Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Lincoln Lewis
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Action, Adventure
Synopsis: A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) and his legendary father Cypher (Will Smith) stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity's escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home.
Release Date: June 13th, 2013
After Earth begins more than one thousand years in the future – in fact, one thousand years after humanity was forced to abandon the only home they had ever known. 'Earth just gave up on humans," says Jaden Smith, who stars as Kitai Raige, a young man forced to navigate the harsh terrain left behind when his spacecraft crashes on the forbidden planet. 'Tsunamis, toxic air, toxic water, toxic food, extreme weather – it was like Earth said, -You have to get off of me,' and that's what humans did."
Their new home would be the planet Nova Prime, and Nova Prime would know no greater family than the Raiges. Kitai's father, Cypher Raige – played by Jaden Smith's father, Will Smith – became a legendary general in the United Ranger Corps, creating a legacy that Kitai is determined to emulate… but all is not going as planned. 'Kitai feels a lot of pressure to step into his father's shoes," says Jaden Smith. 'Also, Kitai blames himself for his sister's death – she died years ago in an attack that Kitai thinks he should have done something to stop – and he thinks his dad blames him, too. So the relationship between Kitai and his father is broken, and Kitai is trying to fix it; he's trying too hard to get his father's respect and approval."
Cypher returns home from another long stint of service to learn that Kitai's intense desire to succeed has led to recklessness, causing him to fail his first attempt to become a Ranger. In an attempt to bridge the rift between father and son, says Will Smith, 'Kitai's mother suggests that Cypher take him on a trip – spend some time together, bonding. But our ship crash-lands in the most inhospitable place in the universe for human beings – which is Earth."
In the film, everything on Earth has evolved to kill human beings. With his father trapped in the wrecked ship, Kitai will have to brave these elements – and numerous highly evolved species – if he and his father are to have any chance of returning home.
'What I thought was really interesting about this film was that it's huge in scope, but it comes down to a simple idea that every person in the audience can relate to: it's a father and son story," says Will Smith. 'I think that's what audiences will really connect with – seeing the father try to connect with the son, to teach him, with life-or-death consequences."
The lesson the father must teach his son is to conquer his fear. 'Every parent knows when his or her child is lying to them because they're scared of something," says Will Smith. 'And every parent has a different way of dealing with that. In After Earth, we have a father trying to command and control his son from a distance, but at the end of the day, once your child goes out of the house, you've taught them all you can – they have to learn the rest on their own. For me, in this movie, the extreme landscape makes these parent-and-child relationships huge, life-threatening."
'That's what we really responded to about this story," says Caleeb Pinkett, also a producer of the film. 'It's exciting – set a thousand years in the future – but the real thing we responded to was that emotional core, the universal idea."
Jaden Smith, now just 14 years old, has already made his mark as a leading man. He first starred on screen opposite his father in The Pursuit of Happiness, receiving acclaim for his performance. He would follow that with a supporting role in The Day the Earth Stood Still and a leading role opposite Jackie Chan in the worldwide hit The Karate Kid. With the release of that film, it was clear that the younger Smith had the talent, the skill, and the charisma to take on such a leading role.
Jaden Smith says that his character is one that any young teen – or anybody who's been a young teen – can relate to. 'Kitai is supposed to be the best of the best – and he is, physically, in what he can do – but he's reckless," he says. 'He feels he has something to prove, because of who his father is and because of things that have happened in the past. It's hard for him to control his emotions. So when they crash on Earth, if he is going to survive, he has to put that aside, stop caring about whether or not he impresses his dad. He has to grow up and become a warrior."
'At the beginning of the movie, Kitai is a little brash, but it's only from being so scared," says Caleeb Pinkett. 'He's afraid, so he acts like he's not. The crash strips away all of that bravado, and you see a scared little boy. The only way he'll get back home is if he can gain the confidence to face his fears – not in a hubristic way, but a humble way of understanding that yes, he is good enough."
The father also has to learn to trust the son. 'That's hard for Cypher, but it's something we all have to do as parents – our children succeed or fail on their own, and all we can do as parents is watch," says Will Smith. 'It's very much a coming-of-age story for both parent and child."
The origins of the project began with an ordinary evening at home. After making The Karate Kid, as Jaden Smith and his parents were considering the teen's next project, it was important to both Smiths to work together again. 'Jaden Smith and I were sitting around one night, watching TV and talking about how we'd liked working together on Pursuit of Happiness, and that we might want to do that again," says Will Smith. 'As we're talking about looking for that story, with the news on in the background, Jaden Smith says, -Maybe I'm your son, I'm in trouble, and you have to come home from war.' That turned into an idea of a father and son who go off on a bonding trip to Alaska, and they have to get through the wilderness. It was just fun, an interesting conversation until we juxtaposed the idea of setting the story a thousand years in the future – and then the whole concept of After Earth started to explode in our minds."
Will Smith would write the story for the film, but that was just the beginning – the filmmakers envisioned a very rich universe encompassing various arenas outside of the film itself. In fact, they would create 1,000 years of back story – resulting in a 300-page bible covering the history of mankind from the decision to leave Earth up to the events in the film, prepared by Eisner Award-winning comic writer Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, and Robert Greenberger. The bible would serve as a resource for all kinds of ancillary materials in the After Earth franchise. 'The thing that struck me about it was not just how detailed it was, but how oddly prescient," says Caleeb Pinkett. 'Peter David drew up the history of an entire universe, which was impressive enough, but then in our world, things started happening that mirrored his universe. Like that Russian meteor a few months ago – Peter David had described a remarkably similar event. I think that shows a verisimilitude to Peter David's approach that grounds the universe of After Earth – even though we enter a realm of sci-fi."
'This world is so thoroughly thought out," says Will Smith. 'The history for these characters was laid out beyond anything I've ever seen before. Just as an example, for me, playing Cypher – a general with the Rangers – it was fantastic to know that my character's grandmother was head of the Rangers, and it was during her tenure that she united the government under the Rangers. What that meant was that her son, my character's father, never got a chance to head the Rangers until he was almost 50 years old – he missed his prime. That's the kind of history Peter David explored – while details like that aren't a part of this movie, they help us with our characters and to understand this world as a distinct place, and give us a rich environment."
THE WORLD… AFTER EARTH
Kitai Raige lives on Nova Prime, mankind's new home. One day, he will be – he must be – a great Ranger, like his father before him.
Cypher Raige, Kitai's father, is the Prime Commander of the United Ranger Corps and one of the greatest leaders in the history of Nova Prime. He is widely credited with saving the humans of Nova Prime from the planet's fiercest alien threats: The Skrel and their vicious creations, the Ursa.
Starting in the 21st Century, Earth's environment became increasingly uninhabitable. Massive seismic activity caused frequent earthquakes of alarming intensity; tectonic plates shifted, creating enormous volcanoes and violent collisions between continents; clean water became scarce and the atmospheric composition changed, resulting in deadly temperature fluctuations and air too toxic for human lungs to breathe.
By 2025 AD, it was clear that mankind would need to leave Earth, if there were any chance of survival. The governments of the world convened and mandated the construction of 10 spaceships, or 'arks," that could sustain human life on a quest to find a new inhabitable planet in another galaxy. The destruction of Earth came faster than any had imagined, however, and only six arks were completed in time for launch. Each ark could house only 125,000 – just .0000625% of the human population – but enough to start a new society. Upon leaving Earth, calendars were changed from AD to AE, reflecting our new life 'After Earth."
Before leaving for good, a message was set up for any future visitors expecting to find suitable resources on the planet – letting them know that they are approaching the most dangerous place in the universe: Earth.
A NEW LIFE ON NOVA PRIME
When forced to leave Earth, the last of the human race embarked on a journey through space. After 100 years of travel at speeds faster than light, they arrived at Nova Prime and built a new civilisation from the ground up.
In the year 222 AE, humans on Nova Prime formed a tripartite government composed of three branches: The United Ranger Corps, The Primus, and The Savant. Without a balance between these representatives, society would crumble.
The Primus is a philosophical leader who sees the downfall of Earth as proof of the evils of technology and rejects science, advising instead based on the deep, spiritual links that bind all on Nova Prime. The Savant, on the other hand, leads through the promotion of scientific discovery, believing that technology and human achievement are the keys to humanity's survival.
The United Ranger Corps was formed with a single mission: Preserve Humanity. In the last days of humanity's eviction from Earth, the governments of every nation selected 1,000 of their best and brightest"tacticians, pilots, soldiers and the like"to form a first-response team capable of keeping order through the growing number of natural disasters and international catastrophes. The U.N.-sanctioned group was titled The United Ranger Corps, or 'Rangers" for short. The Rangers quickly became the new standard for military service, saving countless lives in the process.
Aspiring Rangers like Kitai must undergo intense training to prove themselves both physically and mentally. For Kitai, becoming a Ranger would prove his worth"not only to himself, but to his father. The cutlass is a Ranger's greatest weapon; an extension of the strength that comes from within. Lightweight and handheld, the cutlass is both versatile and elegant, and blends seamlessly into a Ranger's lifesuit, making it essential for attack, self-defense and survival conditions. Every Ranger memorises the series of quick finger inputs necessary to activate the hundreds of smart fibers that form numerous weapon configurations from both ends of the handle. The C-40 combat model has a total of 22 configurations, including short blade, spear, long blade, sickle, dagger and more.
Our peaceful existence was a brief one. Now, threats loom over us, every single day of our lives.
Just 143 years after landing on Nova Prime (in 243 AE), humanity weathered an attack from The Skrel: an alien species that had long considered Nova Prime their holy ground. To them, humans are vermin infesting their sacred land. We endured this first onslaught; we won"but this was only the beginning.
The Skrel had underestimated mankind in their early attacks. But, through the centuries, the enemy's weapons became more advanced. In the war of 576AE, they finally released their ultimate weapon: The Ursa. A nightmare of a creature"bred for warfare, and genetically engineered for one reason: to hunt and kill humans. Ursa prey on the pheromones humans secrete when they're scared. They can sense humans' fear. Many thought the Ursa unbeatable and awaited mankind's inevitable demise"but a solution arose, and brought them hope.
Just as it seemed nothing could stop the Ursa, Cypher Raige inadvertently uncovered their weakness: without fear, humans are invisible to the Ursa. In an unprecedented show of self-control and discipline, Raige eliminated his fear and defeated the Ursa. This act of restraint became known as 'Ghosting," and lifted Raige to new heights of fame. There are only seven Ghosts in existence. They are anomalies.
After writing the story for the film, Will Smith – also a producer of the film – would turn over the writing reins to Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan. M. Night Shyamalan would also direct the movie. Will Smith called M. Night Shyamalan on his birthday, and M. Night Shyamalan told Will Smith how great Jaden Smith was in The Karate Kid. Will Smith said, 'Well, we do have a movie idea in the works…" and they took off from there.
'M. Night Shyamalan is a master of building suspense and fear," he says, explaining why M. Night Shyamalan was the perfect choice for After Earth. 'If there were a single thing that I would say is clearly Night's genius, it's how to take a single, still image and terrify you with it. There can be no movement – nothing happening, really – and still, you're riveted. He is so good at setting the shot, setting the lighting, and setting the moment."
'I'm fascinated by the question of why human beings fear the unknown," says M. Night Shyamalan. 'In our earliest days as cave-people, that was really important – fear could keep us safe. Fear could keep you alive. But now, we'll fear a new job or a new relationship, because we don't know what's going to happen – and that's not necessarily a good thing. Playing with that in a movie is a fun thing, and in this movie, it's about a father teaching a son how to overcome that. It's a wonderful lesson, because if you can learn how to control your fear of the unknown, you can do anything."
The concept of fear is expressed literally, as the alien planet has bred a dangerous species – the Ursa – that can sense humans' fear and use that to track and kill its prey. The only way to kill the beasts is not to fear them, as M. Night Shyamalan explains. 'It becomes very metaphorical," says M. Night Shyamalan. 'In the movie, we have a young man whose fear is chasing him – and when he can overcome his fear, he becomes invisible to the Ursa. The Ursa can be in the same room, but it's no threat because it cannot sense his fear."
'Night puts everything into the movie," says Jaden Smith, noting that M. Night Shyamalan's style of direction is, often, sleight of hand: 'He'll get you caught up in the story – you'll be invested in the relationship between this father and his son – and then – bam! Something pops up. I love the way he shoots – the long shots, not too many cuts, capturing the emotion of the scene without saying what's really going on, and leaving you in the audience time to wonder."
Jaden Smith's experience with physical training goes back years, to the days before the filming of The Karate Kid, but he says it took on a new dimension as he prepared to play Kitai Raige, training two hours each day, five days a week, for nearly a year. 'I did a lot of work – I had to change," he says. 'I had to get a lot bigger and put on weight so I could look a bit older. I did a lot of parkour and running and training, so I'd be ready to run through the forest and on rocks."
'Jaden Smith is very serious about his training and his physicality – he'd do it during his down time. We didn't push him at all," says Will Smith.
ABOUT THE SUPPORTING CAST
Sophie Okonedo and Zoë Isabella Kravitz round out the supporting cast of the film. Sophie Okonedo plays Faia Raige, the wife of Cypher Raige and the mother of Kitai. Kravitz plays Senshi Raige, the eldest daughter of the Raige family.
Of her character, Sophie Okonedo says, 'She's very earthy, open, and emotional – she talks from the heart. In some ways, that's the opposite of her husband – he's military, so even though he's feeling all of the same emotions, he keeps it all inside. But that's what makes them a good match for each other – they each bring out what the other needs."
Zoe Isabelle Kravitz says she was excited to join the cast of After Earth because it represented a reunion of sorts for the young actress. 'My mom was in Enemy of the State with Will Smith," she remembers. 'I went to the set and he was just so kind to me. I've seen him a few times over the years, and he's just the nicest guy. So now, to be able to work with him, is amazing – he's so playful and genuine. He's a superstar, but he treats everybody the same, no matter their role on the cast or crew."
'AFTER EARTH" – HERE ON EARTH
For the look of the film, Will Smith says that the filmmakers came up with an original solution for what an Earth, ruined and abandoned by humans, might look like. 'M. Night Shyamalan had an idea: it's a thousand years in future, so there are no remnants left of man's design. It's completely back to nature," he says. 'It's the Earth the way the Earth would be without man's hand. I think that gives the film a very eerie, beautiful texture of sparseness and danger."
With that in mind, the filmmakers sought locations with lush overgrowth. Production for the parts of the film set on a rejuvenated Earth would take place in two major locations: Humboldt Redwoods State Park in northern California and the Central American country of Costa Rica, where the filmmakers shot near the Arenal Volcano and the part of the Sarapiqui River that runs through the La Selva Biological Research Station. Other major locations included the desert near Moab, Utah, which would stand in for the humans' new home planet, Nova Prime, and soundstages in Philadelphia, where interior sets were built. In addition, the film's second unit shot glaciers in Iceland and filmed the Eiger in Switzerland.
'In some ways, it was like shooting four mini-movies – it gives four different flavours," says M. Night Shyamalan. 'The wonderful thing is, I think you feel it in the movie, because the movie keeps opening up for you, keeps it fresh."
Of course, finding locations on Earth in the 21st Century that seem untouched by human beings, but could also accommodate a film crew of more than 200, is not so easy. Production designer Tom Sanders hiked and drove for a period of several weeks, seeking out the specific areas that would work.
The result is that the locations are as much a part of the film as any other element. That was important for Will Smith. 'When we shot Ali in Mozambique, I learned the value of actually going to a place and being submerged into the environment," says the producer. 'There's a certain energy and attitude that gets set into your gut when you are in the actual environment, and I wanted Jaden Smith to experience that."
One example – one scene, shot in Costa Rica, required Jaden Smith to climb down out of a tree. 'Well, Jaden Smith is coming down the tree and he looks over and there's a monkey, a real monkey, sitting in the tree, watching him – it startled Jaden a little, and they caught his reaction on camera," says Will Smith.
Filming near the Arenal Volcano was another way to get a sincere reaction out of Jaden Smith. 'They put me next to a volcano and said, -Don't worry, it stopped being active fourteen months ago. I was like, that didn't really take away the worry," he remembers. 'It was fun, but it was hard to run up it, considering the fact that I thought it was going to erupt any second."
ABOUT THE DESIGN
In setting the film more than 1,000 years in the future, the filmmakers sought a distinct look for the humans' new home of Nova Prime in After Earth. 'Of course, in a film set a thousand years in the future, you need to design everything," says executive producer E. Bennett Walsh. From the largest sets down to the hand props, nothing can be bought off the rack, he says. 'Each department has to think through what will appear on screen and how it will all work together."
At the same time, the film's production designer, Tom Sanders, says, 'We didn't want -The Jetsons.' It couldn't be too different – people are still using their hands, people still cook their own meals."
Tom Sanders started the ball rolling with conceptual models for the sets on Nova Prime. He says that the 1,000-year-old human civilisation on Nova Prime has learned its lesson. 'After trashing the Earth, they decided to do it right on the new planet, and studied how life began on Earth as the basis for everything," he says. That is expressed two ways in Sanders' sets: the design and the construction.
For the design, Tom Sanders called on the shapes and geometry of nature. 'It was always a fine line between form and function," says Tom Sanders. 'I wanted form and function to be equal, rather than taking one way or another." By calling on shapes from nature, Tom Sanders was able to express visually how human ideas had developed after they left Earth. One example, he notes: 'the design of the spacecraft has no straight lines – everything has beautiful, geometric curves," he says. To realise that, Tom Sanders was setting himself a challenge of one of the most difficult sets the veteran designer has ever built, but the result is a unique and beautiful ship.
The other way Tom Sanders' sets show the change in humanity is in their construction: Tom Sanders wanted to show that humans embraced the idea of 'green buildings" in their new home. 'We tried to invent everything with nature and the environment in mind. -Green building' isn't just about buying sustainable lumber; it's also using less of everything. The floor of an apartment is the ceiling of the apartment beneath it. The piping and everything else a building needs is part of the structure. We imagined that the people of Nova Prime were able to find minerals that fossilise like coral – we built those, imagining that these would grow and solidify into the structure of the building."
The film's futuristic setting also required the costume designer, Amy Westcott, to create every costume in the film – 'Every stitch, except for underwear," she says.
Just as it did for Tom Sanders, the futuristic setting both opened up the possibilities for Westcott and proved a challenge. 'It's not like a historical film, where you can just look up what was done at the time. It's up to your imagination. That's fun, but it's also challenging. Fortunately, we could do some research – what scientists and researchers are working on in fabrics. We were also influenced by the environment of Nova Prime."
The Ranger cadets (including Kitai, played by Jaden Smith) wear a uniform that not only matched well against the Utah backdrop, but was made of a fabric that could withstand the rough-and-tumble training regimen seen in the movie.
Amy Westcott worked closely with Tom Sanders, embracing the overall design imperative of creating an organic look. For example, 'There isn't a lot of jewelry – in fact, there are only two pieces of jewelry in the entire film. People don't wear a lot of makeup."
Jaden Smith's main costume is the lifesuit, which he wears as he takes his journey on the harsh, unforgiving planet Earth. 'The idea is that the suit is intelligent," says producer Caleeb Pinkett. 'It's his protection. It's supposed to be everything that will allow him to survive being on a contaminated planet. It has a naviband on the arm, where you can scan through and get information about the terrain, your vitals, communicate with others. You wear this suit and it tells you everything you need to know – all of your vitals."
One way it does that is by changing colour. 'It's a detection device," says Pinkett. Normally, the suit is rust-coloured. If something hostile approaches you, it turns black and armors up. If you're sick, injured, or dying, the suit turns to a pale yellow."
Once again, the designers turned to nature for their inspiration. 'In our research, we found a beetle, the Tortoise Beetle, that changes colours – when it dies, it turns pale yellow, and that's the yellow colour of the lifesuit when its wearer is dying."
Though the suit's transformations would be achieved in visual effects, the suits themselves were costumes, and naturally, Westcott's team created suits in all three colours. But that was just the beginning – different suits were required for different aspects of filming. 'The suit takes a beating – it goes in water, it gets scraped up against trees, it gets burnt, it has to take a harness. We had to determine how many different suits to design for all of the different utilities. Not only that – one of the challenges was that Jaden Smith was 13 when we were filming – he's still growing. And because we had a six-month shoot, we had to make bigger suits to fit his growing body."
For Jaden Smith, the suit had one more distinct advantage: the teenager could show off the results of his impressive training: 'If you're gonna put it on," he says, 'you have to be ultra-ripped!"
ABOUT THE VISUAL EFFECTS
The film's 750 visual effects shots were overseen by Visual Effects Supervisor Jonathan Rothbart, who describes his job on After Earth as 'being like a kid in a visual candy shop" due to the wide variety of different kinds of effects on the project. "We have such a broad range of effects in the film. There is an opportunity to create creatures that have to interact in all sorts of environments and situations. We have fully digital environments as we fly through an asteroid storm in space. We have to create other worlds that we shot on location and lastly we have to create an evolved look to our current earth. It's just a cornucopia of different types of effects, which gives us a chance to be really creative and have lots of fun with it."
Jonathan Rothbart says that imagining the highly evolved creatures of Earth a thousand years hence was 'an interesting challenge, in that we're only a thousand years forward – which is not very significant, evolutionarily speaking." he notes. 'We really tried to say, that because of the extreme changes that occurred to the Earth itself forced a more rapid evolutionary shift. Due to this climatic change, the creatures needed to adapt quicker, to enable them to inhabit the planet. We tried to create an interesting change in evolution in the various creatures we were working with, but not so extreme where it seems out of place for the time that has passed. It was a constant design challenge to find that balance."
In some cases, these creatures became characters with their own character arc – for example, a large bird at first seems to hunt Kitai, then, later, clearly tries to protect him. 'We had to give the bird as much personality as we could, but obviously, it's just a bird – this isn't an animated film. That was a fun challenge – to give the bird personality without turning it into a caricature," says Jonathan Rothbart. 'And then, of course, there is the whole technical side of making it real. Birds are particularly difficult. There is such subtlety when dealing with the details of feathers and how they look."
The CG animators were also responsible for creating the baboon attack – one of the film's central action sequences. Jonathan Rothbart says, 'When we originally read that sequence in the script, we got very excited and started storyboarding what the sequence might look like. It is its own little action vignette that gave us freedom to try some things. They have a pretty straightforward role, but they also represent Kitai's first interaction with the inhabitants of Earth, so it's an important moment in the movie. Jaden Smith did a lot of great work to make his character both stoic and fearful in that moment – we had to live up to that in the performance our animators created out of the CG character. Night wanted to make sure that they started out scary. We found that making our first baboon very quiet and still was the best way to play it, that also gave us the opportunity to build into something much more frenetic and violent as his interaction evolves. It was definitely a fun character challenge to solve."
Generally speaking, there are two ways to create a sequence like that one: either the human characters react to nothing, pantomiming their reaction, or human stuntmen and actors stand in for the digital characters, to be painted out later. On After Earth, the filmmakers opted for the latter. 'We had stuntmen in gray suits chasing Jaden Smith at all times. Turns out, when you have a bunch of big stuntmen bearing down on you at top speed, your reaction is a bit different than when you're running on your own! Having the stuntmen in there brought more intensity to the scene."
Jonathan Rothbart was also responsible for creating the alien planet of Nova Prime. Taking his cues from the production designer, Tom Sanders, Jonathan Rothbart says that the focus was in creating an environment in which human beings seem to have learned their lesson and exist in harmony with their environment. Again, only 1000 years have passed, so the goal was 'to make it familiar and real enough so that people would recognise it was a real place. The city was very complicated, from a design standpoint, to make it feel believable while maintaining that futuristic feel that had been set during the production. We wanted to make sure that you would look at this world and believe that people could live here."
In creating the transformations of the lifesuit, Jonathan Rothbart notes that the goal of keeping the suit looking as organic and natural as possible was an interesting counterpoint to the 'very technical, almost mechanical" way that the suit transforms.
The visual effects team was also responsible for creating the Ranger's weapon of choice: the cutlass, a staff with two blades that protrude in a number of different configurations on command. 'The cutlass is one of the ways you show your level of experience as a warrior," says Jonathan Rothbart. 'There's a junior level – that's where Kitai begins – with the blades taking simplistic shapes and doing simple things. By the end of the movie, as Kitai is using his father's more advanced cutlass and becoming a true warrior, it takes on its most elaborate look and design."
The crash of the ship, Rothbart says, provided 'a nice moment of synergy between the practical and visual effects in the film. We had the ship set on a huge gimbal – the entire set was moving around with all of the actors and stuntmen in it, and practical effects were blowing things through the set. Later, we were able to marry that with green-screen stuntmen and CG people coming out of the ship, which we did as visual effects. I love that kind of marriage, because it's one more trick you have to try to make the film feel real."
Finally, Jonathan Rothbart and his team were also responsible for creating the Ursa. As the creature's presence looms over the entire film, it was important for the visual effects team to keep with the overall design of the film: to design a creature that was unique in both look and feel, but also to make it an organic, living creature, with skin and bone structure that resembled a realistic animal.
'When you start doing that kind of work, you really try to take the time to look at various animals that exist here on Earth, and decide which pieces you want to borrow to create a new species," says Jonathan Rothbart. 'You want it to have a texture and a sensibility that is something you'd see as a hunter. At the same time, you want it to be unique – it's an alien species, so it shouldn't be exactly like an animal here on Earth. That was the push-and-pull – how to make it familiar enough that it seemed real, but original enough that it seemed alien."
Part of the effect came through in the way M. Night Shyamalan structured the film. 'Aside from a flashback, we never see the Ursa until very late in the film," says Jonathan Rothbart. 'It's always out there and is a constant threat to Kitai, but it's not 100 percent known. I like the way the tension is built by not allowing us to see the creature until the last act of the film. It lets the audience experience the journey with Kitai – it's the fear of the unknown."
SHOOTING WITH THE SONY 4K CAMERA
After Earth is the first feature to be shot with the Sony F65 4K digital camera, a state-of-the-art motion picture camera. The F65 camera's unprecedented 8K image sensor, with approximately 20 total megapixels, offers higher image fidelity than any other digital cinema production camera. With 16-bit Linear RAW File output capability, the F65 creates the gateway to an end-to-end 4K file-based mastering workflow.
'Before this movie, I was one of the staunchest advocates for film cameras," says Shyamalan, 'but this particular camera, when we tested it, I thought it had a kind of integrity about it – and by integrity, I mean a vocabulary. It was able to turn its technical prowess into an artistic point-of-view, without giving the image any of the -coolness' or -detachment' that I was expecting from digital – it has a great ability to capture colours and convey rich colours in a way that's pleasing to the eye. It also had a lot of practical positives, in that I could shoot in very low light – which was critical on this movie, because we were in the canopies underneath redwood trees and in the rainforest, and there simply isn't enough light early in the morning or late in the afternoon in those locations if you're not using this camera. To have the richness of the vocabulary and the extension of the practical limitations felt too good to be true."
'The location in the jungle of Costa Rica was so dark, that if we'd been shooting on film, we would have been struggling," says After Earth's director of photography, Peter Suschitzky. 'The best digital cameras today are, I feel, superior to film cameras in the amount of detail recorded and in the contrast range which they give. The Sony camera is a step forward. In any case, however beautiful the image which film can give, one of the realities of today is that film is rarely projected on film. Film is digitised and then digitally projected, and there is a loss of image quality in doing this. I prefer to start with a digital image."
Release Date: June 13th, 2013