"First man": shooting the moon in IMAX for the journey of Neil Armstrong

adminOctober 10, 2018


Damien Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren experimented with IMAX for the historic lunar landing of Neil Armstrong as surrealist poetry.


The challenge for Damien Chazelle in dramatizing the historic landing to the moon was taking us where we had never been before, into the mind of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he walked the alien surface in a state of serenity. Therefore, the decision to shoot the climatic sequence in IMAX was not easy, since the large format brand has been associated for a long time with the documentary film.

However, the director and his Oscar-winning filmmaker Linus Sandgren ("La La Land") took a new turn: make it a subjective and ghostly experience to be one with Armstrong on the moon. "Damien wanted to travel to the planet of the dead in order to say goodbye to his daughter," Sandgren said. "It was an opportunity to reflect on life … a history of humanity that matters most, and the loss and cost of getting there."

Read more:First Man ': Ryan Gosling recreated the line of & # 39; A small step & # 39; of Neil Armstrong so perfectly that viewers can not tell the difference

"First man"

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

The mission of NASA to the Moon in the 60s receives an authentic treatment, in the camera and similar to a document by Chazelle and Sandgren. Seen through the eyes of the taciturn and afflicted Armstrong, it's like watching a personal home movie, warm or cold, alternating between Kodak 16mm film and 35mm film. To convey Armstrong's troubled state of mind, the giddy camera takes on the instability of NASA's dreaded spinning machine.

But when Armstrong climbs to the moon, everything stabilizes and becomes serene. That's where IMAX comes into play. They even planned it as "The Wizard of Oz". When they opened the door of the lunar module to exit, it changed from 16 mm to IMAX with the help of a VFX board. Production designer Nathan Crowley ("Dunkirk", "Interstellar") built a massive set of the gray rock quarry Vulcan in Atlanta to serve as the lunar surface and Sandgren filmed the sequence at night.

"First man"

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

"It's a beautiful format," Sandgren said of his first IMAX experience. "The lunar surface is monochromatic, but it looks in the sharpest format. You see colors in the sand, reflections of the crystals. What is fun for us is that it is totally surreal. You are out of this world and the image is very [bigger]. You are on a crane now and you are floating. And it's not Neil, it's more like you. "

But the biggest challenge was turning it on with a single source, 500 feet away and 150 feet high. Sandgren tested two 100K SoftSun lamps, but the double shadows were a nuisance and too blurry. "I asked the inventor, David Pringle, if he could make a couple of 200K lamps, his company made two light bulbs, which made us capable of photographing that lunar surface in that large and wide environment with these prototypes."

"First man"

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

The other great attribute about IMAX was the capture of the 180 degree reflections in the Armstgrong viewer. It was strange, almost odd-looking and was complemented by Justin Hurwitz's use of otherworldly medicine in his score. "He looked very lonely, we took that with all those practical elements there," Sandgren said. "The crew had to hide."

The visual poetry of the sequence of the IMAX moon was the culmination of Armstrong's personal journey: to expand his horizon to face death. "With the metaphors in the film for this kind of thing, it was also a big part of our visual language," Sandgren said.

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