12 March 2018 | The Guardian
Keir Dullea, played astronaut Dave Bowman
One day in the early 1960s, I had my palm read at a funfair. The palmist saw a rocket ship in my future. Then my agent called and said I’d been offered the lead in Stanley Kubrick’s next film. When I started reading the script, something felt terribly familiar. As a teenager, I had read The Sentinel, a short story by Arthur C Clarke – and that was the starting point for Kubrick’s film.
The first day of shooting ended up being delayed because Kubrick didn’t like my shoes. The wardrobe came up with the right pair real fast. I felt awed working with him and he picked up that I was tense – which is terrible for an actor. After a week, he took me aside and said: “Keir, you’re everything I’m looking for.”
The rotating living quarters of the Discovery spacecraft were built by Vickers. They were 70ft across and turned at 3mph. The camera tricks the crew used to simulate centrifugal force were ingenious.
There’s a scene where I climb down a ladder and, at the other side of the screen, you see the other astronaut sitting at a table upside-down. It looks as if I walk round towards him, until I’m upside-down too, but they actually rotated the set, and him, round to me. He seems to be eating normally – but only because they’d glued his food to his fork.
The film was very prescient about the dangers of AI. Kubrick didn’t know the exact voice he wanted for Hal, the computer that goes rogue, but we needed something to work with for shooting.
Eventually, he turned to the first assistant director, who was from east London, and said: “You do the voice for the boys.” So Hal sounded like an eastender at first. “I fink you know what the problem is,” he’d say in a cockney accent, “just as well as I do.”
The film got mixed reviews. Lots of people walked out of the premiere, including Rock Hudson. “What is this bullshit?” he said. But a few months into the release, they realised a lot of people were watching it while smoking funny cigarettes. Someone in San Francisco even ran right through the screen screaming: “It’s God!” So they came up with a new poster that said: “2001 – the ultimate trip!” I’m sure I must have watched it while I was high. But not at the premiere.
Douglas Trumbull, visual effects supervisor
The production cost $10m and was like a huge research and development project to get to the moon. If anybody had known how difficult it was going to be, it would probably never have been approved. But in the 50 years since, the film has had a profound effect, particularly the idea of making contact with any intelligent civilisations out there. I meet astrophysicists almost every week who say that they went into their line of work because of 2001.
I was only 23 but Kubrick kept giving me more and more complicated tasks. I would design lunar landscapes and miniature spaceships, painting on cladding and adding exhaust markings to fuselages. I was in close contact with NASA advisors, and one of the other designers, Harry Lange, had worked on real spacecraft for Wernher von Braun [maker of V-2 rockets for the Nazis]. Then one day Kubrick said: “Why don’t you shoot the moonbus landing?” I was moving up.
There were no computer-generated effects in those days. Everything had to happen in front of the camera. Since the film was shot on 70mm Cinerama, and would play on screens that could be 100ft wide, every irregularity would be seen. So quality control was utmost in Kubrick’s mind, but it was expensive and time-consuming. He was a genius but even he was right at his limit.
He asked IBM to make an algorithm to help with the production process. They analysed it for two weeks and said: “There’s no way, Stanley. There’s too many things changing every day.”
For the psychedelic sequence at the end, when Keir seems to pass into a different dimension, we had to invent a whole new type of camera: the Slit Scan, a giant machine nearly 20x30ft. It ran for 24 hours a day, taking photographs of 15ft-tall artworks, backlit and full of patterns and coloured gels.
These were turned into controlled blurs – like if you leave a camera shutter open while shooting cars at night, you get streaks of light. A single frame of film took four minutes to produce, so the Stargate sequence took months and months.
I was hired for nine months, but this turned out to be two and a half years. Periodically, the studio would get upset at all the delays, but Kubrick did a masterful job of protecting the crew from the pressures. However, someone finally insisted that he deliver the movie and we had to get it finished.
Some of the crew wanted the miniatures and sets to be part of a travelling show, but Kubrick didn’t want the mystery of how it was produced revealed. A schoolteacher was tutoring his daughter and he gave him the Aries 1B spacecraft as payment. The guy’s family recently discovered it and sold it to the Academy. The orbiting space station ended up in a dump in Stevenage. I have no idea why.