2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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Stanley Kubrick’s landmark sci-fi epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a film about abstract scientific ideas: the origin and future of the human species, life in the cosmos, and the evolution of man and its machines. The groundbreaking photographic and model effects, led by special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, highly influence today’s visual effects. The models and sets were all built to be as realistic as possible: every button, component, and monitor showcasing plausible operations and data. Although the future in 2001 is a product of its 1960’s era, many technologies today are reminiscent of the predicted future tools in the film, such as the television pad’s Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole are using. The Monolith, an alien teaching machine, influences man’s discovery of a tool in just a moment, followed by a three million year jump cut from weapon to spacecraft. The themes, pace, and tone of 2001: A Space Odyssey is what sets it apart from other sci-films of the time.

Geoffery Unsworth collaborated with Kubrick and shot the film on Super Panavision 70, using spherical lens. The cinematic visuals are dictated by the music, giving 2001: A Space Odyssey a slow and graceful pace so the audience can soak in the spectacle and terror of space. For the sequences inside the spacecraft’s centrifuge, Kubrick had a rotating ferris wheel built with removable sections and gaps. This allowed for anti-gravity shots when Frank is jogging, and David joining him to watch the telecast. The Star Gate sequence used many different types of special effect techniques. Some shots used a custom-made slit-scan photography technique developed by Trumball. Instead of the slide being in between the subject and camera, images of paints, drawings, patterns and circuits are mirrored in such a way to give the illusion of a landscape. The glistening tetrahedrons floating in dark space are plastic geometric shapes with projected movies on them. The time-consuming process was tedious because each side had to be photographed, and then the film had to be re-winded to do another side of the tetrahedron. The exploding nebulas and star fields were created by drops of paint, lacquer and ink in a cloud tank; filmed by Kubrick himself.

In the last sequence of the film, the alien entity creates an under-lit, luminous and comfortable environment for the primitive human to witness his own death. Kubrick showcases age by editing shots of younger David witnessing his older self and never cutting back to the younger version. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a reminder that the story behind the amazing visuals is most important.

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Posted on March 28, 2011 at 1:28pm

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Mixing my love for films, beautiful images, visual inspiration, and artistic study.