A scene from Gravity. Courtesy AP Photo / Warner Bros.
A scene from Gravity. Courtesy AP Photo / Warner Bros.

Gravity shows London VFX scene is major rival to LA



Crammed between Soho’s shops and trendy restaurants are six of the world’s eight biggest visual effects - or VFX - companies.

Soho firms such as Double Negative and The Moving Picture Company have produced the effects for a string of ambitious movies in recent years, including Inception, Life of Pi and Prometheus. Then there is Framestore, the British company that helped Gravity collect 10 Academy Award nominations.

Even as they were working on the cutting-edge technology that helped a computerised Sandra Bullock climb into her rocket in a London basement months ago, the team who put her there were already at work on more basic tools of their trade: working with syrup, cheese and chocolate.

“We’re trying to create a melting flesh effect for the new Tom Cruise movie,” said Richard Graham, Framestore’s visual effects project manager.

“Golden syrup and chocolate make really good blood if you mix them with lots of red food colouring,” said Graham, during an interview at Framestore’s sprawling studios, behind the facade of an ordinary-looking office block in the Soho district of central London.

“We’ve also been blow-torching different cheeses to make them bubble. Burger cheese didn’t work that well because the fat content’s not high enough. Mature English cheddar was a lot better.”

The sticky mess of foodstuffs will appear for only a fleeting moment, grafted digitally onto the actors' skin, in the forthcoming movie End of Tomorrow.

But that's nothing unusual for Graham and the other visual effects (VFX) artists who spent a painstaking three-and-a-half years creating the stunning computer-generated space vistas of Gravity.

Framestore staff toiled for a year building a digital replica of the International Space Station (ISS) - and then tore their hair out trying to work out how to blow it up.

Tim Webber, the film’s VFX supervisor, remembers feeling exhausted after the very first meeting with director Alfonso Cuaron.

“So much about it was so different to any film before,” Webber said. “The massive involvement of visual effects changed everything about the film-making process.”

An extremely complex shoot saw Bullock and co-star George Clooney spend hours suspended in rigging at Shepperton Studios, west of London, or else trapped in a cage filled with two million tiny LEDs designed to simulate the harsh light of space.

Time Magazine named this innovative "lightbox" as one of their top inventions of 2013. But like the cheese in End of Tomorrow, other VFX tricks used in Gravity were more rudimentary.

“We had someone hit Sandra Bullock over the head with a broomstick,” Webber recalled.

“She was supposed to be flying down the ISS and bumping into the walls, so we had to get her to react as if she’d bumped into something. There was a lot of low-tech stuff going on alongside the high-tech stuff.”

Some 500 VFX staff worked on the movie, many of them poring over NASA videos for hours in a bid to make the portrayal of zero gravity as authentic as possible.

Other parts of the film, Webber readily admits, required larger leaps of imagination. Few people have seen fire in space, for example - so huge explosions were extrapolated from a YouTube clip of an astronaut lighting a match.

In most shots, only the actors’ faces are real - the space station, stars and even the suits were generated by computers in London.

Gravity is one of a growing number of Hollywood blockbusters to have had their computer-generated imagery (CGI) magic worked in the British capital.

“You might think it was made in Los Angeles,” said Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the Film London public agency. “But it’s absolutely a film that’s been made in London. It’s a fantastic ad for us.”

It all started, Wootton said, with Harry Potter. The series brought a solid decade of big-budget film production to the capital from 2000.

Soho firms shared the VFX work and ploughed the proceeds into new technologies, cementing London’s reputation as a world leader in computer wizardry.

Generous tax incentives have also helped Soho win business - to the fury of Hollywood’s VFX artists.

They even planned to protest at the Academy Awareds over subsidies that have steadily wooed productions from Los Angeles to London and rival VFX hubs like Toronto and Vancouver.

But Hollywood’s loss is London’s gain. VFX is the fastest-growing component of the British film industry, according to a government-commissioned report published in 2011.

At least £287 million (Dh1.6m) is now spent on VFX in Britain each year, the British Film Institute says.

Scores

New Zealand 266 for 9 in 50 overs
Pakistan 219 all out in 47.2 overs 

New Zealand win by 47 runs

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

UAE medallists at Asian Games 2023

Gold
Magomedomar Magomedomarov – Judo – Men’s +100kg
Khaled Al Shehi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -62kg
Faisal Al Ketbi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -85kg
Asma Al Hosani – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -52kg
Shamma Al Kalbani – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -63kg
Silver
Omar Al Marzooqi – Equestrian – Individual showjumping
Bishrelt Khorloodoi – Judo – Women’s -52kg
Khalid Al Blooshi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -62kg
Mohamed Al Suwaidi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -69kg
Balqees Abdulla – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -48kg
Bronze
Hawraa Alajmi – Karate – Women’s kumite -50kg
Ahmed Al Mansoori – Cycling – Men’s omnium
Abdullah Al Marri – Equestrian – Individual showjumping
Team UAE – Equestrian – Team showjumping
Dzhafar Kostoev – Judo – Men’s -100kg
Narmandakh Bayanmunkh – Judo – Men’s -66kg
Grigorian Aram – Judo – Men’s -90kg
Mahdi Al Awlaqi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -77kg
Saeed Al Kubaisi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -85kg
Shamsa Al Ameri – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -57kg

Our legal columnist

Name: Yousef Al Bahar

Advocate at Al Bahar & Associate Advocates and Legal Consultants, established in 1994

Education: Mr Al Bahar was born in 1979 and graduated in 2008 from the Judicial Institute. He took after his father, who was one of the first Emirati lawyers

The Bio

Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Favourite place to relax in UAE: the desert around Al Mleiha in Sharjah or the eastern mangroves in Abu Dhabi
The one book everyone should read: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It will make your mind fly
Favourite documentary: Chasing Coral by Jeff Orlowski. It's a good reality check about one of the most valued ecosystems for humanity

Sam Smith

Where: du Arena, Abu Dhabi

When: Saturday November 24

Rating: 4/5

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices


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