VFX and Space: A Relationship Written in the Stars

DNEG celebrates World Space Week 2018

VFX has a longstanding and almost symbiotic relationship with space that can be traced back to the early pioneers of cinema. For more than a century, filmmakers have gazed up at the night sky, and into space, for inspiration for stories to thrill their audiences.

Similarly, generations of astronomers, astrophysicists, cosmologists and aerospace engineers can trace the origins of their careers to the sci-fi movies and TV shows they watched as children.

And, here at DNEG, as filmmakers and storytellers strive for greater realism in their sci-fi to wow audiences, our VFX Supervisors have worked alongside scientists to bring to life abstract theories.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was the first Hollywood movie to attempt an accurate depiction of a black hole. To achieve this, we collaborated with Nobel Prize winner Professor Kip Thorne to create a new way of visualising gravitational lensing. The work contributed to Interstellar winning the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 2015, and led to the publication of two scientific papers.

Celebrating World Space Week

Today marks the start of World Space Week 2018, an annual global event run by the UN General Assembly to “Celebrate the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human race”. The theme for this year is “Space unites the World”.

We wanted to show our support for Space Week’s goals by shining a light on the role of sci-fi films in furthering our interest in and understanding of space, and recognising how audiences are united through these experiences.

Throughout World Space Week (today through to Thursday 10th October) we’ll be sharing space-related content related to the many sci-fi shows we’ve worked on over our 20-year history, from Pitch Black to First Man.

B&W silent movie journey to the moon

To the Moon and back (again)

Compared with cinematography, human space exploration is still relatively new. This month NASA celebrates its 60th anniversary, it’s 57 years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth and next year marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

But long before Neil Armstrong was born, back in 1909, a pioneer of early cinema, George Méliès, premiered a ground breaking silent movie: A Trip to the Moon. Packed with never-before-seen effects, it wowed audiences. And through its story and imagery, ‘transported’ patrons of picture houses across Europe and the US to the Moon’s surface.

This early film features a particularly famous image of a primitive rocket – more like a type of artillery shell – embedded in the eye of the Moon’s face (pictured top left). Today, this landmark image is well known in the VFX industry because it is the basis for the logo of the Visual Effects Society, the professional honorary society for people working in all areas of VFX. Each year, the society presents trophies to top VFX professionals that depict this famous image from Méliès film; a reminder to all in our industry of his legacy as a pioneer of VFX and the longstanding relationship between space exploration and VFX.

History repeats; just as more than a century ago audiences flocked to the cinema to watch a film about explorers travelling to the Moon, from next week millions of people will again fill theatres to see First Man, a new movie about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission to land on the Moon. DNEG provided visual effects for this film, and our Oscar–winning VFX Supervisor Paul Lambert was the Overall VFX Supervisor on the movie.

Check out the First Man page on our website for more and to watch a trailer or watch an extended clip from the movie in this article.

DNEG: 20 years of space

NASA is not the only organisation celebrating an important anniversary in 2018 – this year DNEG is 20!

From our first VFX project (the space sci-fi horror Pitch Black) through to many of our latest VFX projects, creating scientifically accurate representations of space, along with imagining and creating strange new worlds for the storytellers we work with, have been important aspects of our journey.

You can find details of all of the shows we’ve worked on in our Shows section on the website.

And look out for more articles later this week about some of our favourite space-themed shows and where to watch them.

Have your say:

Let us know about your favourite examples of Space VFX or perhaps how on-screen sci-fi influenced your career via Twitter or Facebook.

Discover more about our space VFX work

If you enjoyed this article, please take a look at these other World Space Week stories:

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