"The Big Bang Theory" ISS Set
Actor Simon Helberg, portraying Howard Wolowitz on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," is seen "floating" on the space station.
With only 20 feet or so (6 meters) of space station set to work with, Shaffner got together with the directors, visual effects supervisors and cinematographers to use unique camera angles and creative framing to create more 'space' than there really was.
They also added a section to the rented module to allow other actors — the other station crew members — to enter and exit, giving viewers a sense that a sprawling outpost continued beyond the lab.
"We really examined ways we could reimagine the spaces we added," Shaffner said.
Part of that was made possible by the way they achieved the appearance of weightlessness. Rather than raise the roof and suspend the actors by wires, the solution came from below.
"It was done by supporting the people from underneath," Shaffner revealed. "There was a very long, sort of skinny platform that a person could lie on and it would almost look like they were swimming through in weightlessness."
The actors also deserve some credit, said Shaffner, for mastering the motions of microgravity. "They studied and really did a remarkable job with acting the weightlessness," he said.
Attention to accuracy
Having a real astronaut on the set offered a chance for some immediate feedback. Massimino reprises his role on the show for this and next week's episodes. "His response was immediate and really positive," Shaffner said of Massimino's impression of the spacecraft. "He was so blown away by [the set]. He said, 'Wow, you guys really did an amazing job! This really feels like it. This is really how big it is, it is not very big.'"
"He was very, very appreciative and I think in the end that made everyone involved feel extra good about it," said Shaffner. "We had all pulled together to make this real for him and he got a really big kick out of it."
Beyond wanting to please Massimino, the attention to accuracy was rooted in the show's long commitment to serving the storyline by being honest and truthful with its visuals.
"We are all very committed to making sure that we don't want ever the set or the visual environment to not make you believe the story, to take your interest and your mind out of what the characters are living through and start questioning authenticity," Shaffner said.
"So we work very hard on creating our authenticity, and it is a theatrical authenticity to some extent. But by really looking and researching and trying to make it honest and authentic, we believe it helps the storytelling," he said.
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