the vfx show #192: Interstellar

Mike Seymour, Zap Andersson and Andrew Usher discuss the science, story and visual effects in Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Interstellar.

Show Notes:

Overall VFX Production Supervisor — Paul J. Franklin
Production VFX Producer — Kevin Elam
Special Effects Supervisor — Scott Fisher / James Paradis
VFX Supervisor — Andrew Lockley — Double Negative
New Deal Studios

Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama

Interstellar: inside the black art — fxguide article on the film

The Physics Behind “Interstellar’s” Visual Effects Was So Good, it Led to a Scientific Discovery — article

Inside Oblivion — fxguide article discussing the use of projectors in Oblivion

Ring Around the Black Hole — NASA article about black holes

Neil deGrasse Tyson Breaks Down ‘Interstellar’: Black Holes, Time Dilations, and Massive Waves — article

Contact (1997)


Hypercube rotation

FAQ: Interstellar

The Trip to Italy – Clip “The Dark Knight Rises” | HD | IFC Films

10 thoughts on “the vfx show #192: <em>Interstellar</em>”

  1. Okay, I’ll say it, I think this movie was a stinker.

    Were the VFX any good? Sure they were. No doubt about that.

    But was the movie any good? Not in my book. Not by a long shot. I feel like the people who are talking about how much they love this movie saw a totally different film than I did.

    There are so many holes in this plot and so much clunky stilted dialogue (often totally inaudible) that it sometimes felt like a technological master work but a sad and failed attempt at “Cinema” (as defined by Andre Bazin).

    NASA knows that Cooper is the greatest pilot in the world, but they don’t contact him.
    Alfred (can’t remember the Caine character’s name) lies to them to save the Earth.
    Cooper deliberates for about fifteen seconds and decides to leave his family.
    He only misses his daughter cause his son is a disappointing farmer.
    When he finally returns to his daughter, they talk for about one minute and then he leaves to go back into space.
    Mankind destroyed the Earth and now they are seeking a new home to destroy. There’s no thought given to doing it better on “Earth 2”.
    Anne Hathaway’s character is a scientist who loses her marbles when she starts to talk about gravity and love, WTF?
    Plan B (which were told was actually Plan A) consists of hundreds or thousands of frozen embryos that will be carried to term by who? Hathaway? So she’s going to have to have as many babies as she can to populate this new world?
    Damon’s character goes crazy and tries to kill everyone because…why? Space madness?
    People travel great distances by being put into the deep sleep version of human suvee cooking.
    On the water planet…didn’t they see any of those giant waves from orbit?
    How can that little ship get into orbit from the surface, but a giant booster is required to get off the Earth?

    So many moments in the film were both shown and then verbosely articulated via dialogue. He just can’t help himself. We see the plates turned over to keep the dust off, but we also have to have the documentary footage saying it as well. Just show it, don’t say it and show it. Over and over this is the pattern. Makes me crazy.

    I know I’m in the minority on this one. Everyone seems to love it. I’m just saying, I don’t get it. I think this is an attempt at an emotional human film from a filmmaker that has a very hard time expressing real emotion. It felt forced and flat.

    And lastly, why are Christopher Nolan fans so intense?
    This article creeps me out, but does a good job of articulating this ephemeral thing that I can’t quite put my finger on…

    Since there were no comments, I thought I’d try and get this thread going. I think Nolan’s best films are “The Prestige” and “Memento”. And in just a short time, a filmmaker will be able to completely replicate the look of film, and even surpass its fidelity, with digital. The nostalgia for film is just that. If its the “warmth” the “grain” the “look” it can be duplicated in time. Just saying.

  2. First, sorry for my broken english as I am not a native speaker but I’ll do my best.

    I am a long time listener to the show and really apreciate it (insights, anecdotes, opinions,…) but there’s really something I can’t understand is that most of the time I think you are very “forgiving”. I can’t count how many disapointing movies were talked about in the show, and despite the interesting VFX at work (worth a show of course), it is difficult for me to conceive such clever people like you to “like this movie a lot” when it has so many flaws and the plot is so weak (i’m not talking about Interstellar here). I still enjoy most blockbuster movies because I am a VFX fan and I work as a director and motion designer, but this doesn’t mean I am not angry at most production to use such talented artists to work so hard on those silly scripts. Prometheus was a good exemple of this, but don’t get me started.

    Anyway… I still love the show but sometimes I feel like Matt, Jason or Mark should express their opinions even more (feels like they restrain themselves to not sound like downers). This really is the only negative comment I would have on the vfx show, everything else is top notch. So keep up the good work! I really apreciate to listen to your conversations.

    As for Interstellar… Again, I agree with you Matt. I can’t say I hate the film but it was a major disapointment. And this disapointment is only stronger because the movie has ambitions. I love ambitious movies, but there’s a fine line between ambitious and pretentious. That line has been crossed many times in this movie.

    What is the most obvious proof of failure is, as Matt pointed out, this obsessive need of explaining everything. This is a 3 hours long movie! Don’t you have enough time to “show” us instead of explaining things? Isn’t that what this art is all about?? And the explanations in themselves are corny, often confusing and mostly wrong. This is such a great exemple of how to lose your audience I can’t believe it. I am a science and astrophysics fan and I went with my wife who is not. So she didn’t understand much of what was trying to be explained throughout the movie, and I, as someone who knows about the subject, was frawning all the time by such ridiculous shortcuts of reasoning. So 2 different spectators and we have the same uneasiness. Good job…

    So what about the plot holes that jumped in my face in this movie?
    -For such a chatty movie, nothing is explained about the earth’s condition. Why? Why is the world like this? Since when? How does the rest of the world looks like? I mean outside the farmer’s field… This was a VERY interesting matter to put in perspective. How are the wild animals surviving? The insects? Creatures in the oceans?

    -Why isn’t there any question about the expedition in itself? Do humanity really deserves this? To destroy a planet and then go elsewhere to do the same? Isn’t that a bit silly? I know every living creature wants to survive, but as human-thinking-individuals we should have different opinions on the matter and only one of them is expressed throughout the movie. It is so weak I can’t even understand such flatness. When we f** up something we just have to move on…. that’s the moral of the film (?!)

    -What year does this movie takes place? in the future? we don’t have food nor any source of energy but we still drive old cars requiring gas? How do they produce and extract petrol anymore?

    -Why can humanity develop super AI robots (looking like Lego, go figure) and everything else (spaceship, suits,…) look like ’70s retro sci-fi? Couldn’t they develop more sufficient suits and stuff before the earth collapse? Why are things so advanced and others even less developped than in 2014?

    -The Nasa is preparing a huge expedition to save humanity. They get a new guy and make him take part as the main pilot (!) and he has 1 day to get ready… Now that’s fast. It seems they don’t even do it this fast for bus drivers in my city but I guess a spaceship travelling to unknown galaxy is easier.

    -When the goal of this travel is of such weight and consequence, why isn’t there anybody cautious of anything when they get to a new planet? Scaning the surface before landing, anyone? And this is the obvious one that even my wife came up with, I am not even talking about the list of thousands of procedures required for a safe landing. Of course it’s a movie and we have to skip thought the borring things, but the balance between realism and fiction has a sweetspot. Obviously the makers didn’t “spot” it.

    -I love science but I am not a “know-it-all” so I may be wrong on this one, but still if it’s a special characteristic of physics it should have been one of the only things “explained” in this film: Why would there be hundreds of meters tall waves in a “lake” only 20 centimeters deep? Is that even possible? And with such water force, everything should be sucked in… why does nothing move? Why the gravity is stronger than earth and they still can leave the planet with their “flying car”?

    -The poor guy waiting 23 years in his ship. I don’t say I wanted 30 minutes of him sharing his experience, but the thing was just completely ignored. This was also a missed occasion of showing what this could have done to him. Maybe just a bit more screen time on his eyes and reaction on different events and circumstances would have gave this character a bit more depth. Oh wait he just dies a bit later for nothing.

    -Damon character. I think if someone was to be locked alone on an ice planet for ages and dreaming of being rescued and see other humans, there would be a very slim chance that he would want to kill everyone to be alone again and try to steal the “car” to go back to a dying planet. That was plain stupid. The only purpose of this “arc” was to put some kind of drama and tension at this point of the story and this was lame and futile. How could they even think that this was going to be a friendly planet to live on? Hostile is the only word that came to mind when looking at this thing, I prefer to die on earth, thank you.

    -When they escape the Ice planet to go back to earth, I understand the script required his “sacrifice” but what would be logic in him to have to go to the other part of the ship in the first place??

    -The old guys testimony interviews were as subtle as an elephant walking on eggs. This was also very dumb to put them right in the begining of the film. I knew the film would end “ok” after the first minutes, if there are some people left to talk about the “past” then it means they solve their problem by the end of the movie… so should i leave the theatre now? I was already facepalming

    -My favorite character was the robot… and this means a lot to the depth of human character in the movie. Stereotypes, as always, pummel the appeal of the film.

    Well there are a lot more but that’s all for now. Nolan tried to much to make a “masterpiece” but the whole thing lacked elegance, simplicity, intelligence and simply mastery.

  3. Reading my post again I realize I may have went overboard about plot points while we are on a VFX-based website and podcast. So I am sorry if that was misplaced.

    I just feel so sorry for the guys working on postproduction and visual effects… I mean they are clearly the real artists at work. Directors, writers, producers… what is going on with you all? Especially for such big budget movies, don’t tell me you can’t afford to spend extra thousands to make some other people read the scripts and point out flaws and errors. That’s the simplest thing to do is to critique! If it’s a problem to find people spoting problems then feel free to contact me. That would be my pleasure to share my thoughts and insights to improve things.

    As for the vfx for Interstellar, I must say I liked them. They were discreet while still showing a lot of work went on it. I am not fond of the various designs though, except the planets which were intriguing but could have been a lot more. The attempt felt a bit shy. All the film was centered mainly on one character, but the worlds themselves should be treated as characters of their own. So I thought it was a missed opportunity again. The explorations could have given so much more mystery feeling.

    As for my comment on the vfx show, saying it is sometimes too “forgiving”, I didn’t want it to sound as a real complain. I have a blast listening to you guys since so many years. I really feel like we could easily work together, or have a drink together, because despite having different opinions or tastes, I feel we clearly are “coming from the same place”.

    So my only compain, really, is: please do more shows! 🙂

  4. I mostly enjoyed it WHILE I was watching it but, like Prometheus, thinking about later it made me hate it. I’d like to echo pretty much all of Matt’s criticism, and also ad: was the wormhole orbiting with/around Saturn, or was Saturn parked? Do wormholes have mass that would enable them to orbit anything?

    That’s all. You can go about your business now.

  5. I like the vfx show. I appreciate the time everyone takes to talk about these films and share their thoughts. It does strike me as odd sometime when I listen to a show and the discussion goes deep into real world practicality and how the films does not hold to these real world “rules”. But the fact that a movie may have 12 foot troll smashing a building or a man flying around in an iron suit shooting laser beams from his hands or 500 alien ships attacking earth does not phase anyone. How do we hold films to real world practicality when the stories are fictional and filled with fictional characters.

      1. I’d agree with Chris on the distinction. Any movie can set up its own world and rules. But the events in the world seem more believable/plausible to us if they follow that initial logic that they establish. But with VFX its also sometimes useful or helpful to examine the reality or physics behind a particular event. The more realistic the effect the greater the suspension of disbelief. There was a cool article on the Cinefex blog on this concept of VFX as both art and science.

  6. Thank you for the replies/input and thank you for the link. I agree with most all of what was said within that article. Use the real world as a jumping off point. Posting my comment at the bottom of the Interstellar Podcast may have been a bad choice since humans do exist, Saturn exists, and space travel in some form exists. There are a lot of real world things we can all use as a reference when watching this film.

    In the end, I think my overall comment is more to the idea that a lot of us that like VFX & movies often can pick apart something like the muscle mass of a 5 story reptile that smashes through New York. Come on, you have a problem with whether the muscle mass is anatomically correct to support the mutant reptiles head but you do not question the fact that a 5 story high mutant reptile is smashing New York. That part of the film didn’t throw you out of the story? The muscle mass not being able to support the characters head is what threw you out of the story.

    I enjoyed Interstellar. I have enjoyed the curiosity it has sparked in me regarding physics, gravity and if it really can effect “time” the way they display in the film. Not to find out if the film is right or wrong. Just to learn.

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