Tim Webber, who is Oscar-nominated for Best Achievement in Visual Effects on the Alfonso Cuaron-directed space epic Gravity, received his education in math, physics and art – and all were all put to good use on film. “I got to use my physics education. It helped me understand the way things move in zero gravity. It gave me a good, theoretical understanding,” said Webber, who added that from his art education, he learned how to look at things differently. “Physics taught me how the way things work, how energy doesn’t dissipate but changes, and that was useful in getting it real and have a feeling of reality.” And looking at things differently was a necessity for Gravity’s success.
This was a movie, he said, where the normal filmmaking process had to be put aside. Gravity, which required a significant amount of planning and preproduction, was a project like no other. “Everything about this film was a different filmmaking process. The way people had to work together was different,” said Webber. “We actually lit the film before we went to shoot it. The set dresser, when she did it, she was doing it next to a visual effects artist who was moving props around with a mouse on a computer screen. The language was different.” The reasons behind the differences was that Gravity was made almost entirely in CG and, of course, there were those notable long shots. For instance, the opening scene was 12-minute single-take. “You couldn’t talk about continuity in the normal way,” he said. “If you were talking about a moment in the film, we had to divide the film up in completely different ways to a normal film. We had to find new ways of working together because each department couldn’t work on its own.
Gravity was done through the U.K.-based visual effects house Framestore, a very well-regarded company that has been entrusted with several, big-budgeted studio films including, Avatar, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire and Clash of the Titans (to name a few). Webber worked on all of them, but nothing compared to Gravity in terms of approach or length of time. He and others at Framestore spent a full three years working on the film, with a three-month shoot in the middle of those years and a little less than two years of post. All of which followed that lengthy planning and preproduction. Others nominated for the visual effects with Webber are Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould.
“It was a very big show for the company, and it took a huge amount of capacity and resources,” said Webber who had worked with Cuaron before as the visual effects supervisor on the director’s artistically challenging Children Of Men. Webber also had worked on special effects for the Hallmark miniseries Merlin, where he served as second unit director and won an Emmy for his effects work. One of the memorable effects that he was most proud of during the time on Merlin used a remote control camera that “rode” through a tunnel of trees and came out on a beach to the water. One continuous shot.
With Gravity, “because of the long shots, you had a smaller team working for a longer time.” It may have been a long time coming, but it was well worth it. Cuaron received his first directing and best picture nom and Webber’s received his second special effects nomination (the first was for The Dark Knight in 2009). And because of their vision, Gravity goes into this weekend’s Academy Awards with 10 nominations.