Based on the science fiction novel 'Good Morning, Midnight' by Lily Brooks-Dalton, The Midnight Sky tells the story of Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) as he attempts to cross the Arctic Circle to establish communication with the Aether, a spaceship returning to earth following its mission to earth-like planet, K23.
Collaborating with Visual Effects Supervisor, Matt Kasmir, and Executive Producer, Greg Baxter, we were brought on to help visualise two key sequences in the film: the spacewalk and Maya's subsequent death. Clooney and Ruhe were both on board with shot creation through a virtual camera, but wanted to be able to use the system wherever they were.
As filming on the project was to be split between sound stages and locations, we reworked ARENA, our established virtual camera system, to retain its full feature set, yet be fully portable and run from a single machine and tablet. This enabled the team to establish 'pop up' VR volumes incredibly easily and exactly where needed: the first ARENA shoot took place in a rehearsal space at Shepperton Studios, and the last in Joklasel lodge in Iceland.
Our Visualisation team, led by Janek Lender, started by building the digital environments from Art Department designs. Working closely with Ruhe, the character animation was then blocked out from an objective POV (much like a theatre director watching actors rehearse from the stalls) and the full package transferred, through Unreal Engine, into our ARENA system. The dimensions of the associated environments were then marked out on the rehearsal space floors, allowing Clooney and Ruhe to walk through a physical space while viewing their corresponding virtual world.
Working like a director's viewfinder, ARENA allowed Ruhe to switch, not only between his preferred lenses, but between the two camera bodies that were to be used in production. These sessions were a digital extension of traditional blocking rehearsals with the added bonus that all 'takes' through the tablet were recorded and ready for immediate playback. At the end of each session, Ruhe selected his preferred takes and these 'digital rushes' were sent directly to the editorial team. As the sessions for each sequence took place over a few weeks, we were able to iterate on the character animation and lighting, create new shots for the edit, and assist the Art Department and Stunts teams in preparation for principal photography.
“Working with the virtual camera is amazing. We were able to create our spacewalk sequence very precisely to establish the shots and the flow of the scene. We learned about the timing of the action, which shots we would shoot and how the wire work would happen. Our set dimensions were a direct result of what we learned in our sessions. You can position the camera and move it wherever you want at any scale, with any tool you can think of. It saved us from a lot of figuring it out on the day - we knew what we wanted and did just that."
Martin Ruhe, Director of Photography
After photography wrapped, our graphics team joined the show, led by NVIZ Creative Director Chris Lunney. We provided graphics for around 150 shots in the film, including the initial visualisation of 'proposed habitable' planet K23, and screen content within the Barbeau Observatory.
Onboard Aether, our team created the content for the Flight Deck navigation screen. Using the previs model of the ship, and working closely with Kasmir and the team at Framestore, we determined the CCTV camera angles used by the crew to observe the exterior of the ship (as seen on the navigation screen). The team then created a graphic language for the Flight Deck software and navigation systems which was used to aid storytelling, while reflecting the organic forms of Production Designer Jim Bissell's ship design.
You can also see more behind the scenes of The Midnight Sky in this featurette from Netflix: