How did Kubrick do it?
September 18, 2013
If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s critically-hailed masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), you’ll likely recall watching the screen above and thinking how on earth (or in space) did they capture that footage? The tremendous power of visual effects through 3D CGI had yet to hit the film industry, and would not until Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977. So the question remains, how?
I point to the best and only informational resource of it’s kind – Cinefex Magazine, a journal of cinematic illusions. Essentially the holy grail of searchable databases for effects professionals and enthusiasts, with over 125 issues covering three times as many films. Articles, interviews, and behind-the-scenes coverage provides in-depth details and explanation of the tricks used by the most innovative pioneers and legends in VFX history. Moreover, cinefex reveals the visual and special effects secrets of not only the studios throughout the golden age of Hollywood, but also the most recent blockbuster to hit theaters. Oblivion and Iron Man III through to Bladerunner and the original Star Trek series.
Issue 85 definitely has a better answer than I do, but long story short: Frank was able to jog vertically around the circular space station because Kubrick built an enormous rotating set (like a hamster wheel) in which the actor stood in place and ‘jogged’. The motorized centrifuge had a cut-out path in the floor just big enough for the camera to poke through. Still, imagine the difficulty of getting the timing right!