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How can the weightlessness of space be realistically simulated on film? Does it require CG or can a convincing simulation be achieved using wire fu and editing?

(I'm happy to hear of good examples of weightlessness in movies and how the effects were achieved.)

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Gravity had some scenes filmed underwater, but water causes challenges for lighting. This is a list question, because there is no right answer and movie directors will implement the effect anyway they can. It's a challenge to do it better than the previous space movie. –  Mathew Foscarini Oct 22 '13 at 14:48
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4 Answers 4

One of the known method for this is Reduced gravity aircraft, unofficial nickname vomit comet. KC-135A known as NASA 930 was used in the movie Apollo 13.

Cecil said that in 2001: A Space Odyssey, huge rotating sets are used, while the actor remained more or less stationary. It's not that realistic in looks but cheaper as compare to vomit comet.

Wire and green screen combination are also used sometimes.

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The rotating sets in 2001 were created to make the actors look like they were walking with magnetic boots (when in the transport craft), and to show Dave jogging around the crew cabin. The other actor was strapped to his chair as the entire set rotated. Very cool, but not to simulate weightlessness more like simulated gravity. –  Mathew Foscarini Oct 22 '13 at 14:42
    
@MathewFoscarini that's just a part of the answer, just used to present one more example. –  Ankit Sharma Oct 22 '13 at 17:54
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Inception is well known for simulating all of its zero/reduced gravity scenes without CG.

There is a behind the scenes documentary where the effects team detail the various method they use – and crucially how different shots within a sequence use different methods. This means there's never a single "trick" that the eye can catch to break the immersion.

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I think that there's really only one method to simulate weightlessness in that excellent documentary. The other methods deal with shifting gravity. Please consider adding an explanation of what they do in your answer as the video might not always be available. –  coleopterist Oct 22 '13 at 15:35
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The recent film Gravity used motion control rigs adapted from automotive assembly line robots. Popular Mechanics did a pretty interesting article about it: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/digital/fact-vs-fiction/free-floating-feel-how-gravity-simulates-zero-g-16016504

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Please try to describe what they did in a little more detail. The article might not always be available or available for free. (I haven't clicked the link yet as I haven't watched Gravity yet.) –  coleopterist Oct 23 '13 at 3:00
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More recent films also use digital doubles to animate all but actors' faces. This was used extensively on Ender's Game, and to some extent on Gravity. Per this article:

To create a sense of weightlessness, the filmmakers shot actors in harnesses and on wires against a greenscreen set to place them in a virtual world. Then to achieve the look of zero-G — and obey the laws of physics — visual effects studio Digital Domain ultimately retained only the actor’s faces and relied instead on digital doubles of their bodies for the sequence.

And for much more detail:

Nearly all the digital doubles created for Ender’s Game were in the zero-G Battle Room. . . . Digital Domain’s animation team developed tools that allowed artists to correct for that movement, then re-projected digital doubles (or parts of their bodies) back into the shots. Because Digital Domain had developed CG versions of the actors’ flash suits and re-created the lighting environment digitally, they were able to keep the actors’ faces from the live action shoot and replace nearly all of the body motions with digital doubles.

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