything that the actors wear- clothes, shoes, spacesuits, accessories, comms units.

Suttirat’s office walls are completely full of reference images- photos of astronauts, space suits from various eras, samurai warriors, club wear and bizarre dresses that even Isabella Blow would think were outrageous. There are even two pictures of lizards. Not sure what they are there for. She has several books filled with sketches of uniform, spacesuit and comms unit ideas, though my very favourite thing in one of her books is the flow chart showing what each character is wearing in every single scene. I want a large colour copy of it to frame and put on my wall. The writing is tiny and neat, and from far away it looks almost like a circuit board design. It’s beautiful.


The comms units are a cool and geeky bit of kit. Suttirat got her inspiration for them from her Mac laptop, iPods and Army dog tags, which is evident when looking at them- two separate, but virtually identical sections with a ‘breathing’ blue light and rounded corners. They aren’t, however, just bits of plastic on string- they are actual, working communications units. The actors speak to each other through them instead of just ‘pretending’ or having someone just standing off-camera reading lines. For example in one scene, Mace in the Flight Deck might ask a question of Corazon in the Oxygen Garden. When they are filming in the Flight Deck and Chris Evans is on-camera, he asks his question then Michelle Yeoh, who may be sitting off-camera, will reply and her voice will come out of Chris’ comms unit. Though Suttirat designed them, they were made to work by the sound department.


Suttirat had the characters’ uniforms made in a factory rather than have them made in-house. She wanted them to have an industrial feel to give the impression that they are space-agency-issued rather than film-costume-designer-designed. She said that there are little flaws in the stitching that she would have never done had they been made in-house, but, to her, the flaws give the uniforms a much more realistic look.


The costume department is filled with racks of costumes. Each character has their own section which is divided into different stages of the film. As films are shot out of sequence, one needs to be fiercely organised in order to make sure the whole thing runs smoothly. Wanna know how just organised the costume department are? They sew little bits of embroidery floss into the different characters’ socks in order to tell them apart. They are *that* organised.


I love that.

Stand In

It can take literally hours to light a scene. In order to light it properly one needs to have someone actually standing there to light. Rather than have the actors waiting around, getting exhausted and bored, they use stand-ins.

Stand-ins are not doubles, they don’t necessarily look like the actor they are standing in for, but they tend to be roughly the same height and are issued with a copy of the costume the character is wearing in that scene. All of the stand-ins have been members of the crew- Runners, an AD, even someone from Craft Services have been stand-ins. It honestly isn’t the most exciting job- standing there for hours and hours while Alwin Kuchler works his magic.

Anna, Floor Runner, “lying-in” for Rose Byrne.

On any given day you can tell immediately who is a stand-in. The costumes are so recognisable that you don’t even need to see someone close up to know that they are ‘in costume’ and you can often tell instantly who they are standing in for by what they are wearing. The outfit Sue, the 3rd Assistant Director, is wearing in this photo tells me instantly she’s standing in for Michelle Yeoh.

Sue, 3rd AD, looking cool as Corazon.

Last week, I was walking along outside the main building when about 30 metres ahead of me I saw Dan, Cillian Murphy’s stand-in, walking towards me. Dan had to get extensions so that his hair resembles Cillian’s more. Dan isn’t particularly pleased with his hair and can usually be seen wearing a hat. As he was walking up to me, I realised that he didn’t have his hat on and wondered why that might be. Could he have lost his hat? Did he run off set so quickly he forgot it? Could someone have taken it? As he got closer to me I realised… it wasn’t Dan. It was Cillian.

Dan, Floor Runner, with hat covering his Capa-like extensions.

Sneak Peek

Chris Gill cut together a bunch of shots to show the crew in the little cinema here at Three Mills. I went in during my lunch hour to have a look. Oh. My. Goodness. It was excellent! Everyone who saw it was very excited afterwards. It cheered up the mood enormously – everyone’s been ill or tired and the filming has been going very slowly- so seeing the amazing work everyone has been doing was exactly what was needed. It showed everyone that it was all worth it.

My husband, Brian Cox, was visiting the set. Just after lunch, we were chatting to Alex Garland and a couple other people when Michelle Yeoh walked up. She had 10 minutes before she was needed on set again and wanted to know if she could watch what Chris had cut together. We all went into the edit.

We sat down on the sofas and Michelle told Brian that she’d like him to write her a little explanation of the science behind ‘Sunshine’. She said she’d been asked to explain a few things about the film in an interview and she only had her memories of his lecture to go on. He promised her he’d write one that would be easy for her to explain.

Dan, one of the Floor Runners, got a call that Michelle was needed in a couple minutes, so Mark the Assistant Editor started playing the edit on the big wide screen telly. *BAM*! Everyone stopped talking and watched.

It finished. Silence.

“I want to see it again!” Michelle loved it… and everyone else said, “Yeah! Me, too!” So we watched it again. I’m sure Michelle would have watched it a third time, if she hadn’t had to go film.

Even though there’s no story to Chris’s edit, it was exciting, action-packed, energetic and full of menace. Amazingly though, the film hasn’t been graded, the wires are still in shot, Chris hadn’t included any of the brilliant acting scenes and there’s no CGI- so no ‘big space shots’. It’s definitely not the case that ‘all the best bits are in the trailer’ because that stuff hasn’t even been filmed yet.

Open Up

I was working at my computer, headphones on, listening to my Sunshine playlist (Bob Marley ‘Sun Is Shining’), when everyone in my office started getting up. I took my headphones off. ‘Is it happening?’

‘It’s happening.’

“It” involved pyrotechnics. My headphones were off and I was out of there in seconds. There’s nothing that gets everyone here more excited than when stuff gets blown up.

Every time there are big, explosive special effects on set, it’s always kind of like a class trip- we go outside, pair up with friends, get all giddy, everyone looks slightly different because you aren’t seeing them sitting at their desk… and, of course, the bad kids hang out at the back smoking cigarettes…

We headed straight down to the set to watch as the Special Effects crew did the final set up.


As they got closer to being ready, we all had to leave the set and go outside to watch on the monitors. Hey, let’s play a ‘Where’s Wally‘ type game. Can you find Alex Garland? (Yes, I’m expecting another email from him now… but I don’t consider it a photo of him if I can’t see his eyes. ;)


We waited and waited. Not realising we’d have to wait so long, we hadn’t all worn our coats. We started to get cold so shoved our hands into our pockets and jumped around a bit. We passed the time by talking about the last couple special effects explosions, describing them for people who had missed them. Suddenly, firemen appeared and jumped into action connecting hoses to the fire truck and taking them into the studio. Whenever there are explosions, firemen are required to be on hand in case something goes wrong. Of course, the special effects team spends several hours setting up the explosions so that nothing will go wrong, but the firemen need to be there nevertheless.


Within minutes, the cameras were rolling and we were told to cover our ears.


BANG! After all of the waiting around, it always seems to be over so quickly. I immediately ran up to the studio door to take a photo and was promptly yelled at because… well, basically, the set was on fire, it hadn’t been made safe yet and only special effects crew and firemen were allowed in.


The risks I take for you guys… I don’t know…

The fire was put out in seconds and the studio filled up with smoke. It smelled like someone had just blown out a candle.


Everyone said goodbye to each other and slowly wandered back to real life feeling slightly let down. The explosions are never quite as big and exciting in real life as they are on film…

Still we’ll all be out there again for the next one hoping for an even bigger bang.


When filming started way back in September, pretty much all of the men were clean-shaven. There was the odd beardy, but, you know, one doesn’t expect anything other than that from the Special Effects department. ;)

A few weeks ago, however, I started to pay attention to the shaving habits of the men around me when I got my first glimpse of stubble. I deduced very quickly that on a film set stubble=stress. I noticed that when a normally very clean-shaven guy was having a difficult time, he’d not shave for a day or two until the stress had passed and then he’d turn up for work with cheeks as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

After a week or so of the odd stubbly day here or there, I noticed that several guys would turn up to work clean-shaven on Monday morning, but by Friday would have a pretty full beard on the go. They didn’t shave at all during the week, but would leave their shaving until the weekend so that they could start the new week afresh. I decided that the moment men stopped shaving on the weekend and started turning up to work on a Monday with a beard that things will have tipped over the bristly edge and really started to get stressful.

Last week, for the first time, I noticed several beards on Monday morning. They’ve been doing six day weeks, 12 hours filming each day and, frankly, I’d guess that the last thing anyone wants to do on their only day off is waste any time at all on shaving. Not everyone has succumbed, but a large percentage of the men are, at the very least, stubbly for several days per week…

Alex Garland, however, has been cultivating his ’stubble look’ from day one… so no one really knows if he’s stressed or not. Veeeery clever move on his part. Very clever.

The only two men I’ve noticed who have *never* had stubble:
Andrew Macdonald and Danny Boyle…

I’m afraid, however, I have no data available on the women-on-production’s legs.