Description and History
This technology was dubbed the Light Box, a hollow nine by nine foot cube with interior walls fitted with LEDs. The brainchild of Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki, who got the idea from LED lighting effects and projects at a Peter Gabriel concert and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber, the Light Box was necessary because animators had to match up the lighting in the animation with the live action shoot perfectly. Cuarón told ComingSoon that the finished box was raised on a six-foot-high platform. Similar to a green screen except more accurate, efficient and less high-maintenence, it was fitted with 1.8 million individually controllable LED bulbs that could show any CG image to get the correct lighting. Rather than trying to figure out how to move Sandra Bullock through space, they realized they could move space around her. Not that it was simple from there. To make the technique work, they built the Light Box, or “Sandy’s Cage,” as essentially it’s 360 degrees of Jumbotron screens—and then piloted the camera through it using a robot designed for car production.
About 60 percent of Gravity was shot in the light box. When tasked with the stumbling block of how they would light their characters in space, the team was stumped. "First of all we had to work out a way of surrounding the actor by lights everywhere, and yet still being able to get the camera to be active and not have the lights getting in the way," explains Webber. Director of photography Emmanuel 'Chivo' Lubezki concerned himself with the light in space. "Light in space isn’t like any other light, you know, because it’s unfiltered."
"[Emmanuel 'Chivo' Lubezki] was at a Peter Gabriel concert and that’s where he had his eureka moment of 'Let’s try the lights,'" explains Cuarón. "He came in and said, 'We can do it with LED lights.'" The team ended up building a 10 x 10 foot box that could extend both height- and width-wise. Two years and 1.8 million LEDs later they "could control the brightness of each of every single one to get the colors and the position of the lights". Cuarón claims that he was called late at night by Lubezki about him going to a concert. Because he was so busy and exhausted, Cuarón was frustrated by this seemingly random call and said "That's great, Chivo." As he prepared to finish the conversation and hang up, Lubezki explained that this was how he knew what they were going to do to film Gravity.