The Physical Side of VFX: Neil Corbould Talks About His Hands-On Approach to 'Gravity'

Neil CorbouldWhen the winner was read during the 2013 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, most people weren't surprised to hear the names of the visual effects supervisors that worked on Gravity. Through an incredible process that incorporated using a "light box", Bot & Dolly's robotic arms, and masterful CGI to create stunning visuals, the filmmakers were able to revolutionize VFX and cinematography in film in a single, strenuous bound. One of those VFX supervisors that worked on the film, Oscar winner Neil Corbould, spoke with DP/30, sharing his experience working on the project, which was mainly focused on the physical aspect of the visual effects, as well as what he has learned from his 35 years in the VFX game.

As the story goes, director Alfonso Cuarón was told that his vision for Gravity couldn't be done. However, with the help of cinematographer Chivo Lubezki and the talented VFX team, Cuarón was able to go forth with his idea of creating a realistic weightless environment by utilizing LED light panels to project images and backgrounds (instigated by Lubezki), Bot & Dolly robots, as well as Sandra Bullock's 14-wire support rig (thanks to Corbould and his team). (This process, however, of using light panels isn't anything new -- the interviewer in the video below mentions how this projection method is used quite a bit in car commercials, but using them in film is kind of the next step in its evolution.)

The interesting thing about Gravity is its mixture of the physical and digital side of VFX -- a distinction Corbould makes pretty clear in the DP/30 interview below. He goes into great detail on how each of his and his team's processes worked -- the movement of the LED panels, which helped Lubezki change the lighting of each scene, the 5-person crew that assisted with Bullock's movements while she was in the support rig, and choreographing the movements of the actors, robotic cameras, and the light panels to make them meld together.

Corbould shares more insight about his work on the film, as well as his other experiences heading up the VFX for films such as Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk DownSo, check out his DP/30 interview below.

What are your thoughts on the physical side of Gravity's VFX (not just the CGI)? Corbould talks about this a little bit at around the 20:30 mark, but could you see these processes gaining momentum and becoming something that more filmmakers will try to use in their future projects? How will they evolve and become easier as time goes on? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

[via DP/30 & Filmmaker IQ]

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Neil is an ace guy.
PS: almost all new SFX techniques are first used on car commercials. They have the budget, and are constantly searching for new ways to "shoot" cars and make them look even more perfect onscreen.

March 8, 2014 at 9:16AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Great piece !

March 8, 2014 at 4:37PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Great video. Really needed a windscreen though.

March 10, 2014 at 10:19AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Lou Veahman

Speaking of the physics of Gravity again... why didn't Sandra or Clooney just tug lightly on the rope to save half of the cast?

March 12, 2014 at 12:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


If you are referring to the scene where Matt Kowalski disconnects from Ryan Stone so that she can get back to the ISS, it is because the combined momentum (their mass times their velocity) of the two was more than the drag on the cables that were caught around Stone's feet could restrain. Kowalski disconnected from Stone because he realized that the cables snagged around Stone's feet were pulling loose. When George disconnected the strap connecting him to Sandra it reduced the force pulling on the cables to Sandra's momentum (her mass times her velocity) alone. There was no way for either of them to stop pulling or pull less hard since Kowalski's jet pack was out of fuel.

March 18, 2014 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


very interesing interview. but the sound is extremely noisy.

April 1, 2014 at 1:38PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Chris Eckert