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January/February 2020

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DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 14 POST JAN/FEB 2020 o call the new Amazon Original film The Aeronauts an epic adven- ture full of thrills, spills and chills would be no exaggeration. Loosely based on a true story, and starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne and Oscar nominee Felicity Jones, who previously costarred as Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane in The Theory of Everything, it tells the story of real-life pioneering British meteorologist James Glaisher, who, along with Henry Coxwell, a noted British aeronaut, made a balloon flight into the skies over London in 1862. The intrepid pair risked their lives and endured frostbite and loss of consciousness as they ascended to more than 37,000 feet, a record at the time. In the movie version, Glaisher (Redmayne) teams up with daredev- il balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) to advance human knowledge of the weather and fly higher than anyone in history. The visually stunning and suspenseful film was directed by Tom Harper, whose credits include the recent feature Wild Rose, Peaky Blinders, The Scouting Book for Boys, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, War Book and the award-winning BBC1 miniseries War & Peace, starring Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton. Behind the scenes, he collaborated with cinematographer George Steel, production designers David Hindle and Christian Huband, editor Mark Eckersley and VFX supervisor Louis Morin. Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Harper talks about making the film, the VFX challenges and why he loves post. What sort of film did you set out to make? "An epic adventure into the sky. I always saw it as a roller-coaster ride, and I was inspired by a whole bunch of films I loved growing up, from Spielberg to David Lean, and I wanted to make a film with that sort of big scope — a journey into the unknown with thrills and spills. And I was so inspired by all the exploits of the early aeronauts and the lengths they'd go to expand our knowledge of our world." Is it true you actually built a working gas balloon for the movie? "We did. Usually films like this use fake hot air balloons made to look like gas balloons, but I thought, what if we design and build a fully functioning and accurate replica of a 19th century gas balloon, so we can do a lot of real flying? So we went to Per Lindstrand's company, the guy who set a couple of ballooning records with Richard Branson, and they built us this beautiful balloon. And that also helped form all of the VFX we need- ed to do. From a post perspective, we also did a lot of camera and lens tests, just as references for all the VFX, and that also meant that then later, when we were cutting it all together, we had a lot of real flying balloon material, and we'd all had the experience of it being real." How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX? "I began discussing all the VFX with our VFX supervisor Louis Morin right from the start, as it was such a big, complex puzzle we had to work on. But when we began editing and working on post, we actually held off on integrating some of the shots so we wouldn't be too distracted, and in- stead cut for performance first, and then focused on all the VFX further down the line. That worked far better than trying to work with VFX that weren't nearly fin- ished or that just looked bad at that point. And so much of the first stage of the VFX work was about creating the whole world and skyscape, and until that had reached a reasonable stage visually, it wasn't that helpful for us." Did you do a lot of previs? "Quite a bit, especially for all the more complicated sequences such as the big storm, the final descent and crash land- ing, and a bunch of other key sequences. I think it was very helpful in planning out exactly what we wanted to do for all those scenes, we used The Third Floor, who did a great job." How tough was the shoot? "We shot for 10 weeks and it was pretty tough for everyone, but particularly for the actors as they had to do a huge amount of very physical work, and they also did most of their own stunts. One of the few things that Felicity didn't do was climbing up the side of the balloon at 3,000 feet, which we shot for real with a stunt woman. But she did climb up out of the balloon basket at 3,000 feet over London and sit on the hoop, and of course she climbed up it in the studio for all the close up shots and did all the swinging stuff, and falling backwards, and hanging upside down — and doing take after take. And it's a massive balloon — over 80-feet tall, so it was pretty ar- duous, even doing the stuff in the studio. Even more challenging was working out all the logistics. Can you even build the TOM HARPER HELMS THE AERONAUTS BY IAIN BLAIR T SHOOTING AND POSTING THE EPIC ADVENTURE Harper, on-set, with Redmayne.

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