Before filming on ‘Sunshine’ started over one year ago now, director Danny Boyle was keen to give the eight actors a taste of what it would be like to be a real team of astronauts.
As we join the film, these characters have been together for many years- both on their mission in space and previously in training on Earth- and Danny wanted to make sure that when filming started the actors operated as a team. He also wanted to school them in science and sci-fi as well as give them some real flight experience.
All eight actors lived together in one house. They spent 24 hours a day with one another in order to fast track their team bonding. They all learned to SCUBA dive and did some underwater training to give them an idea of what it feels like to float and be forced to move slowly in the way you would do in space. They each learned to fly a plane on a Â£15 million flight simulator. And they were each taken up, individually, in a plane to experience Zero Gravity. It worked. Within weeks they really were thinking like the crew of the Icarus II.
We’ve got a new video showing each of the actors’ reactions to being in Zero G.
I’ve put up an interview with Dr. Brian Cox, ‘Sunshine’s’ Science Advisor at the end of this post. His job on ‘Sunshine’ involved discussing the science of the film with Danny Boyle and Alex Garland well before the script was completed in order to make sure that the concepts and terminology used were correct. The interview explains how the Sun could die prematurely.
The following was put together by Alex Garland after many discussions with Dr. Brian Cox. It explains, very simply, the background science in ‘Sunshine’.
Q: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE SUN?
A: A Q Ball is eating the Sun from the inside out.
Q: WHAT’S A Q BALL?
A Q Ball is a super-symmetric nucleus, produced in the early Universe. That is to say, a nucleus made up of super-symmetric particles, formed shortly after the Big Bang.
Q: WHAT ARE SUPER-SYMMETRIC PARTICLES?
They are the super-symmetric counterpart to ordinary matter.
Q: WHAT IS ORDINARY MATTER?
Ordinary matter is what makes us up. Ordinary matter is constructed of atoms. The nucleus of an atom is constructed of protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are, in turn, composed of quarks.
Q: WHAT ARE QUARKS?
Quarks are elementary particles. Protons and neutrons are each composed of three quarks. The super-symmetric counterpart of a quark is a squark, and the Q Ball is composed of squarks.
Q: WHY IS THE Q BALL SO DANGEROUS TO THE SUN?
The protons and neutrons of ordinary matter would ‘rather’ be squarks. When ordinary matter is placed in close proximity to a Q Ball, the protons and neutrons are disrupted, ripped apart, and turned into squarks.
In other words, a Q Ball turns ordinary matter into itself. And unless it was stopped, this process would eat the Sun from the inside out, until a critical mass had been reached, at which point the Sun would explode.
Q: ARE SUPER-SYMMETRIC PARTICLES AND Q BALLS REAL?
This question should be answered by work that will be undertaken at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, which has its headquarters in Geneva. In 2007, scientists will use the laboratory’s vast particle accelerator to search for super-symmetric particles. It is considered very likely that they will find them.
Q: IF Q BALLS EXIST, DO THE REALLY DESTROY STARS?
It is speculated that the origin of gamma-ray bursts may be the cataclysmic destruction of neutron stars by precisely this method. Gamma-rays are the most energetic form of light, and are produced by events such as supernova explosions.
Q: HOW WILL THE ICARUS MISSION STOP THE Q BALL FROM DESTROYING THE SUN?
The Icarus mission carries a Stellar Bomb, which it will detonate in the Sun. The bomb will destroy the Q Ball.
Q: HOW WILL THE STELLAR BOMB DESTROY THE Q BALL?
The bomb creates the same super-heated conditions in which the Q Ball was made. To be specific, Q Balls were formed at a particular time after the Big Bang: 10 to minus 35 seconds. The heat at this moment of the Big Bang was 10 to the power of 32 degrees.
By recreating these conditions, the Q Ball will split up, separating it into squarks. Squarks on their own decay quickly into normal or stable (benign) supersymmetric particles. Put simply, the Stellar Bomb makes the Q Ball fall to bits.
Q: WHAT IS THE STELLAR BOMB MADE OF?
Dark matter and Uranium. In the same way that an atomic bomb uses normal explosives to trigger uranium into a nuclear explosion, the stellar bomb uses uranium to trigger the dark matter.
In the film Sunshine, mankind has been able to construct two of these Stellar Bombs. The fact that the Stellar Bomb uses uranium is the reason that mankind is limited to only two payloads â€“ because Earth does not contain enough uranium to build a third.
Q: WHAT IS DARK MATTER?
We don’t know, but we have considerable gravitational evidence that it exists. Simply put, the gravitational effects that we can observe in the Universe require much more matter than we can see. Because we can’t see this hidden matter, it has been termed ‘dark’. Dark matter might make up as much as 95% of the Universe.
It is widely speculated what dark matter actually is. Planets, dim stars, neutrinos, exotic particles, and weakly interacting massive particles. But Q Balls are a good candidate.
Q: ARE THERE ANY CAVEATS ABOUT THE SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND TO THE FILM?
There are, not least because the film assumes that large areas of theoretical physics are correct. In addition, the Sun may not actually be dense enough to stop a Q Ball, but for the purposes of the film, we assume it is. Also, the rate of ‘eating’ is proportionate to the density of Sun – so the rate might be very slow.
There. You can all stop arguing about the premise of ‘Sunshine’ now and get back to the important discussion: are they ‘zombies’ or are they ‘infected’? ;)
Between the moment those three words came out of Alex Garland’s mind and the moment the resultant image goes into yours, they’ve passed through the hands of several hundred people.
I was at my desk when my colleague Phil’s mobile phone rang. When he hung up, he said, ‘That was Julian (Spencer, the Stunt Coordinator). They are going to re-shoot that shot Alwin did the other day. He wants me to go down to Stage 11 to help him out.’
“That shot Alwin did” involved Alwin Kuchler and Cillian Murphy both getting into harnesses connected to a track on the ceiling and being ‘flown’ around the set at very high speed. After watching it back, Danny Boyle wanted to see if they could be flown around any faster. The special effects crew in charge of the wirework tinkered with the rigging for a couple days to speed the whole thing up.
Before the main unit filmed it a second time, Julian Spencer got Kim, one of the stunt women, and Phil to help test out the new, speedy rigging. Whereas Kim is used to and trained in harness work, Phil was a complete novice. He seemed to be enjoying himself, however.
They got Phil and Kim in the harnesses and up in the air. Julian wanted Phil to film the whole thing so that he could show the tape to Danny to see if it was fast enough. Along with being suspended several feet in the air and pulled along several kilometres per hour, Phil had to try to keep Kim in shot, keep the camera steady and stay facing in the same direction.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
The first time they tested it, Phil and Kim ended up rotating about 90 degrees and were travelling sideways rather than forwards. No good. Next, Julian ran alongside them to try and keep them heading straight, but they were started out too quickly which jerked them both forward and up and meant that Phil wasn’t able to keep Kim in shot. No good. They tried again, starting off slowly, but they weren’t moving fast enough. Next, Phil wrapped his right arm around the wire Kim was on to try and keep the camera stable, but their wires were moving in opposite directions so Kim’s wire bumped him around too much to keep a steady shot. They were lowered for a rest while the effects guys thought about what they might be able to do about keeping the camera steady. After a few minutes they decided to connect it loosely to Kim’s wire so that the camera always moved with her, yet Phil had to still make sure she always stayed in shot. Phil and Kim were hoisted up again. They were flown across the studio several more times, Phil filming the whole time. All in all it took about an hour to get about 20 seconds of footage that Julian thought was good enough to show to Danny.
Phil and Kim were lowered and got out of the harnesses. Julian watched the shots back a few times then we all headed to Stage 5 where the main unit was filming. We walked in while they were setting up. About 10 seconds after we arrived, Danny walked by on his way to speak to one of the actors. Julian told him they he’d just done some tests with the new rigging and if Danny had a moment he could watch it. Phil opened up the view finder and Danny watched about 5 seconds and said, ‘Good. Thanks.’ and went back to work. And that was that.
In the end they rigged up the camera to the wire which was holding Cillian and Alwin never went up again- not having two people one the wires allowed Cillian to travel much quicker and get the shot Danny wanted.
The film was processed, synched up, digitised. It will be edited, graded, sound dubbed. It will be duplicated and distributed. It will be threaded into a projector, the lights will go down and for a brief moment in the film you will see Capa fly backwards.
2014 Update: Here’s a behind-the-scenes video on stunts featuring Julian Spencer
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 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” 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.
First, you need to think about the purpose of the mission.
Then, you need to think about whether or not it will be launched from and land on Earth or from low Earth orbit.
Then, you need to think about whether it has passengers and/or payload.
Then, you need to think about living quarters, communications, electrical and computer systems, life support and how they are accessed.
Then, you need to think about how it can be easily built and maintained.
And if you are Mark Tildesley the Production Designer, before you are good to go, you’ve got to think of all of those things in several different ways.
First, in order to be believable, Mark has to think of designing a spaceship as if it was for the real world. The credibility of the film would crumble if the design of the ship was fundamentally wrong- for example, if the ship was a big cube and the characters talked about the smooth launch from Earth. Reading about and studying spaceflight and spaceship design, and talking to engineers, astronauts and scientists is vitally important. Mark’s office is full of books and images on space, spaceflight and spaceships. The walls are plastered with photographs of the International Space Station, inside and out. He immersed himself in ’space’. Most importantly, for this film, he has to think about the fact that it’s going to the awesome, boiling beast that is THE SUN.
Second, the film takes place in the future, 50-60 years in the future. Mark has to read up on technology and the future to get an idea of what, realistically, might be possible (let’s just say you aren’t going to see any replicators or tractor beams in the film). He also has to look back to the past to try and get an idea of just how much our world has changed over the past 60 years to see how much it might change in the next 60 years. For example, we still have cars that are “cars” rather than personal helicopters or hovervehicles, and though the design has been streamlined and the technology of the cars’ system has advanced, someone from 60 years ago would still recognise it as a car. Mark’s designs need to be recognisable, yet realistically, technically advanced.
Third, Mark needs to think about the aesthetics of the design- basically, it needs to look really cool. NASA engineers just have to make something functional and if they stumble upon an iconic design then so much the better (did you know that the external fuel tank on the Shuttle is orange not because it looks cool, but because to paint it white would add 500kg in weight?). Mark has to create a functional yet iconic spaceship, no questions asked. Otherwise what will they put on the T-shirts and coffee mugs?
Fourth, he has to think how this spaceship is going to be built in seven different buildings on a film studio lot. Unfortunately, there isn’t a studio here that is about one kilometre long so that the whole ship could be built as one big set. He also has to work out how much filming will be done on each set, how long it will be needed for each block of filming.
Fifth, he has to think about how it’s going to be used in the film. He needs to go over the script with a fine toothed comb and work out the layout of the ship, what the characters need to do in each space, how they get to each section, how many of the characters’ private cabins need to be built, how much ‘corridor’ needs to be built for each different set…
Sixth, he needs to think about how each set is going to be filmed – a tiny, little, enclosed room with no space for more than one person might not be ideal for a film crew. He also needs to think about special effects and CGI. How are they going to make the actors ‘float’ on this set? How are they going to “extend” that set so it looks like it’s a mile wide? Is every bit of the set going to be filmed or can just a small section of it be built?
Seventh, he needs to think about how it’s actually going to be manufactured. There isn’t a big shop called ‘Movie Spaceships Galore’ that he can just walk into to get everything he needs. Every panel, every rail, every floor surface, every nut and bolt needs to be sourced or manufactured. And that’s just the shell of the set.
Eighth, he needs to think about how it’s going to be built. Does every set need to be finished at the same time? Is there any way that one stage can be used for more than one set? How many people will it take to build this (over 200, as it happens)? Will it be finished on time?!
Ninth, he needs to think about the smaller stuff – how it’s going to be lit, where the lights will be placed, what props are needed and where. There are the monitors, the switches, the sockets, the cables which make it start to look like a working spaceship. Then there is everything from pieces of paper with formulas scribbled on them, to the kitchen, to cupboards filled with medical equipment, to all of the idiosyncratic ’stuff’ that makes one character’s bedroom different from another’s.
Tenth, he needs to think about the outside of the spaceship. How does it move? Where are the thrusters? Where is that thing mentioned on page 98?
Along with all of that he’s also got to think about how much it’s all going to cost (a massive amount, right, Andrew?!) and how to get it all done within the budget.
The whole process, from beginning to end, is entirely collaborative. He oversees and liaises with several different departments, all in charge of various different parts of the spaceship- the Art Department, Set Dressers, Props, Miniatures, Special Effects, Visual Effects… and I often see him in Accounts. For more than a year before filming started Mark has been working directly with both Danny and Alex to create a believable, functional, iconic spaceship.
It’s actually so iconic that all I can show you are these little bits…
I bumped into Troy Garity wandering around the lot today. I’ve only seen him once before when he wasn’t on set, but this is the first time I got a chance to talk to him. He was with some other people on his way somewhere, but I had to take a moment to tell him that my husband, Dr. Brian Cox, thought Troy was very clever.
Brian came in before filming started to do a science talk for the actors. Troy asked a lot of questions, more than anyone else, and every one of his questions was exactly the right question to ask at exactly the right time. Troy would ask a question and Brian would say, ‘Actually, the answer to that is on the next slide’. Brian was very impressed as being able to ask the right questions is equally as important as knowing the answers.
Troy is a nice guy, a talented actor, has been in all kinds of films that everyone thinks are really fantastic and even a high-energy physicist from CERN is impressed with his intellect… But do you want to know the most amazing thing about Troy? His mother is Barbarella!
Update from 2014: The photo and videos were not in the original blogpost
Last Friday the decision was made to re-shoot all of the Zero G stuff that had already been shot. Danny wasn’t happy with how it looked. So the shoot is now behind schedule by a few days and that’s how it will stay. They won’t ‘catch up’.
On Monday I definitely sensed ‘tension’ on set. Several people I spoke to were stressed out. They were in a relatively small studio, it was hot, there were loads of people crammed in there and they were having to re-shoot what they’d already shot. No one was smiling very much.
I’m learning how to judge how things are going. If Danny says, ‘Hi, Gia! How are you today?’ I know things are going well. He hasn’t said ‘hi’ for a couple days now.
Update from 2014- The photo and video were not in the original post.
They’re filming on the Airlock set today. I really love this set a lot. Even though it’s the most basic, industrial-looking set, it gives one the feeling of being on a real spaceship more so than any of the other sets. There’s nothing there other than big doors with big handles and harsh, bright lights, but one feels like the vastness of space is only mere metres away.
We wanted to take our video cameras onto the set while they were filming, but because it’s such a small, cramped space, we were politely asked not to film.