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Light, Love and the Lifecyle of A Star

In the beginning, it was hot. Really, really hot. You know how hot the inside of your oven is? Well, that is a relative walk in the park compared to how unfathomably hot it was at the Big Bang. It was so hot that Time, Space, Matter and Energy were indistinguishable. Yea. Hot.

A second after the Big Bang things had cooled enough for quarks to form and combine to create protons and neutrons. After about three minutes some of the protons bonded to neutrons. Though it had cooled significantly, it was still pretty hot, about a billion degrees, which was considerably too hot for atoms to form. It stayed like this for about three or four hundred thousand years. During that time, not much happened, but the Universe continued to expand and cool down and after a while hydrogen and helium atoms formed. For another 300 million years there was just a sea of atoms. And Darkness.

As the Universe cooled, great clouds of gas started to condense under their own gravity and the first stars were created.

Let there be Light.

Credit: NASA

These first stars were very different from our Sun- they were larger, hotter and shorter lived. They created energy in the same way our Sun does, in nuclear reactions where lighter nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones. This process continues in a star until its core is composed of Iron. At this point, no more energy can be released. Stars cannot use Iron as fuel.

When the star runs out of fuel, the outward pressure created by nuclear fusion is no longer strong enough to act against gravity and within seconds the star collapses in a Supernova explosion. The energies created are so great that elements heavier than Iron can be created.

In a supernova explosion, the outer parts of the star are blown out into space at 20,000km per second. For a brief moment a supernova shines as brightly as the galaxy in which it happens. Eventually, all of the material created in the supernova is dispersed and will once again start to condense under its own gravity and create new stars. These, too, will eventually use up their fuel and die in a Supernova explosion. And so it goes on.

Elements lighter than Iron were created in Stars. The Iron in your car? Created in the heart of a star. The Iron in spinach? Created in the heart of a star. The Iron in the centre of a hemoglobin molecule in your blood? Created in the heart of a star. Your blood is red because the Universe was created.

Elements heavier than Iron were created in Supernova explosions. The mercury in your fillings? Created in a supernova explosion. The copper and nickel in your coins? Created in a supernova explosion. The gold or platinum in your wedding band? Created in a supernova explosion. The symbol of your Love for your partner exists because the Universe was created.

Who says Science is boring?

Wind Reel and Print

Last Friday was the final day of filming for the main unit. The majority of the crew finished work then. There have been a few more shots done by the model unit and the second unit will be around until next Tuesday…

And then no more filming…

Everyone in production cleared out their offices. All I see when walking down the hallway looking into the rooms are empty desks, empty shelves, empty walls, full boxes.




At around 8pm last Friday night everyone from the production offices headed down to Stage C where they were setting up for the final shot (an extreme close-up of Cillian Murphy which will only last a fraction of a second in the finished film). Along with the crew, all the heads of department were there, everyone from the production office, loads of people from every different department, the craft services guys… me.

There was a real end-of-term feeling. Everyone was chattering away while the shot was being set up. The champagne was taken out of the boxes, glasses were set up, people got out a cigarette, ready to light, even people who don’t normally smoke…

“Quiet on the set!”

The camera started, action was called, there was a little explosion, Danny called ‘cut!’, they checked the gate and then…

“Thank you ladies and gentlemen… that is a wrap!”

Everyone cheered, then hugged and congratulated one another, the champagne started flowing, the cigarettes were lit, everyone chatted and joked, there was a real sense of relieved completion… I chatted to Andrew Macdonald, Alex Garland, Suttirat Anne Lararb, Mark Tildesley, Alwin Kuchler and Cillian Murphy… Dan, the Floor Runner/Cillian stand-in, was glad his extensions had been removed, Anna, the floor runner/Rose stand-in got the final autographs on her copy of the script, I grabbed the video camera from Phil so he could relax and chat… Soon, everyone started saying their goodbyes and asked if they’d be seeing each other at the wrap party and exchanging numbers and email addresses…

And then they were gone.




Many of those people I will never see again in my life.

Now, post-production starts. There will be far fewer people involved, but this is when the film really starts being made. Danny Boyle will be editing with Chris Gill, Tom Wood and his Visual Effects team will continue their hard work and more than likely several members of the cast will come back in order to do some ‘looping’ (re-recording dialogue that can’t be used from the sound recorded on set). There are many months of long, hard work ahead…

“Capa flies backwards.”

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

Set Graveyard

The end of principle photography is coming soon and already several of the main sets, including the Airlock and the Oxygen Garden, no longer exist. Walking around the sets is a bit sad right now. I go in fully expecting to walk into the spaceship and instead it’s either the wooden shell of the set with the props and set dressing removed or it’s been changed into something else – the studio where the Oxygen Garden was is a huge blue screen room, the Airlock set is now…er… something else. ;)

The Oxygen Garden is the only set to which I felt an emotional attachment- it was green and alive, not like a film set at all. I would go in for a wander around every few days when they weren’t filming in that set. I’d look at the bamboo trees, the tomato plants, the beans, the carrots, the corn, the cabbage… It was so peaceful and relaxing, just me on my own in the garden in space… but now the remains of it are sitting outside at the back of Three Mills waiting to either be taken away or destroyed.




The other week I watched as a big grapple smashed up part of the set. It wasn’t enjoyable at all…


Sure, there are a couple new sets- the Stellar Bomb set is the biggest- but they aren’t the kind of place you’d go to hide, nor the kind of place that you fall in love with. They aren’t anywhere as beautiful as the Oxygen Garden.
Don’t tell the props department, but I took home a fern from the Oxygen Garden… so I always have a memory of it.

Update 2014: a few more ‘graveyard’ shots.




#0000FF #00FF00

One of the things that’s been perplexing me lately is this:

Why sometimes blue screen, why sometimes green screen?


Obviously, as a film set in space, there are going to be quite a lot of computer graphics done in post-production over the coming months. Some of the shots will be entirely computer generated – when you see the whole of the spaceship, for example- other scenes will be a composite of live action and computer generated imagery – one of the characters doing a spacewalk or one of the sets extended digitally. The latter composite shots need to be filmed with the live action in front of either a blue screen or a green screen so that the computer generated images can easily be added in place of the blue or the green.

When filming started, Stage 8 and the Airlock set both had blue screen. ‘Normal,’ I thought, ‘Blue. Normal.’ Then suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, Stage 8 and Stage A had green screen.

Why? Why green? Wasn’t blue good enough?


Right now it’s gone really mixed-up and crazy- there’s one studio which is entirely blue screen with no set, another studio which is entirely green screen with no set, but with an enormous model, and one studio which has a set, but the walls are all green screen.

I know that both blue and green can be used to separate the live action from the background image, but I had no idea why both were being used on this film. The man to ask is the Visual Effects Supervisor, Tom Wood. This is what I learned:

The first choice is always blue as it is very easy to isolate because blue doesn’t appear in flesh tones (which, incidentally, are made up of a combination of red and green). Blue screen has been used on the ‘Sunshine’ sets where the actors are wearing certain costumes which contrast very nicely with the blue. As you will remember from one of the photos in my post about the costumes, however, the actors are sometimes wearing blue. Hence the need for green screen. Doh.

Another more technical reason for choosing green over blue is that the film speed being used on ‘Sunshine’ (500, film nerds) would make the blue go a bit too grainy to get a good key edge, which is the defining line between, in this case, the live action and the computer generated imagery.


If you have a close look at the above green screen image you can just make out some little pink dots on the green wall (you might need to look at the bigger image). Those are the ‘tracking markers’. Sometimes the tracking markers are made by using red LED lights, sometimes, like in that photo, they are made of an X of florescent pink gaffer tape with an ever-so-slightly different colour pink square at the very centre.

Tracking markers are used by the Visual Effects department as a guideline to re-create the real camera move with a digital (or virtual) camera move. For example, let’s say there is a two metre tall actor standing two metres away from the camera and the computer generated image behind him will stretch off for 100 metres into the distance. Then let’s say that Alwin Kuchler moves the real camera one metre down to the actor’s waist height, and five metres to the left yet the camera is still pointing up to the actor’s face. The people in Visual Effects need to have some way of seeing the movement on that green or blue screen in the background so they can match that movement in their effects. As they know the distance between and the exact positioning of the tracking markers AND they know the distance between the camera, the action and the tracking markers they can work it all out.

Apparently, no one ever says, ‘Hey, you did the tracking in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’? Wow, I just love your tracking work’!’ after seeing a film, so the job of working out the tracking can be a thankless one. So, next time you see a film with computer generated imagery, think of those poor people whose job it is to cover a set in tracking markers or those poor people who are stuck in a dark room for months on end going bug-eyed looking at those markers on computer screens. On ‘Sunshine’ there are going to be between 600 and 700 shots with digital effects, approximately on third of the film… that’s a lot of tracking markers… My guess is that there are at least a couple people here who really don’t want to see another tracking marker at all for a while after this finishes filming…

The tracking markers are much easier to see on this blue screen image, but as there’s some top secret filming going on, I had to pixelate it (2014 update: obviously I can show you now).