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Recently I heard that NASA confirmed their plan to work with Tom Cruise and Elon Musk's SpaceX on a film that would be shot in outer space.

I was amazed with Hollywood CGI effects shown in recent films, like the Planet of the Apes movies. It seems to me that using CGI technology for simulating space would save a lot of money compared to planning a movie in space.

So why spend these space expenses instead of using CGI?

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    Not sure why you think filming in space would be expensive. It's likely that SpaceX will underwrite a considerable portion of the cost (for getting into space) rather than charge the studio. Also, CGI is NOT as cheap as you might think. – Paulie_D Aug 1 at 11:13
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    @Paulie_D You might want to flesh out these considerations into an answer. Personally, when I think of "going to space" this sounds like one of the most expensive endeavours humans could do indeed (and I'd bet sure me and the OP aren't the only ones thinking so). But if you can explain why it isn't, especially compared to "normal" film-making and with relation to the business procedure SpaceX would go about, that could be helpful. – Napoleon Wilson Aug 1 at 12:54
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    Define space and expensive. After all, the latest estimates for a ticket on Virgin Galactic have been around $250,000 per person. And, the entire movie does not have to be shot in space for it to get the title of the first to shoot in space. – Dean F. Aug 1 at 14:30
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    @PaulieD CGI is cheap enough that they made The Expanse look very good on every shot which just involved space suits and ships. What didn't work was hair and clothing. Drinking was also a fail. – Graham Aug 2 at 7:47
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    I'm surprised nobody brought up the Kubrick series from the 70s... – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Aug 3 at 0:59
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Everyone and their dog will go see the publicity stunt that is the first movie made in real space by a famous actor, headed by the world's foremost space agency and the world's richest egomaniac... Considering going to space now only costs in the low hundreds of millions and some movies produce over 1 billion in returns, you’re looking at a pretty good risk-to-profit ratio.

Much like the recent probe launched by Dubai to Mars that only cost 200 million, a project almost entirely only done for advertising/marketing/inspiring STEM among their own youths, this movie project could and will be a huge advertising for all the above mentioned groups, and importantly youths.

At least it’ll be spun off that way.

In the end, it’s a way for Tom Cruise and Elon Musk to gloat and show off, and potentially make a huge profit.

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    The cost of a seat on a Falcon 9 is less than Tom Cruise gets paid for some of his movies. – Robyn Aug 2 at 3:37
  • I don't think a guaranteed cost of a few hundred million dollars versus a chance your movie will gross billions is a worthwhile risk. Only a fraction of the films ever made have realised a profit that large. – pyro Aug 4 at 8:28
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    @pyro it’s clearly a risk, however i feel you’re overestimating the general audience. – morbo Aug 4 at 9:28
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    Objection: second richest egomaniac, if that. – Russell Borogove Aug 4 at 16:23
  • The insurance for putting Cruise on a spaceship will be interesting though – Asteroids With Wings Aug 4 at 16:43
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Other than the publicity stunt, which it most definitely is when compared to the cost of CGI, there is one thing we can't believably CGI away: microgravity.

When actors are in harnesses to simulate microgravity, you can generally tell. Also, their hair will still obey the laws of gravity, as will any object they interact with. That doesn't matter much when it's one small shot in a movie, but it does very much matter if the movie spends a significant time in microgravity and is aiming for some degree of realism.

The best way to inprove the realism is by building a set on a plane which goes in freefall (better known as the Vomit Comet. It creates believable microgravity for the actors and their surroundings (e.g. Apollo 13 used it to great effect), but a plane cannot freefall very long and you end up with short scenes (or frequent cuts).

Apollo 13 behind the scenes footage for the microgravity scenes.

If you compare Apollo 13 to Gravity, Apollo 13 feels a lot more believable from a physics point of view.

Shooting a movie in space would allow for significantly longer takes of a microgravity environment, since you'd actually be in an actual microgravity environment.

That being said, I very much doubt it's going to be cost-effective, and thus we get back to the already made "publicity stunt" argument.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Napoleon Wilson Aug 5 at 10:08
  • @Flater My point is that a faithful portrayal of reality is not their aim. As with all Hollywood movies, selling a lot of tickets is their aim. They did not sit in a brainstorm session saying "What did people not like about Gravity? It was the hair. If the hair had been accurate, it would have sold more tickets". They started with a gimmick: filming in space. Just because that will mean it should be more realistic than CGI efforts, does not mean that's the goal they started with – Michael Aug 5 at 10:13
  • @Michael: You're responding to a point I never made. This answer does not focus on how to sell tickets to viewers. – Flater Aug 5 at 10:15
  • Then I'm not sure what your main point is. OP asked why they're doing it this way, and you talk about all of the insufficiencies of CGI, but the insuffuciencies of CGI are not why they're doing it this way. – Michael Aug 5 at 10:20
  • @Michael: OP's question relies on the assertion that using CGI nets an equal result to shooting scenes in microgravity. This answer points out the differences/complexities in using CGI to replace shooting in actual microgravity. – Flater Aug 5 at 10:23

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