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About The Production (Cont'd)
Project Apollo: Life after Gemini

The mission objective for Apollo 11 was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961: perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth. From launch to Earth landing it took 8 days, 3 hours, 18 min, and 35 seconds for these three Apollo 11 pilots to make history. On July 20, 1969, they did exactly that.

Apollo Pilots

Many of the Gemini pilots went on to Project Apollo, designed, among other goals, to carry out a scientific exploration of the moon and achieve pre-eminence in space by the U.S. Among the Apollo 1 pilots were Gus Grissom (Whigham), Ed White (Clarke) and Roger Chaffee (Smith). Sadly, one of the worst tragedies in the history of spaceflight occurred on January 27, 1967, when the crew of Grissom, White, and Chaffee were killed in a fire in the Apollo Command Module during a pre-flight test at Cape Canaveral. They were training for the first crewed Apollo flight, an Earth orbiting mission scheduled to launch that February.

As a part of their tour of Kennedy Space Center, the cast was able to see the launch site of Apollo 1, which proved one of the most poignant moments of production. "It was a very sombre experience," recalls Clarke. "NASA, along with Bonnie White and Ed White Jr., have included us in something that is very precious to them. As well, the gentleman who toured us around worked there back then." He sums the cast and crew's thoughts on that day with: "I feel very lucky they were generous enough to share this memory with us and for NASA to open their doors."

Among the Apollo 11 pilots, those whose mission was the first lunar landing, were Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. To cast the Apollo 11 crew, filmmakers again focused on talent-meets-a likeness to the astronauts being portrayed.

"I adore Corey Stoll, he's a tremendous actor. He actually looks like Buzz," laughs Godfrey. "But Buzz had this irascible quality that rubbed people the wrong way, just because he had a sort of outsized personality. And yet he also was extremely intelligent. Neil saw a quality in him that he believed was the perfect guy to be in that cockpit with him. But Corey has both, he has this fierce intelligence but he also has this kind of rascally twinkle in his eye, that you're not quite sure what to make of him. And the thing that we wanted Buzz to do is to kind of keep everybody a little bit off balance."

"When Buzz enters into our movie, you've got this calm group of friends. Then Buzz comes in with a lot of energy and personality that knocks things off balance a bit. So that, we're letting Corey kind of bring that energy to it," says Godfrey.

To play Mike Collins, who had the critical role of Command Space Module pilot, was Lukas Haas. Describing his experience on the project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Haas says: "It's insane how much I've learned. Space travel is a fascinating subject, and I feel blessed to be a part of this project. I have new heroes after working on this film and a new respect for where humanity lives in the universe."

Inspired by Mike Collins' book "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys," Haas decided to reach out to Collins. "I wrote Mike a letter because I loved his writing so much. To be able to learn about his experience through his book was touching. Rather than try and get a phone call with him or meet him in person, I just figured I'd write him. He wrote me back this hilarious letter about how he wished that Mickey Rooney had played him," laughs Haas.

Haas was surprised when Collins agreed to come to set on the last day of filming at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Collins, along with Buzz Aldrin, visited set to observe filming and finally meet the cast playing them. "Mike is as pleasant and funny in person as he is in his writing, and getting to meet him on our last day of filming was one of the most profound moments of my life," adds the actor.

"It was a surreal experience to say the least," adds Stoll.

Commanding the Men

The duo in command of these brave few were director of flight-crew operations Deke Slayton, played by Kyle Chandler, and Bob Gilruth, played by CiarĂ¡n Hinds. "Bob was the first director of the space center, and he's the boss who oversaw Deke," notes Chandler. "Deke's job was to help choose the men for the missions, to rotate them in and out based on skills." He pauses. "Bob had the final word over what my character may say, and Ciaran is just a fantastic peer."

The need for the performers to demonstrate unequivocal authority was not lost on the producers. "Kyle has the stature of both a father and a coach," states Godfrey. He laughs: "You feel like that he could also punish you. You needed another grown man who felt a step above all these other grown astronauts, in terms of authority and maturity. He feels like a guy who would have lived in this time: spit-and-polish, straight collar. As well, Ciaran has that quality where you don't quite want to cross him. He feels authoritative, but not authoritarian."

Slayton and Gilruth were among the officials were in charge of acknowledging when the mission received a green light-the weight of many lives were in their hands. As there is a chance they cannot bring their boys home, the stress Gilruth and Slayton carry while reading the White House's potential moon-disaster speech was overwhelming-a responsibility they took with might gravity.

Special Extras Casting: Art Imitates Life

Extras casting director ROSE LOCKE worked with Chazelle to satisfy his push for authenticity. In turn, she cast such names as CHRIS CALLE, son of sketch artist, Paul Calle. Paul Calle was known as one of the first eight artists chosen by NASA in 1962 to document the American Space Program. In a Space Art career spanning more than 40 years, Calle covered Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Missions.

Paul was the only artist present with the Apollo 11 crew with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins the morning of July 16, 1969, as they prepared for their launch to the Moon.

His sketches of the Apollo 11 crew breakfast and Suiting Up stand as a visual record of the activities of that morning, saved in a family sketchbook in the possession of his son Chris Calle. Bringing the sketchbook to work in the scene in the movie, Chris Calle played his father, while mocking up sketches during the scene this time with Gosling, Stoll and Haas.

RICK HOUSTON, the author of "Go, Flight! The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control, 1965-1992" also played a role in mission control for the tense Gemini VIII flight sequence. "We play a role in the mission-control scene when everything went wrong in the Gemini VIII flight. Being a part of that and seeing the way it was put together was exciting and unlike anything anyone's ever seen," says Houston. "Ciaran Hinds and I talked quite a bit about his character of Bob Gilruth. Kyle Chandler, who played Deke Slayton, had quite a few questions about how to do various things in mission control."

Mark and Rick Armstrong were not only involved with the project from the film's inception, but they also had roles in the mission control scene. "I play the character of Paul Haney, who was the mission control public affairs officer. Essentially, he was the member of the press that was inside NASA, and an employee of NASA" says Mark Armstrong.

Impressed by the detail Chazelle had put into the project, youngest son Rick Armstrong explains he felt his father's story was in good hands. "I play the flight operations director in mission control in the Gemini VIII sequence," explains Rick Armstrong. "I initially became part of the movie, because I wanted to do my part to see that it was as accurate as possible," he says. "But after meeting Damien and the producers-and Ryan and Claire and Josh and other folks that are on the project-I found out that they cared just as much as I did about the accuracy."

Author Hansen had a cameo role played Dr. Kurt Debus, Director of the Kennedy Space Center, in the scene in which the Apollo 11 astronauts walk toward the spacecraft for the launch. In the same scene, BONNIE BAER (Bonnie White), daughter of Ed White also makes a cameo appearance.

NASA Opens Its Doors: Astronaut Bootcamp

Having done extensive research into NASA and the missions leading up to Apollo 11, Chazelle was familiar with the operations at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, as well as Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It's an amazing thing to experience, and I wanted to make sure everyone who is playing an astronaut in the movie got to experience that first hand," he offers.

"The training that went into getting up into space are incredibly visual events," adds Godfrey. "NASA has been intimately involved in the movie they've opened their doors to not only the places but the people that were there."

For Klausner, the key element of these pioneering astronauts was that they spent an extraordinary amount of time training and preparing for these missions. "One of the biggest challenges for an actor stepping into these roles-especially for the cast members who are seen in missions-is the ability to act with a level of confidence, and comfort and knowledge, that the astronauts had without nearly the same number of hours of training," says the producer. "Some of these astronauts are guys who could probably have flown blindfolded. They knew where every button was of several hundred panels."

Finding ways to give the actors prep time to access research, speak with experts and sit in simulations was crucial. Gosling, Clarke, Fugit, Embry, Whigham, Schreiber, Haas and Stoll all went to Johnson Space Center in Houston, as well as Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral for astronaut training. "The biggest influence going into this film was the NASA employees' enthusiasm and love for the world that they live in and the world that came before them. Going to the moon was their seminal moment in history. I've got to say that literally every single one of the people that we met knew this story inside out," shares Clarke.

While visiting NASA's Johnson Space Center, the First Man cast members were able to experience a behind-the-scenes view of NASA that encompassed both the past and the future. Through a series of briefings and hands-on activities, this group gained a first-hand perspective of astronaut training, flight control and engineering critical for flying humans in space.

From the chance to get out in the Mars lunar vehicles, it set not only a sense of awe, but made the words of Singer's script and the upcoming shoot so much more real. "We got to practice in simulations of zero and lunar gravity," offers Klausner. "We got to see where the astronauts worked and lived, what they ate, how they trained and practiced-a lot of essential tools for helping the actors get immersed in these roles."

After visiting NASA, Clarke explains the space program no longer felt unobtainable; the experience made the endeavor tangible. "It's not like some fantastical imaginary place, it's very practical, and they were lovely and generous and smart and dedicated. They imparted this sense of the importance they give to their job."

The cast also happened to travel to Houston while Johnson Space Center was setting up for their traveling exhibit "Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission," which displayed the actual Apollo 11 Command Module, "Columbia." Upon seeing in person the living quarters for the three-person crew during most of the first manned lunar landing mission in July 1969, the cast was astounded by the tangible history.

One of the more interesting exercises for the cast was their time spent a on the anti-gravity apparatus. By standing upright in a harness, they were able to simulate what it feels like to walk on the moon. Reminiscing about his experience in astronaut training, Schreiber reflects: "When I got this job, it was one of those moments in life where you realize that you became an actor for a specific reason: it's to get to be a child for the rest of your life. The idea that I would get to play an astronaut and go to NASA, both Houston and Cape Canaveral, and have complete behind-the-door access to all of their training tools is a childhood dream."

Although disappointed the cast had to miss out on riding in the legendary (and aptly named) "vomit comet," Schreiber states that astronaut training was still an opportunity of a lifetime. "The only real life way that you can simulate anti-gravity is to do this thing called the vomit comet, where they take you up in the plane and descend at a certain rate for six seconds at a time. You get a sense of real weightlessness; that's the only way unless you go into space. We didn't do the vomit comet, but to get to do those two robotic simulation training programs was just amazing."

"You see those images your whole life, the launch pads and the big crawler taking the shuttle to the launch pad," echoes Haas. "To be there and see it and experience it in the way was awesome."

For Chandler, just seeing a Saturn 5 rocket laying on its side and being able to walk its more than 100-meters length gave him an idea of what these guys were climbing into. "We saw a lot of different things that give you a hands-on feel," states the actor. "Being that close, to be able to touch some of the things and to be in the spacesuits allowed our imagination to settle into these characters when we got on set."

Admitting researching for other films or shows can feel like work, Stoll explains this exercise was different. "There are certain projects where research is a bit of a slog, but this was so much fun," he gives. "There are so many great books and movies and documentaries, so it's been fun digging deep into the minutiae of the technology and the people involved. I grew up taking space flight for granted, but now we are able to go back when this was all brand new, and they had to invent everything."

Chazelle encouraged all cast playing an astronaut to experience NASA first hand, and he also sent each cast YouTube videos of the actual people they'd be portraying. This allowed the talent to hear cadence and affectations of those speaking or being interviewed. In addition, the director provided a hand-selected list of recommended movies and books.

Among the book recommendations were "Carrying the Fire" by Mike Collins, "Deke!" by Deke Slayton and Michael Cassutt, as well as "First Man" by James R. Hansen. Movies Chazelle recommended included For All Mankind, Moonwalk One and Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo, among others.

"It was great to have Damien there to curate the material, because you can get lost in the weeds," adds Stoll. "Buzz has written numerous books, and I went through some of that material to get a sense of his voice. We all went to Johnson Space Center in Houston, and there's this whole avalanche of technical information, as well as anecdotes about the astronauts and the people in mission control. It was helpful to be directed towards what was important in telling this story."

The influx of information continued throughout production, as Chazelle and filmmakers lined up technical advisors to assist in re-creating each mission as accurately as possible.

Among the tech advisors on set were CHRISTIAN GELZER to assist in all LLTV (Lunar Landing Training Vehicle) work. Gelzer served as Jacobs Technology's Chief Historian for the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. As well, JOE ENGLE was brought on to assist in all X-15 spacecraft work. Engle served in the United States Air Force and was one of twelve X-15 test pilots along with Neil Armstrong.

Frank Hughes, retired as NASA's Chief of Space Flight Training, assisted with astronaut training and mission control, as well as Gemini and Apollo 11 work. Hughes was a computer and guidance navigation and control systems expert during Apollo training and he worked closely with Apollo 11 astronauts.

AL ROCHFORD and RON WOODS assisted as suit technicians. Woods supported the training and pre-flight suiting activities for Apollo 11, suiting up Mike Collins, while Rochford served in the same capacity suiting up the likes of John Glenn Jr. for the Mercury-Atlas 6 Earth-orbital space mission. AL WORDEN, who was the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15 (the same job as Mike Collins), assisted in Apollo 11 work. Lastly, JAMES BILBREY- NASA/Marshall Space Center videographer and editor-assisted in tracking down archival footage.

All advisors were in constant communication with Chazelle and his fellow producers in pre-production and were on set during the filming of the scenes-under their respected area of expertise. "It was amazing, the people we got to meet, the different astronauts, the information, the personal stories from those who were there on the day. These are things that you just can't make up in your mind that you can spin a lot of tales off the truth as you're doing your work," says Chandler.

Flying into Space: Designing Modules and Capsules

Production designer Nathan Crowley admits that there's a grittiness and reality that he likes to focus on in his work. "I will push to do things in camera for real," he sums. "For instance, we used miniatures on this film. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel; we're just using old school methods with modern technology."

Upon meeting for the first time, Crowley and Chazelle clicked over their shared opinions of design. "The minute Damien indicated that he wanted to only do this movie in the camera, I was in," says Crowley. "I have a love of physical objects and scale and he wanted to get it in the camera. That is actually very difficult but a fun challenge-one we were both willing to take on."

It was important to Chazelle to show the danger of pioneer going to space in, as Crowley puts it, "in tin cans being fired up." He had no interest in showing the glamour of NASA rather this hard-edged fight to get to the moon. The designer reflects: "These men had so much knowledge, but there was still so much unknown. They were explorers, and the fact that they would spend days in these cramped conditions interested me."

When the collaborators first spoke in pre-production, Chazelle offered that he wanted to juxtapose the claustrophobia with the vast expanse of space. Utilizing NASA's resources was pivotal to get the design as accurate as possible. "NASA opened their doors to us," says Crowley. "I went to Kennedy in Florida and analyzed the Lunar Lander up close, as well as the Gemini capsule; we went to Houston to look at the LLTV in detail, and we studied all of the manuals and other information we could get; that allowed us to re-create what it felt like being trapped in these things.

"I say trapped because it's tiny; these capsules were like being in sardine cans," adds Crowley. "NASA's goal was to constantly improve on their capsules and their missions, so there is not just one blueprint to reference with all of the answers they were constantly evolving. The best way to understand the design was to stand right next to it with someone who flew it or trained in it."

Chazelle's pursuit of authenticity led them to analyze diagrams and dashboard instruments, as well as meet with experts and enthusiasts, in addition to collaborators at NASA. There were many moments when the production designer and director felt like detectives out to figure out each piece of the puzzle. Some filmmakers might sacrifice the integrity of the spacecrafts by changing the scale in order to satisfy filming needs or to make the actors more comfortable, but this was not Chazelle's intent. Gemini and Apollo trainer Frank Hughes discusses how that would not be done under his watch, and how he was so impressed by what he saw: "I brought with me my own library of things that we used at the time-check lists and books that tell how we did it.

"They fell into place these guys! I got here with my treasures, and they'd done it already. Man, they got it. It's so small the things that I had to suggest to change. They did a hell of a job. Being in that control center felt like I was back at home in Houston. Then, in the spacecraft, you're surrounded by the thing. It was all really well done."

A stickler for every single detail, Crowley firmly believes that one should never exaggerate any craft more than 10 percent. For Gemini, his team tried to keep it the exact size but it caused problems with the cameras. The solution was this jigsaw puzzle of a set that came apart. In fact, they had to break the seats in half just to get the camera in the capsule with them.

It was necessary to make small adjustments for the actors, as a few of them were taller than the astronauts they were playing. "For Apollo 11, we went about five percent over the size, and then the X-14 we were the real size," Crowley explains. "But we had to lower the seat a little because Ryan is taller than Neil, and his helmet was too close to the roof."

It wasn't just the building that would prove tricky. "There are so many logistical items that go into creating these things," adds Crowley. "For instance, the challenge with the Lunar Landing Module was just building something of that size...but then figuring out how to transport it to the location. As well, we had to make it wind- and snow-resistant because-as it turned out-on our moon we got snowed on."

Reflecting the Sun: Creating and Filming the Moon

Although familiar with re-creating space after working on films like Chris Nolan's Interstellar, Crowley explains when addressing the film's biggest design challenge: "this is my first time going to the moon." He reflects: "When I went through the script, I knew this movie was going to be challenging but I got through X-15, Gemini, Apollo, landing on the moon. We have all these missions to get through, which, I naively thought 'I can deal with those.' Then we have to do the residential neighborhoods, and NASA and Houston and life at NASA-and we have to bridge these all together but it was something I knew we could handle."

"But the moon is something I pushed to the back of my mind for a long time because it was such a challenge to figure out how we were going to fake this," he continues. "I didn't have the answer right away, but I knew we either needed a quarry or cement-and somewhere that was vast enough that could give us the scale of the moon. I knew the quarry would be the best option, but to match the moon's surface we needed a gray quarry, which is rare."

Sometimes a place can change your problems, laughs Crowley. "We were lucky enough that Atlanta happens to have gray quarries. Through the friendliness of the industries that work here, we found our moon at the Vulcan Rock Quarry in Stockbridge, just south of the city; they let us sculpt the landscape to our direction."

For Chazelle, the search for the perfect moonscape was an exhaustive one. "We had the idea that instead of shooting the moon on a stage, we would shoot outdoors and at night; that would allow us to create sunlight with a giant film light. So we started looking around for outdoor possibilities in and around Atlanta. It took us a while to find this quarry. We looked at a bunch of quarries that either weren't big enough or weren't quite flat for long enough. But we found this one and we were able to sculpt it a bit."

To tell the emotional story, Chazelle teams with director of photography Linus Sandgren. Not surprisingly, they found lighting the expansive moon to be an incredible challenge, "Nathan designed the moon outdoors in a big quarry, and the set is enormous," gives Sandgren. "It's much bigger than any other moon set used in production. Because of that, we need to light it all up. To do that, we need a lot of lights, but we didn't want to have many lamps because you only want to have one source as the sun and one shadow. That gave us a challenge to try to create a very strong light source that is single."

Only one solution, and that is to find the strongest lights on the planet. "We talked to DAVID PRINGLE, who made the 100K Softsun lights," notes Sandgren. "We asked him if he could help us develop a 200,000-watt lamp, which he did. This 200,000-watt light is just enough for us to shoot in this big space."

The vastness of the space was in stark contrast to the tight quarters from which the men were about to emerge. "The Apollo 11 is about 10 feet in diameter, three men were there for over a week," says executive producer Merims. "It's incredibly claustrophobic and incredibly tight quarters. Damien wanted to simulate how hard that journey was. When Buzz and Neil landed on the moon and the moon is infinite beyond, it's a big contrast. When the two walk out onto the moon, we switch to IMAX, 65 millimeter, which is the largest available format in film. That allows audiences to feel it and be there with them."

Sandgren likens looking at the moon this close as "like looking at the land of the dead...something that we've never seen before." He pauses, and explains how that informed his choices as DP. "It's something much more surreal than real world. Because of that, we thought that if you shoot intimate scenes on 16 millimeter, then you come out onto the moon and all of the moon is IMAX; that has a much greater negative and much more detail."

Producer Bowen appreciates that visceral switch. "When Neil Armstrong is going up in Apollo, you're seeing that with 16 millimeter. You are seeing it shake. Hopefully, you're feeling what it must've been like to be there. If we pull off this immersive experience, this great story is finally going to get told."

Interestingly, the lenses the cinematographer and Chazelle chose for the moon sequence are the same lenses Armstrong and Aldrin used on the moon when they took the infamous still photos. Says Sandgren: "They did with those Hasselblad cameras and six-by-six centimeter negatives; that is the same film stock and film we've used to shoot the moon."

To re-create the famous moon landing, their team looked a lot at those photographs that they took on the moon. They were very precise replicating the real photography. That extended to looking at the height of the sun angle. For example, if the sun angle at one location was fifteen degrees in the original shot, they would ensure the length of the shadows are the same in the film.

Production shot the moon sequence in the last few weeks of filming in mid-January, with most of the movie under their belt. "When filming the moon sequence, we were closer to the end of our shoot. By the time we came here, we sort of felt the way our character feels...knowing all the stuff that led up to this moment," says Chazelle.

When discussing how he captured the famous first steps on the moon, the director says: "We've tried to be as authentic as possible and to get the little things right-the little details that make the original footage so exciting and moving, but we've also tried to put a stamp on it that's unique to the movie. We didn't want just a re-creation, but hopefully fill it with some of the emotion the movie's built up."

For Godfrey, it's all about building the emotional journey so that the success of landing on the moon becomes an emotional release for not only the characters but the audience. "You want to create such a sense of anxiety and tension-dangers that we don't realize that Neil and the other astronauts face," he says. "From the second that ship touches down, it's just this release of tension."

This isn't just a release of tension for the audience, but for the actor portraying the man who took that rare walk. Gosling explains: "We arranged it so that I was able to hear the original recordings between Neil, Buzz and mission control as I was taking those first steps. It was very surreal to experience that moment in a way that Neil may have. Also, an exciting element to the POV style in which that scene was filmed is that the audience will now get to experience that moment as Neil may have as well."

Filming the moon sequence during mid-January in Georgia was a gamble with the weather, and it turned out to be a low of 17 degrees Fahrenheit some nights on the moon set. "On our moon was quite cold," says Chazelle. "The real moon varies between super-hot and super-cold, so maybe a little hostility of the elements is appropriate."

"The natural challenges we've had is that when it suddenly started to snow, we had to break for a little bit and move back to stage for a few days. But when we returned the weather was pretty good; it wasn't so windy, and the flag stood still." Laughs Sandgren: "It's just like the real shoot on the moon."

Back to Houston: Mission Control

Having the ability to see mission control prior to filming allowed the actors playing the astronauts to prepare themselves for what to expect in filming. As well, they learned the protocols inside the room where the famous words, "The Eagle has landed" echoed through the walls.

One of the design team's biggest fans was advisor Frank Hughes, who saw it all the first time during the Apollo 11 flight. "The mission control set is marvelous. It's set up just like it would be in the real deal in Houston, Texas and it's just great," he commends.

"We saw mission control what it was then and we got to see the mission control now which is active, You go in there and you see the space station orbiting the earth and they're talking as you're standing there it was amazing," says Haas.

"What drew me to this room for the very first time when I visited it in the summer of 2012, I was just struck by the history that had taken place there. But when I walked in, all the consoles were dead, there was no electricity, so they were all dark; the carpet was bunched up and dirty, so it was very dreary," says author and expert Rick Houston. "So when I walked in here on set on the first day of rehearsals, it was an emotional moment. I had never seen mission control like this. It took me a few moments to collect myself and make myself realize that this wasn't the real mission control room. I looked around and started noticing things here and there that were very accurate. I was very impressed by the lengths that they went to make it historically accurate."

For Houston, that attention to detail on Chazelle's set mattered more than you'd think. The filmmaker and his team were honoring the sacrifices made by those on the ground whose priority objective was to keep the astronauts safe.

Sharing some of his findings about mission control, Houston explains: "the thing that impresses me most about the people who worked in mission control was their dedication to the mission first. Their number-one goal was to bring the astronauts home safe." The author states that one might be surprised to find "they had an intellectual arrogance that wasn't egotistical; it just meant that they had confidence in themselves to be able to get the job done and to get the astronauts home. They were able to do that in the case of Gemini VIII and Apollo 11."

"One of the NASA techs told me that when he walked in to the mission control set, it brought back every possible memory. He was just flooded with memories. That's the best compliment you can get," says Crowley.

Roll, Pitch and Yaw: Training Tools

Additional built sets Crowley and his crew constructed included the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) and the Multi-Axis Trainer. "The LLTV is a machine that in this day and age we would never risk putting people in," the designer explains. "When Neil knows that he's going to be the guy that lands the lunar lander, the only way for him to practice is to get into this cockamamie testing mechanism. He barely ejects in time before he crashes it. Then he went back and did it many more times because it was the only way to train."

Chazelle's team was able to reconstruct the LLTV and the multi-axis trainer thanks to NASA's support and archival photos. In Houston, they had the chance to look at the LLTV in detail and were able to take those findings back to the shop to try and re-create these apparatuses.

"When I found out they wanted to do the multi-axis trainer, practically, I knew that one was going to be extremely challenging, and not something that just anyone could build." proclaims special effects supervisor JD SCHWALM.

Although the multi-axis trainer's use was suspended after the Mercury program, filmmakers chose to incorporate it into First Man to show the excruciating training these astronauts went through. "It's an extremely complex device that hadn't been built since the '60s, and nobody even knew how it worked," says Schwalm. "We reverse engineered that from photographs, and it was one of the bigger challenges and the most fun on the show."

The multi-axis trainer was designed to simulate the astronauts spinning out of control in space on all three axes: roll, pitch and yaw. Schwalm walks us through the process: "They would have a visor over their heads so they couldn't see where they were, or orientate themselves. Then they'd have to get out of the spin on the three axis, one at a time. So they'd figure out how to get out of the spin, and then essentially get them comfortable with the situation of being out of control in space, and regaining control."

The trainer's use was later suspended for several reasons, one being that the roll astronauts experienced on earth with gravity did not accurately portray the weightlessness and anti-gravity they would experience in space.

Creating Domesticity: Building the Armstrong Home

Crowley teamed up with locations scout KYLE HINSHAW to find the perfect 1960s neighborhood to replicate the Armstrong's El Lago, Texas, home. This was the house in which they resided during Armstrong's tenure at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Although Atlanta is a city built in the middle of a forest-with beautiful hills and sits at the southern tip of the Blueridge Mountains-Crowley and Hinshaw found a flat neighborhood that would best represent the Texas neighborhood.

"The whole street played out like El Lago in Houston. It was that sort of '60s architecture, and it was relatively newly built," gives Crowley. "So the street could play this safe haven for the film's astronauts and their families."

After finding an open lot in the middle of the neighborhood, Crowley and his construction team began re-creating brick by brick the Armstrong home. It even included a heated swimming pool in the backyard; an almost perfect replica.

To satisfy Chazelle's desire for authenticity, Crowley settled on building the Armstrong house from the bottom up. After filming in the Roswell neighborhood for over two weeks, the crew quickly became embedded in the neighborhood. They were welcomed as family with neighbors passing baked goods around to crew members in the middle of a night shoot.

The majority of filming took place in Atlanta on various locations and stages. Production then spent one day filming at Kennedy Space Center in Houston to utilize the crawler, which was the vehicle that transported the Saturn 5 rocket from NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch site. Production then traveled to Edwards Air Force Base in California to re-create Armstrong's X-15 flight take-off and landing.

Aim for the Heavens: Photography and SFX

The screenwriter was a fan of working with his filmmaking team, especially the unique skills of director of photography Linus Sandgren. "As a writer, you can't do better than having Damien and Linus shooting your movie," says Singer. "The only way you can do better is having Linus shooting this cast. The work Ryan and Claire and Jason and Olivia do at home is beautiful, and then to have Corey, Ryan and Lukas in the Apollo 11 spacecraft-it's just remarkable. It's a wonderful ensemble."

"First Man is both a very grand story, but it's also a very intimate personal story," reflects Sandgren. "We wanted the film to feel much more intimate in certain scenes. On those scenes, we decided to shoot it in 16 millimeter, which is grainier and feels more poetic. As the story progresses-and we get more into that industrial NASA world-we go into 35 millimeter and a harder contrast."

Sandgren reteams with Chazelle after working together on La La Land. The filmmakers raved about their DP. "Linus operated every shot," explains Godfrey. "Because we're going for the style, it's all handheld. You want stolen moments, things to be a little messier than they are, on a dolly or with Steadicam. It's also allowed Linus as a DP and a camera operator to become much more connected to the actors. He's right there with them through all of these scenes and was on a headset the whole time with Damien-who could say, 'Zoom in to him, pan over here.'"

For some it would be considered an impossible feat to shoot all of the missions leading up to the moon landing in camera, but for Chazelle and fellow producers it was a challenge they were willing to fully embrace. Utilizing ground-breaking technology in the effects field, with the help of NASA's archival footage, filmmakers began to brainstorm. "Eight months before we started shooting, we began discussing how we might use the amazing beautiful archival footage that NASA accumulated over the various Apollo missions," explains Merims.

Hesitant to use just the archival footage, because of the quality and the limitations of the camera angles, filmmakers came up with a unique solution utilizing technology that has only been used in a handful of films, but never at the scale needed for First Man.

The team decided they would re-photograph the archival footage through the use of the LED technology. "A number of years ago, people started using LED technology to simulate the backgrounds that you'd see through cars or through trains," states Merims, "so we thought we could use the archival footage projected on the LED screen through the windows of the crafts. When we're in space on Gemini VIII and Apollo 11, there's all this beautiful footage that we acquired through NASA's help...and then repurposed to project on the LED."

Now that the backgrounds were in order, it was up to JD Schwalm and his special-effects team to mount each of the space crafts to a motion-based rig. This would simulate the motion each craft would have felt during various stages of the flight.

"At the same time, we're simulating the flight through space and the various trials and tribulations that occurred to Neil and Dave Scott on Gemini VIII," adds Merims. "We're moving this craft, we're turning them, they're spinning, and the sun is rising and setting. To do that with our LED plates, we had to synchronize them. The crafts typically go on a motion base called a gimbal, which was handled by the special effects department. What's different on this particular film is we were able to figure out a way to connect through a computer the projection of the LED and the actual use of the motion-base itself."

It goes without saying that the biggest challenge was doing the majority of the effects, practically, on camera. "There are a lot of effects that we would typically do nowadays in a visual effects environment with CG, but Damien wanted to try and do everything practically in front of camera with the actors," says Schwalm. "From the multi-access trainer to the weightlessness when they go to outer space. We faced that challenge head on."

The benefit of doing everything in camera for Schwalm and his effects team was that they were able to see the playback after filming and essentially see what was going to be seen in the film. "The instant gratification was there every day," laughs Schwalm.

With the help of Show Rig, an innovative technical company that deals with lighting for film, as well as arena shows, the production solved a major lighting conundrum. "Show Rig helped us design a 360-degree sun that could circle on a 360-horizontal plane," states Merims. "At the same time, it had this accordion drop mount which allowed it to go up and down simultaneously in a circle-synched with the LED screen to emulate the sun and its movement."

One of the many crafts Crowley and the effects team mounted on the motion-based gimbal in front of the LED screen was the Gemini VIII capsule. Actor Christopher Abbott, who plays David Scott, explains what it was like: "I wasn't looking at a green screen outside of the window, but at this huge LED screen. When we were taking off for the launch, we were looking at the sky, going through the cloud and you make it into space. When the spin happens, you're looking at the Earth go by and you feel the sun. While physically it was demanding, it made it feel that much more real."

Old-School Process: New-Age Technology

Quite familiar with model making, Crowley embraced the idea of utilizing a miniatures unit to re-create parts of the missions-from launch to in-flight sequences. "I used to model and make everything to figure out designs, so I could see it in three dimensions," explains Crowley. "I now have 14 3D printers, so I can print anything overnight and stick it together quickly. That allows me to see if I like it or throw it away. This has become a massive tool for me because I don't get precious about the process of model making.

"As printers got better and bigger, we now have ginormous 3D printers that can print a three-and-a-half foot cube," continues the designer. "All within the art department, we can now 3D print miniatures and actually shoot them as miniatures in the film. It's new technology to do old techniques. We're not reinventing the wheel; we just found a process where it allows us to move quicker, and make miniatures."

After working together on films including The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar, Crowley teams up with IAN HUNTER the film's miniature unit supervisor. "One of the main challenges we had when we took on the miniature effects for First Man was knowing that we were working on drama. When you're working on a fantasy or a science-fiction movie, there is a certain level of disbelief the audience will buy," shares Hunter. "It was important for us to be able to create these miniatures of the spaceships that looked absolutely realistic and made the audience fully believe that what they were watching was real."

Hunter explains the infinite amount of footage NASA kept on the Gemini and Apollo missions worked as both an aid and a hindrance for his process. "There is a lot of documentation on these missions and that helped us in terms of detailing and making sure our models are accurate. But everyone in the audience also has access to that same sort of documentation, so they can always check our work. It was important to us to try to strive to create as realistic as possible the depiction of these miniatures that matched the detail of these missions."

Excited for the technological advancements of 3D printing, Hunter explains the times have changed in a very short period. "I worked on the HBO miniseries From Earth to the Moon, and at that time, we did quite a bit of the work by hand. We hand drew our plans for the spaceships, built patterns by hand, etc. Since that time, the technology has changed where we can build miniatures in a much different manner."

With the help of BigRep 3D Printers, Hunter and Crowley set to work building their models. "In this particular case, we designed all of the models in 3D first, on the computer. Once we had that very solid 3D model, we were then able to divide the parts up and create different pieces using different modern techniques," says Hunter.

Although aided by 3D printing, some hands-on work was still required to make these miniatures authentic. "Once the parts were made with these high-tech cutting-edge techniques, it still came down to doing a lot of hand-work," recalls Hunter. "It still came down to craftsmen assembling these parts, fitting them together, painting them, and, even adding some of the textures that you would expect to find from that era. For instance, the Apollo CSM, the command service module, was covered with metal tape on the command module itself. So, we had to hand-apply aluminium tape to get that reflective surface."

The lunar module was covered with a heat shield made of gold foil and black, anodized foil. Despite the fact that their team had all of this modern technology, it still came down to someone hand-cutting and applying these textures; that allowed them to get that realistic depiction of the mission.

Another challenge the miniatures unit faced was matching the main unit's use of the larger models and shooting styles. "The lunar lander, or the LEM, as they called it was built in both miniature and full size for the gimbal/LED work," states Hunter. "So for the scenes where it's on the moon, there was a full-size prop built; then we used a miniature version for any scenes of it in the trans-lunar journey. It was important for us to work with the main-unit art director to match our detail and our paint work. Our graphic designer laid out the graphics for the full-size and miniature." He quips: "It was important for us to work hand in mini-hand to get the models to match."

To bring this vision to life, Hunter worked closely with Chazelle utilizing his animatic based on found footage. "We had an animatic based on found footage of the real missions," Hunter shares. "Damien gave us this guideline of what the feeling of the shots was supposed to be, as well as mood and timing. Because we were matching to a piece of music, that was all going to be tied to the imagery. Once we had that imagery in front of us, we followed that using his notes about what was supposed to happen with the spaceships. That gave us a guideline, a mood setting to fulfil his vision."

Period Authenticity: Costume Design

Thanks to NASA's database-complete with its archival photos-costumer Mary Zophres and her design team were able to research exactly what the astronauts were wearing at any given time. "NASA's database is like a treasure trove of information," says Zophres. "We go from X-15 to Gemini V to Gemini VIII to Apollo 1 and then Apollo 11. As the space program progressed, the documentation of it became more and more intense. As the country got closer to Apollo 11, they documented it more thoroughly."

Sifting through NASA's archives quickly turned Zophres and her design team into period-dress detectives. "There is a magnitude of research that is available, but it was tricky," she reflects. "They photographed everything from promotional events to test launches, which made it difficult to tell which photos corresponded to what events we were shooting. I felt like I learned about the space program and the launch to the moon all over again. For the Apollo 11 suits we have two. One for each actor, and one for their stunt double."

For the civilian looks in the film, Zophres explains they were lucky enough to have documentation of the astronauts in their personal lives, thanks to Life magazine photographer Ralph Morse. "For Mike, Buzz and Neil, there was quite a lot of civilian photographs taken of them leading up to the launch," says the costumer. "We tried to look at as many of the photographs of the real people that we could possibly get our hands on and then get glean from that. For example, Olivia, who plays Pat White, went to visit with Ed and Pat's daughter and got her hands on some family photographs. That was hugely helpful. I wasn't trying to replicate the actual photograph, but just glean from these pictures what the general sort of individual style of the people that we're trying to capture.

"There are certain things that were dictated by what was available," she continues. "First of all, it's before the internet; there were two places to shop in El Lago, Texas. There was a JC Penny and a Sears, and that is a reason why some of the guys feel like they're in a similar style. That's because that that's all they had access to."

The costumer appreciated that there was nothing frilly about Janet. She muses: "That's obvious in her clothes, but we did try to show a passage of time. In the beginning, she's in her twenties, and then she ends up in her thirties. There's a maturing that goes on with both Janet and Neil, and that we see more obviously with those two characters than with anybody else."

With a film set from 1961 to 1969, Zophres and her team had their hands full portraying a period piece that spanned almost a decade. "Suiting is the hardest thing to find, even down to the right weight in suiting," she offers. "That was the biggest challenge on this, but we did find some good pieces of vintage material that we were able to construct pieces for Janet and pieces for Neil. We did build a lot of clothing but a lot of it was found also, which was great. It helps lend to the authenticity of the look is to use real period clothing."

To cap off production, remaining honorary astronauts Schreiber, Haas, and Stoll stayed behind after filming at JSC in Florida to watch SpaceEx launch of their Falcon Heavy Rocket on top of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) that housed rockets like the Saturn 5.

The world's most powerful booster since NASA's Saturn 5 that launched Apollo 11 into history, the Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, the same site used by NASA's Apollo 11. After the rocket launched and the two core boosters landed back on earth successfully, amazed, the cast slowly made their way to the elevator to go home. As they stood on the roof of the VAB, waiting for the elevator to arrive, incredulously a bald eagle alit just behind where the actors stood. Awestruck, Haas explains the experience was an unforgettable one. "It was a send-off like I'll never forget. The Eagle has literally landed."


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