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Space Cowboys

Principal photography on Space Cowboys began in mid July, l999, and continued through mid October, with locations in the general Los Angeles area (Saugus, Agua Dulce, Canyon Country, March Air Force Base and Victorville) providing the background for most of the early years of the story, followed by sequences filmed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The remainder of the film was shot on soundstages at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California, which were used to house sets constructed to replicate the space shuttle interior, the Russian Ikon satellite, and a variety of aircraft (from a B-l Bomber to an early experimental jet) and in-flight simulators.

Coordinated by Academy-Award winning production designer Henry Bumstead ("The Sting," "To Kill A Mockingbird"), these sets also included the first accurate representation of Houston's new Mission Control Center, complete with large-screen high-definition communications imaging, exactly as used during actual flights.

The scenes filmed at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, included training sequences in which the entire team Daedalus was put through virtually the same training phases used to prepare actual astronauts for space travel -- the shuttle simulator, the shuttle simulator control booth, the virtual reality room, and the neutral buoyancy lab.

To further enhance the credibility of the film, the Space Cowboys crew traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in order to shoot the Vehicle Assembly Building, launch pad and landing facility for all NASA flights. Likewise, actors Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner said goodbye to friends and family in the real astronaut blockhouse, were dressed for flight in the suit-up room used by NASA astronauts and waited for their transfer to the shuttle launch in the actual astronaut ready room.

"I wanted to make the film as believable as possible," Clint Eastwood explains. "In order to do that we needed NASA's help to get as close as we could to the circumstances surrounding a launch. It's a complicated process and it requires careful planning and teamwork on all levels. Bringing a film crew in to simulate the whole thing was probably an even bigger headache for NASA, but the agency really came through for us. I couldn't be more pleased with the results."

Since the film required scenes of weightlessness, the cast was put through a battery of simulation rigs. "We've done it, I suppose, in every way that it can be done," Tommy Lee Jones muses. "We've hung people from ceilings; we've had people stand around holding on to walls as if that were necessary to keep yourself from floating off; and then we have ballpoint pens and clipboards floating by suspended on filament lines; we've been on little stools that have caster wheels on them that move around. It really presents no challenge to an actor; all you have to do is stand there and take these various rides, but it's a group effort for the whole company. The other thing we've done is simply move the camera around a great deal. And sometimes using all those things in combination, one with the other, creates the illusion of weightlessness successfully maybe seventy percent of the time."

Clint Eastwood points out that in previous space-set films, the cast and production crew would all fly up in a giant cargo plane to achieve weightlessness for a few seconds at a stretch. "They used to call it the 'Vomit Comet,' which is an old G-3 that they would take up and get into a weightless situation and then you would try to play a scene," he notes. "If you were in a small container, you could do that and build the set on the plane. But it got that nickname for a reason. It's a little harder this way, but it beats the alternative."

The visual effects in Space Cowboys, created by Industrial Light & Magic, required techniques ranging from the most traditional to the most cutting edge. Many of the sequences in space incorporated miniature spaceships photographed using motion control cameras, digitally painted backgrounds, computer graphics "astronauts" and live action actors. The integration of this variety of old and new techniques mirrors the story of the movie. As ILM's visual effects supervisor Michael Owens explains, "We're doing the exterior space shots and the X2 flight sequence. The effects shots combine the actors with models and miniatures, stage sets, and digital stunt doubles, all seamlessly incorporated to look real."

Facts courtesy of Space Cowboys Official Website and Warner Bros.

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