2001: A Space Odyssey Inventions

Determined to make a scientifically accurate film, Kubrick paid the greatest possible care to the film set and special effects, light-years from the future as depicted in cheap other science-fiction films. In 1965, he recruited traditional artists and innovative talents to oversee the numerous special effects: the English veterans Wally Veevers and Tom Howard (1) and the young Americans Douglas Trumbull and Con Pederson (2). Combining optical and mechanical effects, the special effects directed by the filmmaker multiplied technical innovations: the intensive use of front projection for the landscapes in "The Dawn of Man" or the invention of stepping motors servo-controlled by computer for moving the spaceships.

The centrifuge of the spaceship Discovery, an imposing wheel 38 ft in diameter, gave rise to surprising effects, such as Poole's jogging in his circular corridor. The actor seems to defy the laws of gravity by running indiscriminately on the top or on the sides of this motorised film set revolving at approximately 3 mph. A first disconcerting framing presents the wheel horizontally. Placed above the wheel's axis, the camera pivots 360┬░ with the film set, which, in fact, seems static. The following angle necessitated a more arduous installation: Poole pursues his running vertically, like a hamster in its wheel, the ground filing past beneath his feet while the centrifuge turns round and round. The camera, attached to a dolly, is suspended at 19.7 ft on the side by a steel cable cleverly hidden to remain in position whilst the wheel turns and to maintain the necessary distance from the jogger. Kubrick directed these delicate shots from the outside thanks to a closed-circuit television system.

Bowman's arrival on Jupiter, through corridors of light, constituted an original visual experience. Simply instructed to create the illusion of going through 'something', Trumbull took inspiration from experimental films by Jordan Belson and John Whitney and designed a frame-by-frame animation set-up, developing Whitney's Slit Scan process. An animation-stand camera equipped with a slit shutter filmed a coloured drawing with prolonged exposure time. Its displacement during the shutter's closing creates effects of ghost images and other kaleidoscopes of abstract forms.

(1) Veevers began on Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936) and collaborated on Dr. Strangelove (1964). Howard, head of special effects at MGM, worked on The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, 1940) and Tom Thumb (George Pal, 1958).

(2) The two animators came from Graphic Films, a small Hollywood studio specialising in making technical short features for the US Air Force and NASA. They were the authors of To the Moon and Beyond, which Kubrick had seen in 1964.