2001– the ultimate film of all-time:
I just re-watched ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ by Stanley Kubrick, and holy shit– this movie is one of the best movies of all-time.
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I think I first watched this film when I was like 10-12 years old, from my Dad (who is an epic film buff).
Anyways, the book is inspired by the short story, ‘The Sentinel‘ by Arthur Clarke. This movie is most famous for the songs: ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ by Richard Strauss (inspired by Nietzsche’s book), and ‘The blue danube’ by Johann Strauss II. If you haven’t watched 2001 Space Odyssey, you’ve definitely probably heard these songs somewhere:
Significance of 2001 Space Odyssey
The significance of 2001 Space Odyssey (which was filmed in 1968, nearly 50+ years ago!!!) is that it has inspired pretty much all modern sci-film films, including Star Wars, The Matrix, and Aliens/any sci-fi film by Ridley Scott.
When watching 2001 Space Odyssey, I was blown away by the set design, the camera-work, the special effects, the philosophical questions on existence and human life, as well as the phenomenal cinematography.
Contact sheets from 2001 Space Odyssey
To start, let me share some thumbnails from the movie. I watched the film on my laptop, and took a screenshot whenever I found a scene which was interesting. Then afterwards, I used Lightroom to import the screenshooted PNG files, and used the ‘Print’ function in Lightroom and exported it as a ‘5×11 contact sheet’ as a JPEG image.
I took a screenshot whenever I was inspired by the cinematography, the framing, the facial expressions of the actors, or any other moment which I felt was significant:
2001 Space Odyssey Philosophical Musings
Some philosophical musings:
Scene 1: The origins of human life
Question 1: “What does it mean to be human?”
In the beginning of the film, you see a bunch of apes (our forefathers) living in the desert, barely staying alive, and working hard to simply procure food and care for their children.
In one epic scene, you see one ape accidentally discover the use of old bones from an animal– which could be used as a weapon. He later teaches his tribe this, and uses their bone-weapons to kill an opposing leader of another tribe.
Ideas/thoughts that ran through my head:
- We all descended from apes, and through millennia have become what we know as ‘modern day homo-sapiens’. ‘Homo sapien’ means that we are from the ‘homo-erectus’ species, but we are distinguished because we are ‘sapien’ (intelligent). Therefore first of all, it is humbling to know that even though we are insanely intelligent today, at our core, we are just primal apes. This explains a lot of our tribal-violent behavior today, even though we are intelligent.
- We are significant in our use of tools: In the movie, the first ‘tool’ was actually a bone-weapon. Therefore, the tribes/individuals that thrive and took over the world were the ones who could best effectively use tools/equipment/weapons. Much of human advancement on planet Earth was through warfare, and the civilizations with the best weapons are the ones that took over the world. Significance: In today’s world, the individuals who can best leverage materials/tools/equipment are the ones who can build the most power.
- Technically we aren’t the center of the universe: Through pure chance, humans became the kings of planet Earth. Our ability to terraform the Earth, procure food, and domesticate/conquer other species is what gave us our advantage.
This is where the movie gets a bit crazy: out of nowhere, you see this huge alien-like black stone-slab. Perhaps it was this alien civilization that first taught our ape-ancestors how to use tools?
Scene 2: Advanced human technology
This cross-over when transitioning into Scene 2 was EPIC. Pretty much Kubrick cut between a bone in the air, with a spaceship in space:
Significance: It is incredible how humans have gone from using bone-tools, to building spaceships!!!
Analysis: User Interfaces of the Future
What I found fascinating was this is what Kubrick/other “futurists” from 1968 thought 2001 (or the future) would look like:
I would have to say, I impressed with how futuristic they made the future look from (using 1968 as a starting point). Note — this was nearly 50 years ago — far before we had the internet, smartphones, and all these other crazy technologies on earth!
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Better to think of ‘first principles’ when thinking of the future, rather than by analogy. For example, the “mistake” that Ridley Scott made in 1968 was the future would look similar to their preset-day “high-tech” stuff. But today in 2018, “futuristic” technologies are more advanced than the colorful buttons, and simple line-user interfaces which are depicted in the film. I wonder– 50 years from now (2068) what interfaces will be in the future? It probably won’t be holographic, 3d — it will probably be something else we have no idea of.
- It is a little sad that for the most part, we haven’t evolved much in the last 50 years in terms of having flat-screen (2d) images.
- Looks like IBM might have had paid some advertising money to be placed in the film. Takeaway point: “Paid product sponsorship/placements” in movies have been around forever. And I’m glad– the budget needed to make 2001 Space Odyssey must have been insane by their standards. And now humanity has a film that will exist for a long time.
Panning out // surprise
One scene I particularly love was when you first get a peek inside the international space station.
The first shot reveals the room and people on the bottom of the frame:
Then the next scene, you reveal another room (on top of the frame), but the people are upside down!!! (of course, this is space):
Then the last pan out: you see two additional rooms on the left and right:
Lesson: Use strategic camera panning to surprise the viewer!
Scene: Checking in
I love this first scene of the man checking into the international space station for ‘immigration’, for several reasons:
- Just how ‘retro’ the whole scene looks. For example the woman with the pink hat/beret.
- Why would you need ‘immigration’ while you’re in space?
- The beautiful color palette (burgundy red of the chairs, and the beautiful blue-cyan of the earth in the background), and the minimalist composition:
I also love the details of these numbers on the side (I think great cinema is all about the detail– remember the saying, ‘God is in the details’):
Then the next scene, you can see the great dynamic, and symmetrical composition:
Random detail I like on the far left of the frame:
Very subtle accent colors (burgandy-red in the far right), and the black table on left:
Another nice detail of what language to dial in (with the funny retro buttons):
List of languages:
The significance of the languages– these were the most ‘advanced’ countries (at least in 1968). Interesting how they couldn’t have predicted the rising of techno-giants like South Korea and China.
I love this scene, with the curved set, the composition, leading lines, and minimalist colors:
More fun product placement (HILTON hotel) // also realizing — there will probably be hotels in space!
Also another fun detail: COFFEE BAR (I guess humans will drink coffee forever, even in space). A great future industry to get into is “space-optimized coffee”:
Going back to the scene, I love the placement of the people in the frame:
I love this imaginative (yet slightly silly, thinking of the ‘coin-operated public phone’ analogy) idea of an international ‘picture phone’:
This is the scene where the man calls his daughter back home. A great detail in this scene is when he’s calling his daughter, you can see the earth in the background spin around in a circle:
A phone call from the international space station to planet earth: only $1.70 USD!!! I wonder if audiences in 1968 would have gasped and said, “That is so cheap!” (also note the ‘Bell Telephone’ company as another paid sponsorship):
Another random thought: I wonder if nobody ever thought that one day something like an iPhone would be invented– where you could ‘Facetime’ with your family back home, on your own device (instead of using a public phone).
A small detail I really liked was when he is talking with his daughter, and you get a closeup of his ‘pixelated’ daughter in the video screen, the color palette and combination is amazing!
For example, note the colors in the background (purple, taupe, and blue), then the colors of the girl’s outfit (dark purple, burnt-orange, burgundy):
Food on spaceship
Kind of a funny scene: the spaceship ‘airline attendants’ getting food for the passengers:
The surprise: you see the woman going upside down!!!
In specific, I love this transition between the woman walking upside down, and then you see her walk into the cockpit (also upside down). Lesson: as photographers/videographers, we shouldn’t always feel the need for our subjects to be “right-side up!”
And what can you eat while in a zero-gravity situation? Well according to international ‘PAN AM’ (the now defunct airplane), you can have “LIQUIPAK” foods in orange/strawberries, cheese, coffee, carrots, peas, corn, and fish!
And it is convenient when you’re stuck in your seat! (what a creative idea):
A random takeaway point: The fun thing about science-fiction is trying to figure out fun little solutions to (potential) future problems.
I also think what makes this future world-creation of Ridley Scott so convincing is that a lot of the scenes focus on the small mundane details of future space-travel (like what should you eat in space?)
Another fun scene, you have the pilot come over to talk to the man, and when he lets go of his tray plate, it floats in the air!
Or another mundane question: How can you use a toilet in space (with zero gravity)??? (“Passengers are advised to read instructions before use): quite humorous!
Note how the man is biting his fingernails, which shows his hesitancy to using it!
The next scene you see the crew landing onto the moon colony. Things I find interesting is that the spaceship looks like a face. Secondly, the way they were able to make the scene seem real is the ‘parallax’ movement of three surfaces: the moving spaceship downwards, the changing horizon of the moon surface, and the planet earth in the background):
Then when you see the crew landing onto the moon colony, you can sense “movement” by the changing scene outside of their cockpit view:
Opening of aperture eye
This next scene is absolutely marvelous: you see the crew on the space, then you see the space station on the moon opening up — with the elegant aperture blades (almost like an eye opening up):
Landing of spaceship
Then you get a nice scene of the landing of the ship (nice small detail of the cushioning of the legs):
Learn more in PART 2: Epic Cinematography of 2001, Space Odyssey >
A continuation of Part 1: Epic Cinematography and Philosophy of 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick:
The color palette from the landing of the space shuttle (red and green) reminds me of the Japanese film AKIRA.
Anyways, to take it back to 2001, note the nice colors in this scene (burgundy, orange, pink, taupe-green):
Photographer of the future
The next scene, you see the press conference, with this photographer of the future:
Now highlighted in pink– notice the movement of the photographer, all around the frame. Sometimes the photographer is standing, other times crouching. At the very end when he is exiting, note the beautiful shadow:
This is what his camera looks like (very similar to the video cameras of the past):
Look at this photo of Robert Capa:
Camera angles in the ‘war room’
Then immediately after, you see in the ‘war room’ (press room), the great movement/framing of the camera:
I particularly love this minimalist composition:
User-interface: Locking in // landing on the moon
I love the tones and the user-interface when they’re trying to land the shuttle on the moon. Note the bright yellow user-interface in the center (with the bright-green accent marks), and the little touches of purple around the frame:
The nice zen of the composition here:
Scene on the moon (meeting the obelisk for the first time):
Note all the great camera changes, angles, and perspectives in this scene:
One frame I want to analyze is this one: the telephoto shot with the rectangular/pink lights on the left of the frame, and you have the astronauts walking into the frame. It is incredibly dynamic!
Another epic scene: the moment the man touches the obelisk for the first time. Note the subtle spacing, and minimalist composition:
And a very close-up on the hand. Note how the strong vertical line is a little off-center to the right. I think this makes the composition more dynamic.
Then the next scene, the astronaut (with the camera), motioning with his hands to have everyone stand closer (for a group photo). Note the ‘bookend’ technique in the far right of the frame (outlined in the pink). This gives you more a sense of depth, because the focus is on the astronauts in the background (and the astronaut with the camera in the far right is out-of-focus).
Also note, there are exactly 5 astronauts (outlined in cyan), that are neatly spaced apart from one another. Also, I have noticed when trying to achieve balance in a frame, odd numbers works best (the ‘rule of odds’). So having 5 astronauts (odd number) is a good balance!
Transitioning to jupiter mission
Then a nice palette cleanser, with the all-black background, with the white-dotted stars:
Then the movement of the spaceship. Note how the ships of STAR WARS looks very similar to this ship:
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Then a front shot: the head of the ship looks like a human face:
Then a wide side-shot of the ship. I quite like these transitioning camera angles/perspectives, to give variety and a sense of scale to the spaceship:
Jogging/boxing in the spaceship
When I first saw this scene, it took my breath away. Seriously — this was shot nearly 50 years ago, and how creative Kubrick was with the cinematography!!! And how did they create the special effect of the man running “wrong-side-up”?
Scene 1: Man running horizontally around in a circle
First of all, watch the animated GIF:
Then, here are the still photos:
Scene 2: Man running vertically around in a circle
The next scene, the same action (man jogging around and boxing in the air), but this time… the scene changes orientation (now going vertical!)
Then, introducing our new best friend (and evil villain) HAL.
In the animated GIF, you can see what HAL is seeing– the main character (DAVE) getting close to HAL to inspect him.
To be continued in Part 3…
Continuing from Part 2: Epic Cinematography and Philosophy of 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick:
Also see Part 1 on 2001 Space Odyssey
Download/Access all the files/composition/PSD/jpeg images
You can download all the images used in this series here on Google Drive (274 MB):
Lesson: Confuse the viewer by changing perspective
The part which also blew my mind: the confusion of perspective:
The next transition scene: note the epic tilted (dutch angle) dynamic angle composition of the camera.
And not only that, but note the curved perspective (outlined in pink):
Then the nice mundane scene of “DAVE” (main character) heating up his food, while his co-pilot is watching a live ‘BBC’ stream of themselves on planet Earth:
Lesson: To make a movie feel more ‘real’ put more ‘everyday/mundane’ scenes into it.
Switch-up of angles and perspectives
Then we have a nice switch-up in the scene.
First, you get a head-on shot of HAL (the computer) // (I also like the grid design layout of the shot):
Second, you see ‘Dave’ shot on the right side:
Here are the angles:
Third, you see Dave’s co-pilot mirrored on the left side:
Also angles here:
Lesson: Switch up the camera angles, and play with symmetry to make more effective visual-storytelling.
Also a fun note: I guess Kubrick nailed the concept of the ‘iPad’ watching-while-eating cultural norm!
Then you see a nice shot of the crew in their ‘hibernation pods’:
Note the orientation of the astronaut in the hibernation pod (quite horizontal).
This is important because in the next scene, the orientation of the astronaut in the pod changes:
Then a wider shot of the two astronauts on board, in their life pods:
Then a close-up of the UI of their life support (very important to pay attention to, when later on in the film something…bad…happens to them):
And who is the benevolent individual looking over them? Oh, our trusty HAL computer:
Then this angle/perspective switch is great– you can “see” from HAL’s perspective, via his fisheye lens — looking (kind of creepily) at the crew:
This is great as a technique, because it ‘puts you in the shoes’ (or in the eyes) of HAL. You can see what HAL sees– which makes you (the viewer) more engaged in the movie.
Then a nice fun scene: you get Dave sun-tanning (I guess this is how you need UV/sun radiation while in space), while he is calling his family back home (his parents wish him a happy birthday), and mention about his “earth credits/salary being increased” — which is hilarious, because what is the point of earning money, when you’re alone in a spaceship?
Visually, I love the colors of the hyper-orange sun glasses, and the shifting movement of Dave in the seat (he also asks HAL to constantly adjust the height/seat of the chair):
Color composition of the video call
This closeup of the video call terminal almost looks like a painting.
First of all, note the proportions of the squares (outlined in cyan and pink):
Even note the beautiful compositional proportions in the close-up of the family in the terminal:
Even see the negative space between the mom and father’s head from the background:
Now see it abstracted, in terms of the color combinations and the composition:
Color palette of Dave sideways
Love the aqua greens on the left of the frame, orange of his glasses, and the purple on the right of the frame:
Up, down, up, down, shift in perspective
Another masterful Stanley Kubrick shot.
First, you start with a high angle, birds-eye-view (looking down) at Dave, of him sketching something. Then as you pan out, you get confused with the perspective of his co-pilot (that is shot head-on). Then Dave changes his position, and sits down. Absolutely epic:
Epic leading lines, centered, orange-red suit:
Then one of the most iconic scenes, the first time Dave walks through the epic tunnel of lights, and the leading lines, with his red suit:
More to come in Part 4…
2001 Space Odyssey Series:
Cinematography and life lessons:
- Stanley Kubrick: Master Photographer and Film-Maker
- Lessons Ridley Scott Has Taught Me about Life, Art, and Cinema
- Cinematography and Composition Lessons from All the Money in the World (2017) film by Ridley Scott
- Cinematography Composition Techniques for Photographers
- Rashomon (1950)
- Ran (Chaos) by Akira Kurosawa
- FIGHT CLUB
- FURY (2014)
- THE MATRIX
- AKIRA PART I / AKIRA PART II
- Batman: The Dark Knight
- Dr. Strange
- Suicide Squad
- Kendrick Lamar: HUMBLE.
Continuation of 2001: Space Odyssey Composition.
2001: Space Odyssey Compositions
- Part 3: Epic Cinematography and Philosophy of 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick
- Part 2: Epic Cinematography and Philosophy of 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick
- Part 1: Epic Cinematography and Philosophy of 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick
See all CINEMA Composition Lessons >
To access all the PSD files and JPEG files, download the 219 MB file below:
Also you can download the other files from this 2001 space odyssey series:
Epic leading lines
Continuing from Part 3, we have one of my favorite scenes: The moment where DAVE walks through the corridor, with all these epic lines:
Broken down, here is the leading lines I see:
Then going into the scene when he sees the space pods, note the epic use of the wide-angle (fisheye) lens, which really sucks you into the frame:
Then the next scene, you get a different angle, with great ‘bookend’ compositions with the two space pods (on the far left and the far right):
Then you have this scene when DAVE is about to enter one of the space pods, with one of the most sublime layered compositions:
First of all note you have the claws in the foreground which are out-of-focus (in cyan), and the layers of the space pods in pink:
The key is this: once DAVE is about to enter the pod, you can see he is framed in-between one of the claws. This is key because later in the movie the CLAWS is a key element: when DAVE tries to save his friend//also the claws are the metaphysical hands of DAVE, to open the hatch doors:
Lesson: When you’re shooting certain scenes, put your focus in the background, and put elements in the foreground which might foretell a future story (like the claws).
Scene shift: DAVE’s friend looks on
Then the next scene, DAVE’s friend (yellow astronaut) watches DAVE enter the pod:
The composition is fantastic for the storytelling, because you can see the ‘bookend’ of the yellow co-pilot on the far-left of the frame (outlined in cyan), then you have HAL a little on the right-thirds of the frame:
Also study this composition and the spacing of the square-block-rectangle elements.
Shifting camera angle
Continuing from the previous scene, note the shift of the camera perspective– almost being ‘topsy-turvy’ (which makes sense for the sense of disorientation, because they are in space!)
Follow the pink lines to see the orientation of the man (I had to turn my head a bit):
Then the cyan lines perspective lines in the background:
How do you get the sense that something is moving in space?
This is how Kubrick did it:
- Stationary spaceship (really small in white)
- Tiny stars in background (white dots), moving slowly to the left
- Big rocks (meteors) moving from the bottom of the frame, to the top of the frame, slowly getting bigger!
Epic reflections from inside helmet
Note the subtle drama, seen from inside DAVE’s helmet, with the subtle shift of his eyes.
Also note, this compositional technique will be used later in IRON MAN: