Apple TV’s historic space drama series For All Mankind recently hosted a virtual press conference. Select members of the press were allowed to pose questions to Stephen McNutt (Cinematographer), Jay Redd (VFX Supervisor), Jill Ohanneson (Costume Designer), Vince Balunas (Sound Designer), and John Milo Train (Sound Designer). The following are excerpts from that press event.
Costume Designer Jill Ohanneson was asked about challenges she faced.
Jill: I had two different teams: one for civilian costumes and another for space and
military. In the beginning, I talked to Ron about having different color palettes for the NASA world vs. the world of the astronauts and their families. So we went with cooler, sleeker, more clinical colors for NASA—blues, greys, forest greens. For the astronauts and their families, we used much warmer colors—earth tones, browns, yellows, oranges. So I felt that that really separated the world.
The team was asked about the pandemic’s impact
Stephen McNutt (Cinematographer): The Pandemic didn’t hit us until March. We were only two weeks away from finishing the final episode, which was the most climactic part. We were the only people on the lot when we came back. We were tested five days a week and twice on Wednesday. Ultimately we were able to work well under those conditions.
Jay Redd (VFX Supervisor): When the pandemic hit,
we got shut down in March, all of our visual effects team still had to continue producing work. So a lot of the studios had to shut down and migrate to their artists’ homes. Using keyboards and monitors, we figured out how to work remotely so the show could keep going. The visual effects team was a bit ahead of the curve because people were working all over the world. All of our artists became very virtual during the pandemic. We only had a couple of weeks of downtime with most of our team and we came roaring right back with creative, tech, and support teams.
Mike Halloran (Supervising Picture Editor): We work on a 60-square-foot sound stage to mix the
show and you can’t bring that home. I have a moderate home studio but we all had to figure out a new game plan. It was definitely complex with the sonic environment and the channels used. When we shut down, we really could not have done this show at home. But the timing enabled us to do the last two episodes in the studio.
Jill: When we came back to finish those last episodes in the fall, it was a whole different ball game. We had to make appointments to go to the rental houses. Only so many people were allowed on set. And the whole dry-cleaning situation was a huge deal. Also, all of the online retail stores were at least a week behind.
Stephen was asked about shooting gear—cameras and lenses
Stephen: In terms of cameras and lenses, we went with the Sony Venice, which is an outstanding camera. And we used the Cook S4, a soft quality lens, which complimented all the things we were doing. We did our research, looking at movies to get an ethereal kind of ‘60s look. Moonlight and those types of things played very significantly in the show. We wanted to get as much moonlight in as we could. Entire scenes were often flooded with moonlight, accenting it as a basic character. When we were on the moon and got out of the sun, Earthlight came through. So that’s what inspired us.
Stephen was asked what challenges they faced during the Apollo-Soyuz space docking scene and when they were shooting the moon-shuttle sequences.
Stephen: This was a combination of the magnificent Jay Redd and myself. We also had Todd Schneider, our stunt coordinator. We shot various things and Jay made it bigger and better. We dealt with this off-speed—we had to find the frame rate we liked on the moon and that turned out to be 32 frames per second. Then Todd took care of the wirework, which allowed people to move around in a moon-like way.
A follow-up was asked about the challenges faced in shooting a flying shuttle across the moon’s surface with astronauts moving and hanging on outside the shuttle.
Stephen: We didn’t have that much room to move so we drove it as far as we could. I didn’t shoot the men on the outside of the rover. That was all CG, right?
Jay: Yeah, those were the Marines. We used a couple of vehicles. For the rover, we shot a combination of live-action scenes with multi-person rovers moving across 50 to 70 feet. And we had big aerial shots that combined live-action with CG. Then there was the L-Fame, which was flying across the surface of the moon with the Marines on the back. When you see their faces and we pull away, we replaced the entire background to create an illusion. When you see the stage photography, it looks kind of ridiculous.
Stephen was asked if they storyboarded those scenes.
Jay: We often did and we also did a lot of pre-vis work, which is a kind of video game style visualization of what we ultimately wanted the shot to do.
Being that this was alternate history, how did they create something unique to this show?
Stephen: That’s a tough question. We kind of did what we needed to do within the story and the spirit of the scene. We were also pulled back quite often. Other than architecture and certain elements of technology, we didn’t have that many restrictions. We just used 80s technology and put it on the moon.
Jay: Everything was discussed and had to make a lot of choices. From a visual effects standpoint, we started with the rules, then we bent and broke them. We’d play with physics a little bit to get the drama out of a scene.
How was antigravity simulated?
Jay: The actors had a lot to with it. They’d move and gesture slowly and act out the feel of antigravity. They ran on the moon at 32 frames per second to create a one-sixth G micro-gravity that looks pretty amazing. Plus the stunts, cable work, and actors—all the pieces came together.
Stephen: There’s a couple of different ways to simulate antigravity. Sometimes, we used wires; other times, we used a parallelogram, which moved people up and down like a teeter-totter. We’d turn the capsule sideways. It was and still is one of the biggest challenges—how do you maintain that feel of antigravity? We follow a certain path of reality and expand it into our world.
A question was asked about sound and the technical aspects of the show.
Mike: One of the fun things about sound is that we may have good records of what a lot of these things look like but not many sound records. We had to start from scratch. We talked about what wonderful things need to happen. Astronauts need air and power. There’s a shot where Tracy’s going through the lab and she finds alcohol. We also have centrifuges and other lab equipment that we use later on throughout the show. But all that has to be built based on conversations about what they need. Then there’s the interplay between flight control and DODcom.
Stephen: We had a lot of issues when we came back. We were only allowed a certain number of background extras on the set. When we shot mission control, we had to do layers of people. We still have that problem now. We can only have a limited number of people on set.
Jay: I recall hearing that Apollo astronauts would see a little bit of dust rising on the surface of the moon. So we concluded that there might be some electrostatic energy levitating moon dust off the ground, so we ran with that.
Stephen was asked about showing a starfield in space.
Stephen: I like stars. The moon is extremely bright. So your eyes shut down and you don’t see many stars when you’re on the surface of the moon. But when we were out of the moon’s light, we put the stars in. It makes sense to me that if you were out in space doing a walk, you’d see stars.
Jay: When we shot going over the dark side of the moon, we showed some stars.