How ‘gravity’ special effects made its director’s hair go gray

The problem with “Gravity,” the new film from Alfonso Cuarón starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is that to understand why the outer space special effects are so impressive, you have to see it. But that’s only a small problem, because as soon as you do, you realize that there hasn’t been anything like it.

Those effects didn’t come easily, however. Cuarón and his production crew developed technologies over the course of four and a half years to make the space walks and other zero-gravity environments believable. When MTV News sat down with Cuarón at the junket for “Gravity,” he told us more about how he realized that this film would be a bigger project than he had ever anticipated.

“When we finished the screenplay, we thought it was going to be a film with a fair amount of visual effects, but it was going to be a straight-forward kind of shoot,” he said. “It was not until we started testing the existing technologies that we realized they were not going to work. We learned that we had to invent our own technologies. From that point, it was a big unknown for almost two years.”

Fearing that he was stuck, Cuarón turned to his filmmaker friends David Fincher, who had experience with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and James Cameron, who pioneered motion-capture technology for “Avatar.”

“David Fincher said, ‘The technology is not ready. You have to wait five years.’ And he was right. It took us four and a half, not five, but he was right,” Cuarón said. “Cameron was the one saying, ‘Look, the technology is there. Everything is possible. It’s how you use the technology and how the tools that you developed based upon this technology.’ Both in many ways were encouraging. They were saying, ‘Yes, it’s going to happen.’ ”

“Gravity” and its breathtaking visuals are the ultimate proof of Cuarón’s success, but the director also has a new shade of hair color to show for it. “When I saw Cameron a couple months ago, he said, ‘Well, you see. You made it happen.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it seems like it.’ He said, ‘And now you have gray hair. That is what happens when you do these films. My gray hair. It’s skunk. It happened in ‘Avatar.’ ‘ ”

Gravity” opens in theaters on Friday.