With the 91st Academy Awards announcements around the corner on January 22nd, the film First Man is garnering whispers of Oscar nominations. Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong’s epic journey to the moon and historic moonwalk is a story of triumph and bravery. The film had stunning space and flight scenery while also using powerful sound techniques. It additionally surprised audiences with AR storytelling and a limited run VR experience.
First Man’s Use of VR-inspired Techniques
Long before hitting the editing floor, the director and FX teams know that an audience’s visual and auditory senses are what drives the imagination to become a part of the world that they are seeing and hearing. First Man is a film that pulls at audience’s emotional strings using effects used in VR film and experience development.
Projected on a wide screen at theaters, the film’s use of sound is sweeping and unfolding around you. As VR acts as a kind of vacuum that pulls you into a world and doesn’t release you until the end, First Man is just as engulfing to the senses.
The film’s strategic perspective shifting put me into Armstrong’s helmet pre-launch and at its most intense put the audience up in space alongside him. The former providing distant and muffled sounds of being buckled in and the “too late to turn back now” feeling of a final closing of the door were effects that sent my imagination and anticipation into overdrive.
The latter scene is an intense moment where Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, is faced with the task of being launched into the atmosphere to test a landing procedure. Unnervingly, the ship begins bouncing off of the edge of the atmosphere and into space. This scene uses silence and metal creaks to build tension and accentuate the risk of bouncing into space or getting back to Earth.
Like VR uses sound to immerse their viewers, First Man transfixed my body and emotional presence to the point of goosebumps. I was in that spaceship getting launched into the unknown right along with Armstrong and his crew.
During a sound show discussion panel held at Universal, Damien Chazelle and his sound effects team shared that they wanted to be as authentic as possible when recreating sounds of the X-15, Gemini, and Titan II rockets, their ascent, and of course g-force using a mix of recorded animal vocals, archives, real take-offs, and sound effects.
The sound of the spacecraft’s thrusters, turbulence, and even subtle creaks were so dialed in it felt like the walls of the ship or theater might collapse in on itself. The team also utilized the absence and muting of sound to really drive home the climactic moments of the film.
The scene where Neil Armstrong (Gosling) takes his first step and says his famous line are a significant moment that placed the audience inside the helmet once again as the center point to this historic event.
VR and AR Experience
In October, First Man hit theaters, revealing their mobile AR experience and hosted a VR rocket launch experience. Leading up to showtime, audiences went to the link above and used their phone’s camera to unlock, watch, and listen to segments of the astronaut’s journey from mission control to the moon.
The film’s VR experience begins in mission control and takes the audience into the Apollo 11 module with realistic details of switchboards and the window, giving them a front-row seat to the moon mission. Guests sat in motion seats called Positron Voyager, which moved along with the Saturn V rocket and really leveraged body and sensory presence with simulated movements and panoramic sound.
With epic scenes of realistic space flight and the human courage needed to uncover the unknown territory of space and the moon, First Man is a testament to humankind’s tenacity. With Chazelle and his effects team’s use of imagery and sound in filmmaking and for their use of VR and AR technology, we think that an Oscar nomination is on the horizon.