How Kubrick Made 2001: A Space Odyssey – Part 5: Jupiter Mission [B]


Kubrick was obsessed with making every frame of 2001 perfect. In several photos of Kubrick on the set, you can see him holding a still camera. This was because he was constantly testing the exposure of every shot.

Keir Dullea: “Stanley would take maybe fifty Polaroid shots, testing the lighting for ever single set-up—every time he set up for a new scene. It took hours and hours to light them. I mean, many more hours between sequences than you normally have on a film. I mean, film was always about, ‘hurry up and wait,’ but moreso with this film than any other film I’ve done.”

And he was also obsessed with the focus being absolutely perfect in every shot.

Joe Dunton: “Even on 2001, I know from a friend who was on that film. He would put a television camera looking at the focus charts to try and- I think he was fanatical about focus—of sharpness of lenses. The television camera would look at the markings of the lens and then he would photograph the television set with the focus chart that he was photographing, so he could see as somebody was moving the focus, he could watch on his projected rushes to see where the focus was the sharpest.”

Jeremy Bernstein remembers seeing Kubrick handed a polaroid camera. He said, “I asked Kubrick what he needed the Polaroid for, and he explained that he used it for checking subtle lighting effects for color film. He and the director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth, had worked out a correlation between how the lighting appeared on the instantly developed Polaroid film and the settings on the movie camera. I asked Kubrick if it was customary for movie directors to participate so actively in the photographing of a movie, and he said succinctly that he had never watched any other movie director work” (Making 68).

“Originally, he said, he had planned on a hundred and thirty days of shooting for the main scenes, but the centrifuge sequences had slowed them down by perhaps a week. ‘I take advantage of every delay and breakdown to go off by myself and think,’ he said, ‘Something like playing chess when your opponent takes a long time over his next move’” (Making 69).

Kubrick had a blue trailer “that was once Deborah Kerr’s dressing room” converted into a mobile office (Making 62). He would have it wheeled onto the set and it allowed him a quiet and private place to write while things were being set up and worked on. He would often have the actors join him in the trailer to improvise on the dialogue in order to distil it to its simplest form and make it sound more natural.

Andrew Birkin remarked, “He had that wonderful paradoxical nature. He was crazy about systems and filing and the ordered-mind, but his office was always chaos. There were papers all over the place, even on the floor” (Andrew Birkin Interview).

Berenstein also recounted visiting Kubrick’s writing trailer:

“When we reached the trailer, I could see that it was used as much for listening as for writing, for in addition to the usual battery of tape recorders (Kubrick writes rough first drafts of his dialogue by dictating into a recorder, since he finds that this gives it a more natural flow) there was a phonograph and an enormous collection of records, practically all of them of contemporary music. Kubrick told me that he thought he had listened to almost every modern composition available on records in an effort to decide what style of music would fit the film. Here, again, the problem was to find something that sounded unusual and distinctive but not so unusual as to be distracting” (Making 65).

Kubrick: “I just don’t see how, if you’re using orchestral music, why should you go to a hundredth-rate—I should think it must be like that—composer? There’s no point in having somebody try to write something that sound like Mozart. Well, in 2001 I used Ligeti. Well, let’s say, 2001 you could have gotten somebody to write it specially, but it’s such a colossal gamble and it’s done at the last minute, I mean, if you’re not happy with it. It’s always done in 12 weeks or something. So, if you find the music that seems right, it seems pointless not to use it.”

The music playing during the intermission is “Atmospheres” by Ligeti and was the same as the overture to the film.

The first images we see after the intermission are of the Discovery space ship and the pod rising up over the command module. Keir Dullea notes that this shot is visually similar to the very first shot of the film. Special effects artist Brian Johnson takes us through a typical day of shooting these models:

“So we would go to the storyboards and take the shot that we were doing on any particular day and then I would set it up on the blacked-out sound stage. The electrician would come in and set up the lights [where] Stanley wanted them. Stanley would set the key light were he wanted it, then we would blanket the exposure. We had problems with processing the film because we at times would work with a f/stop of 128 for about 10 minutes — which was basically an aperture the size of a pinhole — this was because we had to get a certain depth of field, but also everything had to always be in focus as well. So we’d shoot something, send it off and it would often times be rejected because it wasn’t perfect.

From there, I had to clean the negatives that Stanley had shot. Then Stanley would go over those to determine which part of the image he wanted to appear on the screen. Once he had decided, he would have someone cut out the model from the composite made from the negative with a surgical scalpel and then that would be placed onto the glass plates. Once the glass plates were made, they would re-photograph those with a film camera. [The] cameras would track along with the image or move in on it as was necessary.  We didn’t very often shoot the models with a film camera, but we shot more with a still camera really. It was animation. It was important to do it this way because then we could then go back and re-re-photograph those with background projections in place. An example of that would be how one sees space in the background via the windows of the space station” (Brian Johnson Interview).

“I was given the job of getting all of the models ready to do the still photography with Stanley. We had an Electrician, myself and Stanley on a completely blacked-out sound stage. Stanley would work for hours lighting the models and then he would shoot the 4″x 5″ plates, and those plates would then be used to make enlargements for the animation. We used Polaroid Land 300 stock. It was the same stock that spy planes used, and it was very fine grain black and white. It was very high process stock, it was fantastic stuff” (Brian Johnson Interview).

In a separate interview, this time with Bryan Loftus, Loftus explains the separation process:

“The first real work that I ever did in the film industry was on matte paintings. Stuff like a painting of a landscape that you would put in around a castle and then re-photograph. I had acquired experience working that way but with separation masters, which was when color film was broken down into three different layers of colors.  It was a good way of reproducing imagery because effectively you were working with black and white film as a result, and it would produce a very fine grain image.  Because of all of the special effects shots in 2001, Stanley had decided that he wanted to do the entire film via the separation process.  This detailed, taking a shot of the spaceship in 2001, and then adding a matte of the stars in behind it and then re-photographing it and adding other elements in as well and then re-photographing the entire thing all together. He wanted to use the separation process because when you worked that way you could instantly be able to see in the shot if anything had gone wrong in the re-photographing when you put the YCM (Yellow, Cyan, Magenta) colors of the film back together again off of the negative…

Every shot in 2001 that required process work went through the YCM process, and at the end of it we had something like 250,000 feet of film that we had worked on.  The film was shot on 65mm, and there was only one optical printer in the world that could accommodate that.  It was owned by Linwood Dunn in Hollywood, and Stanley had it flown over to England and I was the person who was put to the task of running it” (Bryan Loftus Interview).

All of these shots are breathtaking even nearly fifty years later. One of the most fascinating things about them is how they approached these shots.

“Completion [of the special effects shots] often involved the addition of many different elements which may have included miniature projection, stars, Earth or Jupiter, the sun, and quite often the addition of a second model matched in scale and motion to the first, such as the Orion spacecraft approaching the space station or the pod moving relative to the Discovery spacecraft. All of the movements and exposures of the additional elements would be keyed to match the first original photography of the main model shooting… One of the most interesting aspects of this complex combination of models, matted stars, Earth, Moon, sun, etc., was that few if any of these shots were preplanned or designed in advance… Each shot merely grew from its first element. Subsequent elements were added and tested for speed, exposure, movement, etc., and were accepted or rejected according to their merits for that shot, with little or no regard to that shot’s relationship to any previous or subsequent shots. In most cases, shots would be matted, combined, and completed in their entirety, even though only a few feet or seconds would be used in the final cut of the film. Although this technique may have seemed wasteful, time-consuming, and expensive, it was the only way that latitude could be available in the final cutting of the film. The special effects could be cut just like live action, in that each particular action or story-point was covered by a multitude of angles and shots, each of which was carried to completion” (Making 71,72).

This time Frank is the one who goes out to replace the AE-35 unit. In an early draft of the screenplay, there is a part that was cut that shows how the men decide who goes outside the ship. The description is as follows:

“We see Bowman and Poole go to a cupboard labeled in paper tape, ‘random decision maker.’ They remove a silver dollar in a protective case. Poole flips the coin. Bowman calls ‘head.’ It is tails. Poole wins. Poole looks pleased” (Screenplay).

This was when Dave went out earlier to retrieve the AE-35 unit, so it appears that they don’t enjoy going out. They filmed all of the scenes with one of the two men in space in a very large soundstage. For this shot, he was being lowered by a wire.

Keir Dullea: “The close-ups of me doing the work were me, but the long-shots were stuntmen hanging by wires.”

Here, we are looking at the shooting of Frank’s death scene. A stunt man would jump from this platform while attached to a wire. The camera was positioned underneath him and looking straight up. The camera would move with the stunt man and, since the wire was attached to his back, the camera couldn’t see the wire because it was hidden behind his body (Making 131).

“Poole in [a] weightless condition [by] hanging from ceiling is hauled toward rescue pod piloted by Bowman. Poole was given a spin—his wire harness had [a] pivot joint—and he rotated until he moved into [the] pod arms. [The] stunt man spent long sessions hanging upside down and would nearly faint from heat, fatigue, [and] lack of air” (Making 131).

The part where Dave retrieves Frank’s body and it shows the body gently and weightlessly bump against the pod’s arms had always baffled me because it really looks like he’s floating through space and didn’t look like he was simply on a wire. Well, he was on a wire, but there is a little bit more to the effect. They originally tried using a dummy, but it didn’t give the proper look of a floating body they were going for, so a “stunt man had to be used in entire sequence. He had to move his arms and legs very slowly to give [the] impression of being limp. [The] scene was shot at 96 frames per second so that in [the] normal projection at 24 frames per second the slowing-down effect gave it [a] proper space-drift sense. In producing [the] sequence, [the] astronaut had to collide with the pod arms many times in many takes, and at twice the impact as the speed indicates in [the] film” (Making 134).

So in essence, the stuntman was crashing into the pod’s arms at a relatively high speed and they would slow it down in post-production. And again, we’re looking straight up toward the ceiling in this shot. The soundstage was all black and the wire was likely also black or in shadow enough to be simply matted out if it peeked out from behind the actor before they added the star background. Needless to say, that must have been a rough day for the stunt man considering the shot was originally meant to have a dummy.

They had another full sized pod constructed “with completely motorized, articulated arms. It took ten or twelve men at long control consoles to simultaneously control the finger, wrist, forearm, elbow, and shoulder actions of the two pod arms, and the interior of that pod was a maze of servos, actuators, and cables” (American Cinematographer).

A separate pod interior set was constructed so that it could be taken apart in order to shoot different angles (Commentary). You can see in this shot a graphic readout appearing on Dave’s face. The displays wouldn’t do this, so there must have been a projector set up specifically to project images onto Keir Dullea’s face, which not only helps light his face, but it adds a stylistic element that brings the pod setting into the shots that have a shallow depth of field. It also almost looks like war paint making Dave appear a bit primitive and further showing humanity’s lower status on the evolutionary line to that of machines.

The spacesuits were designed by Fred Ordway and Harry Lange to have a function and a purpose for every detail. In an interview, Fred Ordway said, “We took the design to a contractor for execution. Harry was the designer in that case and the artist. They were designed and Stanley approved them. They were designed before we left for England. They were designed when we were working in New York City still, but they were physically created over in England for the shooting of the film” (Fred Ordway Interview 2). Harry Lange also designed the space helmets.

The watches that Dave and Frank wear were designed special for the film by a Hamilton Watches and were advertised as sort of a tie-in product to capitalize on the buzz around the film as well as the popularity of the space-age. It’s described as “a watch for space-age travellers which curves around one side of the wrist and has a porthole to show the month, day, and Greenwich Mean Time. The outer rim of the dial can be used to measure elapsed time. The watch is also equipped with a buzzer which rings when [the] elapsed time is up” (Hamilton Watch). We can see both of the men wearing the watch in several of the shots of them in the discovery, but it looks as though they remove the watch when they put on their space suits.

In Berenstein’s visit to the set, he wrote about how much thought was put into each and every detail and here, he shares a memory about the shoulder patches: “[Associate Producer Victor] Lyndon fished from a manila envelope a number of shoulder patches designed to be worn as identification by the astronauts… Kubrick said that the lettering didn’t look right, and suggested that the art department make up new patches using actual NASA lettering. He then consulted one of the small notebooks in which he lists all the current production problems, along with the status of their solutions, and announced that he was going to the art department to see how the drawings of the moons of Jupiter were coming along” (Making 64).

We now reach one of the most iconic scenes of the film—the scene where Dave asks HAL to open the pod bay doors. It doesn’t take long for Dave to realize that he is arguing with an entity that cannot be reasoned with. HAL’s calm and relaxed voice works perfectly to contrast the tension of the scene. This was one of the most brilliant casting decisions made in the history of motion pictures. The voice of HAL was played by an actor named Douglas Rain, but he wasn’t the original choice for the part. Kubrick and Clarke had originally intended the on board computer to be named Athena and voiced by a female actor. By the time they got to production, this was changed to HAL, which stood for Heuristically-programmed Algorithmic Computer in the novel (Telegraph). Kubrick initially wanted to hire Martin Balsam to play the part of HAL. You might remember him as the detective in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. Here’s what he sounds like.

Balsam: “Now if this girl Marion Crane were here, you wouldn’t be hiding her would you? Not even if she paid you well? Let’s just say that, just for the sake of argument that she wanted you to gallantly protect her, you’d know that you were being used. You wouldn’t be made a fool of, would you?”

Kubrick ultimately decided against using him. When asked about it, Kubrick said: “we had some difficulty deciding exactly what HAL should sound like, and Marty just sounded a little bit too colloquially American, whereas Rain had the kind of bland mid- Atlantic accent we felt was right for the part” (Kubrick Interview 1969).

Kubrick then hired an English actor named Nigel Davenport who actually came to the set, but he later thought that Davenport’s accent was a little too thick, so he decided to leave it to be chosen during the post-production process where the role eventually went to Douglas Rain (Commentary).

Keir Dullea: “So he gave the task to his assistant director, Derek Kraknell, who sounded like this. This is what I heard, ‘Dave, Dave, better take a stress pill, Dave and all like that.’ You know he sounded a bit like, you know, Michael Cain.”

And Keir Dullea didn’t actually hear HAL’s real voice until he saw the premiere.

Keir Dullea: “I thought the computer when they, when Stanley would finish the film would be like, ‘We are like this. I am a computer. You know what I mean.”

Douglas Rain was discovered from a 1960 documentary titled ‘Universe’ by the National Film Board of Canada—a documentary that received a nomination for best documentary short at the Academy Awards the following year. Douglas Rain provided the narration for the documentary and it sounded like this.

Douglas Rain: “Its surface moves in perpetual darkness and unimaginable cold, for the sun is 4 billion miles away, only a starry speck in the sky.”

Douglas Rain is Canadian as were many of the actors in the film. They shot the film in England where a lot of Canadian actors went for work because they were allowed to work in England without a work permit (TIFF). Rain was originally asked to do the narration for 2001 before being offered the role of HAL (Making 120).

On his work in the film Rain was quoted saying, “I wrapped up my work in nine and one-half hours. Kubrick is a charming man… Most courteous to work with. He was a bit secretive about the film. I never saw the finished script and I never saw a foot of the shooting” (Making 120).

And Kubrick said, “Maybe next time I’ll show Rain in the flesh, but it would be a non-speaking part, which would perfectly complete the circle” (Making 120).

Rain didn’t like talking about 2001 and it seems he was a bit annoyed for his many years as an accomplished actor being eclipsed by one day’s work.

The look of HAL was such a beautiful design—simple and elegant. This picture shows a breakdown of the design.

Kubrick was quoted saying: “Many designs for HAL were worked up. [The] final design took shape at the last minute, as most things [you] do in a film. You wait as long as you can to see if anyone comes up with anything better and you finally choose what seems best” (Making 119).

There is a kind of beauty and menace all at once in the hue of HAL’s eye, which of course, is simply a camera lens. I think the best evidence of Kubrick’s genius is how a simple lens can seem to convey so many different emotions to an audience. It is just a close-up on a lens with a light behind it. It is perhaps the purest example of the Kuleshov effect. For those unfamiliar, a Soviet filmmaker in the 1910s named Lev Kuleshov found that by preceding the same exact footage of a man looking into the camera with different clips—a bowl of soup, a deceased child, or a sexy woman would convey to the audience that the man had a look of hunger, sadness, or lust despite it being the same clip of the man. It is likely that the close-up we see of HAL is, in fact, the same exact footage over and over again and yet, the context makes it feel completely different.

Film analyst Rob Ager put forth the idea of the monolith being a symbol of a movie screen rotated 90 degrees, which becomes even more interesting when you consider HAL’s lens as well. It’s as if the two inanimate objects possess a teacher/learner relationship. The monolith—the movie screen—is transmitting humanity or evolution and HAL—the camera lens—receives it.

I imagine that it is very difficult to convey such power with something as simple as a block of wood painted black or a camera lens, but what’s interesting is that I found a clip of Kubrick praising Arthur C. Clarke for the same thing.

Kubrick: “He can take an inanimate object like a star or a world or even a galaxy and somehow make it into a very poignant thing that almost seems alive. He has a way of writing about mountains and planets and worlds with the same poignancy that people write about children or love affairs.”

As was mentioned previously, HAL seems to express more genuine human emotion than his human counterparts, which some criticized as being an issue with the actors. On the subject, Kubrick had this to say:

“This was a point that seemed to fascinate some negative critics, who felt that it was a failing of this section of the film that there was more interest in HAL than in the astronauts. In fact, of course, the computer is the central character of this segment of the story. If HAL had been a human being, it would have been obvious to everyone that he had the best part, and was the most interesting character; he took all the initiatives, and all the problems related to and were caused by him.

Some critics seemed to feel that because we were successful in making a voice, a camera lens, and a light come alive as a character this necessarily meant that the human characters failed dramatically. In fact, I believe that Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the astronauts, reacted appropriately and realistically to their circumstances. One of the things we were trying to convey in this part of the film is the reality of a world populated — as ours soon will be — by machine entities who have as much, or more, intelligence as human beings, and who have the same emotional potentialities in their personalities as human beings. We wanted to stimulate people to think what it would be like to share a planet with such creatures.

In the specific case of HAL, he had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility. The idea of neurotic computers is not uncommon — most advanced computer theorists believe that once you have a computer which is more intelligent than man and capable of learning by experience, it’s inevitable that it will develop an equivalent range of emotional reactions — fear, love, hate, envy, etc. Such a machine could eventually become as incomprehensible as a human being, and could, of course, have a nervous breakdown — as HAL did in the film” (Kubrick Interview 1969).

In the December 1965 draft of the screenplay, this iconic scene doesn’t exist. Frank does go out to replace the antennae where he is killed by HAL piloting one of the pods, but in the script, Dave doesn’t go out to retrieve him. Instead he has an argument with HAL over switching to manual control of the ship, so that he may wake the other crewmembers from hibernation. HAL reluctantly agrees, but then opens all of the doors to the ship, including the pod bay doors, which lets out all of the air due to the vacuum of space. Dave quickly activates the emergency airlock, puts on a space suit, and proceeds to disconnect HAL.

Of course, in the film, Dave enters the airlock by using the pod’s explosive bolts. This scene was done in only one take.

Keir Dullea: “How was that done? Because it looks like I’m weightless, right? It was built upside down that way, so the front of the pod was up there and the camera is down here. And they had a wire that was- I was attached to a wire which was out of sight because my body would be between the lens and the wire. And the wire was woven into a piece of rope and a circus roustabout had measured the drop… and then he tied a huge knot, then he measured the same distance again and tied another knot… On ‘action,’ I dove head first, free-fall toward- by the way, why didn’t they use a stunt- a stunt man? Because I had forgotten my helmet. So I go free-fall toward the lens down here and the roustabout up there is waiting for that big knot to reach his very gloved hands. When it reaches his hands, he jumps off the platform, huddles to the ground, I go hurdling back up to the ceiling. And then he is waiting for the second knot and again, he lets go and I go hurdling back. So that’s how I got that kind of bouncing back and forth that you saw.”

This scene is actually scientifically accurate. A human can survive in the vacuum of space for at least a minute—you won’t explode or freeze solid or anything like that. The only thing is that Dave should have exhaled his breath instead of inhaling because the vacuum would suck all the air out of his lungs.

And now we reach HAL’s demise. All of these handheld shots of Dave making his way to HAL’s brain were done by Kubrick himself and that shot from behind Dave where he walks to the ladder was all one shot (Commentary). In this first shot inside HAL’s brain, Keir Dullea was hanging upside-down. That way his body would hide the wire he was suspended from and it would look like he was completely weightless. You can get a sense of how the set was oriented by this photo. And if you look closely, you can just barely make out the wire. This looks like a test shot with a stand-in.

“[The] only major accident in [the] production occurred when [a] workman broke his back in [a] fall from [the] top of [this set] as he tried to catch a toppling light. [The] set was three stories high” (Making 137).

In the closer shots, Kier Dullea was just standing upright. For these shots, he would move his body in a subtle way as if he is weightless (Commentary). In a previous video, I talked about how Keir Dullea played the scene similarly to the end of Of Mice and Men where a man must shoot his mentally disabled friend in order to avoid him being lynched by an angry mob for accidentally killing a young woman.

The song HAL sings while being deactivated was a song titled “Daisy Bell,” which was written in 1892 by Harry Dacre (Daisy Bell Wiki). HAL singing this song carries a specific significance, as it was the first song sung by a computer. An IBM 704 at Bell Labs sang the song in 1961 as a “demonstration of computer speech synthesis” (Daisy Bell Wiki).

“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer due. I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage. I can’t afford a carriage.”

Arthur C. Clarke was at the demonstration, which is why he chose to reference it in the novel (Daisy Bell Wiki).

The sequence ends with Dave receiving a video message from Floyd revealing the actual reason behind the mission.

So the basic information of the story that needs to be communicated is this: two astronauts have been onboard a ship controlled by an infallible human-like computer for quite some time on their way to explore Jupiter. It is suggested that the astronauts aren’t abreast of all the information about the mission, which has been shrouded in secrecy. One day, the infallible computer makes a mistake and refuses to accept responsibility. The two astronauts decide that there might be something wrong with the computer and talk about disconnecting it. The computer finds out and kills one of the astronauts (as well as those in hibernation) while the other escapes death and disconnects the computer. The last living astronaut then discovers the true reason behind the mission.

This information is communicated in a couple of different ways. The main way is through montage. We observe the two astronauts in their regular routine, which introduces us to the characters, the setting, and the circumstances. Here our interest is held by the circumstances that preceded the sequence in the film as well as a new, strange, and special effects heavy set. We also become lost in the world of the story though spending time playing out routine procedures that another film would likely shy away from in favor of a quicker pace. Through the realistic pace that Kubrick sets for us, we become more immersed in the circumstances and the mindset of the characters. HAL is also a very unique and interesting concept.

You’ll notice that Kubrick gives us a few key locations to cycle between and will leave a location and return to it under new circumstances. For example, we go outside the ship with Dave to retrieve the AE-35 unit, but when we go back outside the ship with Frank, it is the scene of his murder. By showing Dave going outside in the pod once before HAL locks him out, we have a certain familiarity with the idea of going out in the pod before the predicament arises. Kubrick also saves the set of HAL’s brain for the climax of the sequence. This set in and of itself is a revelation that works alongside the revelations of the scene.

Because there isn’t much dialogue, the story is projected onto the actors rather than the actors projecting the story. Looks between the human characters and body language can communicate the subtext of the scenes and even the lack of expression and emotion works to act as a vessel for the audience’s emotion rather than dictating the emotion to the audience. As for HAL, some of the most powerful shots of him aren’t accompanied by dialogue at all, but rather the implication that he is watching and the consideration of what he is thinking.

The main shot-types in this sequence can be categorized as such: long shots or wide-angled shots (most often to show off the set), medium or long shots with dynamic blocking (with a deliberate stylized feeling), close-ups with a shallow depth of field (notice how we don’t see the full circle of HAL’s lens, this feels more imposing, but it also works with the space helmets to feel claustrophobic), HAL’s POV (as characterized as having an iris matte), handheld shots in order to feel disheveled and in Dave’s mindset, and the special effects shots of models (to give legitimacy to the setting).

And as Douglas Trumbull said, “Possibly one of the most unusual aspects of the live action photography on the interior sets of “2001” is that almost all lighting was an actual integral part of the set itself, and additional lighting was used only for critical close-ups” (American Cinematographer).

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