China Diary

Day 136: On spacesuits

Spacesuits are every scifi filmmaker’s headache. The first truth is that real spacesuits are hard to come by, just because they cost so much (around twelve million dollars for a proper, working flight suit) and nobody really likes renting them out. The other reason is that they are always quite old ones: the ones we are used to see astronauts, the ones in our collective understanding of the word “astronaut” are actually from the 80’s. Nowadays spacesuits are of course vastly different, and even harder to come by. So it’s not a surprise you end up creating your own spacesuits instead.

But the trick is, when you create a suit of your own, you’ll end up in quite a ditch. In first Iron Sky, we made a spacesuit, but to be honest, it wasn’t that amazing. It was made out of foam and some specifically designed parts, but the whole thing looks just a bit funny. We also had another spacesuit for Washington, which was closer to “modern” spacesuit design – at least proposed design, but that, too was quite hard to operate: stiff and clumsy.

For Iron Sky 2, we didn’t luckily need a spacesuit, and for one advertisement I did we made a spacesuit out of kind of paper cloth, which turned out to look quite passable. But for Iron Sky: The Ark, I wanted to have a proper, real spacesuit instead. So that’s what we ordered from a special factory.

The plans were already in motion few months ago, and I already saw the first, rough version of the spacesuit before we started to shoot in Beijing, but only on Wednesday they finally managed to finish the actual spacesuits. And yeah, they were beautiful, but also, very complicated to shoot with.

In order to make it wearable for a human, there needs to be an elaborate ventilation system inside the suit. Dressing up takes around half an hour, and the first thing they showed me about the spacesuits was that they were completely clean, spanking new, without any patina on it. Although the suits are supposed to be new for the astronauts, having an unpatinated clothes on screen just looks wrong.

So in addition to the half-an-hour dressing up, I asked them to make it look good on the screen, and that took another three four hours. Luckily Mika was ahead of his game, grabbed the camera an instead of us sitting there with thumbs up our asses, we went to another studio to shoot some missing pickups, small splinter scenes and so forth, so by the time the suits were finally made and finished and ready to wear, we actually had shot quite a lot of our required stuff of the latter part of the day. The team was a bit confused when we were running with cameras between studios, grabbing a shot here, another there, but finally as we were able to set up the scene, we were really happy with the end result. The suit looks great. The only problem is, you can’t wear the helmet. There is a small air ventilator on it, but truth is, you put it on and start breathing, the visor gets foggy in minutes. Taking it off and cleaning it takes forever.

So, the only solution is to go CGI. That means, every shot with the actor wearing the helmet, we need to do a CGI visor for it. It’s going to be quite a big job I can tell you that much…

Once we started shooting the main scene of the day, things did roll quite nicely. We fished some beautiful shots, good moments with our actors and finished the day as a winner, after all the hardships. The costume troubles wouldn’t be over, but at least we got that one scene done!

Wang Liang (alias Da Fei)

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