Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” June 30 marks its 25th anniversary. A 1970s space mission was illustrated in 1999 with the help of the Post House Digital Domain, which turned into a battle for survival after an oxygen tank exploded in a service module.
Diversity Kelly Port (“Avengers: Endgame”) and Matthew Butler (“Ready Player One”), who worked at home for the junior years, looked at the house.
What are some of the memorable VFX scenes you worked on for “Apollo 13”?
Kelly Port: This is one of the first film projects I have worked on. I was responsible for the directional thruster effects of the wreckage floating after the explosion and if I remember correctly I was responsible for some part of the moon.
Matthew Butler: It was a time when we were bootstrapping like crazy. Then, there was no set method or process in the digital domain to facilitate workflow, as there is now. We had a lot of bright minds who were inventing neat techniques, but they were insulating and we needed an integrated plan to make sure the pipeline was well oiled. I worked on the technical side of most things; The set includes collecting the necessary data, copying the camera presentation, scanning the film, animating and creating a synthetic presentation of the product, combining the final image and rendering on disk. For “Apollo 13” we will then output these again in the film.
How was the situation?
Port: These were the first days of visual effects and the digital domain was then a few years old. We had an amazing miniature section, and they were cranking things up like crazy. There was a time when you could go to our big stage and see the miniatures for “Titanic,” “Apollo 13” and “Peak of Dante”. The air was filled with an intense creative energy and incredible for someone like me to just get into the industry.
Butler: Coming from the aerospace industry, whatever I was at the quadrangle stage, I was eager to get involved. I think our guerrillas were like that. I heard a colleague shout, “Stop writing on stage 26; it’s being filled.” They were referring to the physical computer space that was in serious danger of overflowing. These are not issues we deal with today, but then you had to fix your own carburetor.
Is there anything from the shoot that you were particularly proud of?
Port: Rob Legato [VFX supervisor] And Eric Nash [VFX DP] Came up with some brilliant speed-control setups with miniatures using all sorts of interesting passes like orange matte pass and various UV light passes [to separate light, color, diffusion and reflection within an image before passing them through a compositor to combine them back into a single image]. We passed a reverse blue-screen and finally passed a model. One of the great things they did in the live-action shoot was to create a partial set of NASA’s “vomit comets” that mimicked the effects of zero-gravity.
Was there even a moment that stood on top of the rest?
Port: Buzz Aldrin asked what NASA archives were used to capture footage of some of Saturn’s launches. [the disposable first stage of the rocket that was used to get the mission into space], Because he had never seen it before. We would definitely love to hear something like this, because it means we have achieved our goal of keeping it as realistic as possible. We made a lot of shots in stock footage but made them better. It’s like the combined memories of our iconic shots.