Damien Chazelle was inspired by the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrongby James R. Hansen, to recreate on film the Apollo 11 mission that traveled into space in 1969. Relying on hundreds of special effects and camera games and technological strategies, Chazelle has made the documentary feature film one of the most innovative of the year.
LED screens, props, programs, special effects and old videos adapted to 16mm and 35mm are just some of the elements that made it possible to bring to the cinema the story of the first time man could walk on the moon. It is 181 minutes long and has a script that fuses reality and fiction by the hand of the writer Josh Singer, who also wrote Spotlight (2015)and The Post (2017), films that made him the winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay last year.
For Chazelle, making the film was "quite a challenge," and among the biggest challenges she encountered, recreating space and flying elements were among the most complicated. For this he had the support of Linus Sandgren, his director of photography.
The LED screens, which transmitted the material created specifically for the tape with images of The Earth seen from space and the moon, were used with the aim of capturing as many images as possible and also to project an infinite landscape in which the actors seemed to be in or near the X-15, Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 ships, which were nothing more than large-scale props, developed by production designe Nathan Crowleyand his art team.
Double Negative (DNEG), a British film visual effects and computer animation (CGI)company, created at least 90 minutes of the audiovisual piece, creating a three-dimensional world in complicity with the camera and photographic games that intoned in 360-degree spherical images, allowing for greater interactive rotation and color gradation while shooting.
In addition to this, DNEG managed to compile a large number of unpublished videos of the Apollo 11 launch that were recorded in 70mm, many of which were recreated with CGI, but others were augmented to fit the 16mm parameters. To do this, they relied on the alliance of Terragen, a scenario generator program from Planetside Software, with which they were able to achieve animation from ground level to space, creating clouds and the flight into the atmosphere.
For the director of this film it was elementary to use the minimum of special effects generated by computer, since he prefers to be more conservative and to play at converting habitual spaces into a moon-like environment with old school strategies, such as real models, photographic shots, recreations and other elements that give a certain realism to the key scenes of his films. For example, the scenes to denote zero gravity were recreated with the classic invisible cables that held the actors as if they were puppets that were later erased in post production. They also put the camera at ground level to recreate the effect of buoyancy and make more real the steps that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took on the Moon.
Likewise, the elements used for the scenes that needed to recreate the moon were based on real images given and widely known of how space is seen from space itself. In them, there are no sound effects, clouds at high altitudes, the sun illuminates the earth and the moon at the same angle, and astronauts' helmets are not illuminated.
Opinions about the film, which premiered on Oct. 11, are mixed, while some opinion leaders say that the film does not convey any emotion, while the vast majority of the public, more than 80% according to Google statistics, liked the film that opened the Morelia International Film Festival, one of the most important in Latin America.
Shooting this film undoubtedly represented a great challenge for Chazelle since it is the first time he has directed a plot that does not revolve around music, nor had he been in charge of a production that he did not write.
With information from: