The Insane Attention To Detail In Interstellar's Big Spaceship Sequence

Illustration for article titled The Insane Attention To Detail In Interstellar's Big Spaceship Sequence

One of the things that makes Interstellar look different from other recent space movies is the reliance on practical models instead of CG effects. But that gets tricky — especially in one crucial scene from the movie, where some delicate maneuvering required some equally delicate modelwork and camerawork.


Spoilers ahead....

In Thompson on Hollywood, there's a great breakdown of how they filmed that scene where Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) tries to dock with the Endurance, with disastrous results, and then Cooper has to match Endurance's spin so he can dock with the emergency airlock before Endurance crashes onto the planet.

But this was a tricky procedure for the VFX guys from New Deal Studios, because they had to keep miniature models in the same shot as full-size models, and use motion-control cameras to match up their movements completely. The article explains:

As VFX supervisor Paul Franklin explained, "The opening shots of Dr. Mann reversing into the airlock on the side of the Endurance were accomplished with the miniatures with the full size Ranger [from New Deal Studios], which we used for the foreground elements and then the 1/15 scale miniature of the Endurance for the moment when we see the Ranger entering the docking port. That involves very precise motion control work by New Deal. They had to reconcile the movement of the motion control camera with the live-action camera that Chris had shot on the full-size model."

The shot of the spacecraft being torn apart was done with a VistaVision camera at 48 frames-per-second. But they also planned a second pass where they nose-mounted a camera onto the Ranger so that when it smashes apart you're seeing it from the Ranger's POV. But New Deal feared they would destroy the camera, so they built a pelican case with a hole cut into it called it the Pelicam. The camera was yanked away on a bungee at the last moment to protect it.

"For those final moments when Cooper maneuvers under the spacecraft and looks up, this is a classic instance of Chris getting as much in-camera as possible," Franklin continued. "So first off, we had our projection screens running everything outside of the cockpit windows, and when you see the horizon of the planet whipping past, that's an in-camera projection with a digitally-animated planetary horizon flying past. So there is no additional compositing to create the planet there. And when you're looking through the window and you can see the great, big pipe of the airlock floating above the windows, that's a full-size motorized airlock piece that special effects built. And it's on a motorized crane being lowered down onto the set so that when you're looking through the windows you can see this thing spinning above us. We match-moved that and added the rest of the Endurance as a CG background."

There are tons more details, including a clip of the final sequence, over at Thompson on Hollywood.


Zach Miller

This sequence was—by far—the highlight of the film for me. Just incredible, especially with the music blaring. I appreciate it so much more knowing it was done with scale models instead of CGI.