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The Film's Design
Set just 50 years into Earth's now terribly uncertain future, SUNSHINE presents its own original vision of a deep space journey – one that is at once science-inspired with an emphasis on stark realism while also pushing into the realms of cosmic mystery – resulting in arresting visuals and design. From the hauntingly claustrophobic corridors of the Icarus II to the mesmerizing images of solar activity, the film creates its own utterly enveloping, and increasingly frightening, world.

To transform Boyle and Garland's conception of this near-future space mission into the film's distinctive look, the filmmakers worked closely with a talented technical team, including director of photography Alwin Küchler, who most recently shot John Madden's screen adaptation of PROOF starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins. Küchler brought both daring and nuance to the project.

"It was very important to us that the film be quite unusual cinematically,” Boyle comments. "When Icarus II approaches the Sun, the question of the balance of light was key, and Alwin was a great cinematographer for that challenge.”

For Küchler, it was only when he started prepping SUNSHINE that he began to realize just how difficult it was going to be, working with an element as all-encompassing, beautiful and powerful as the Sun itself. Explains Küchler: "If you were to take just a teaspoon of the material that makes up the Sun and place it on top of St Paul's Cathedral, the whole of England would be vaporized. Imagine that scale and how you transfer that to celluloid. It made me very aware of the limitations when competing with that power.”

The whole film became, even more so than most films, about the play of light. "One of the things I wanted to get across was the physical sense of light. The whole spaceship is designed around the fact that it's being protected from the Sun, so on one side you have the gold shield, which reflects all the sunlight away, and on the other side you have absolute darkness,” continues Küchler, who shot the film in anamorphic format. "To heighten the contrasts, we shot certain sequences in a very dark environment, which you get used to, so that when the Sun plays a role the audience has a very physical reaction to it.”

Meanwhile, to imaginatively forge the interiors and exteriors of the Icarus II, Boyle reunited with award-winning production designer Mark Tildesley who had worked with him on 28 DAYS LATER and MILLIONS. "Mark is a genuine creative person and, like me, loves photography books which was a great language for us to work through,” Boyle notes. "We set the parameters early on -- that it was going to be more NASA than Star Wars in terms of the balance.”

Adds Andrew Macdonald, "The design of the ship came largely from reality, inspired by the research we did involving nuclear submarines, oil-rigs, and, of course, NASA. We learned that on a Space Shuttle every single screw has a number and a fitting and that is the only screw that can go into that hole and we wanted to get that level of detail into the film.”

As with his previous films, Boyle collected a portfolio of images and visual references for SUNSHINE which he made available to both cast and crew. His brief to Tildesley was to design the Icarus II with the sense of it being an organic, living thing that could break down and would need to be fixed. "We wanted the actors to feel that they could have been living in this confined space for months on end,” Tildesley explains. "We talked about not using ‘space funk,' meaning beautiful things for the sake of it, and more about finding beauty in science. We also made a policy that we were not going to reinvent anything -- we wanted there to still be elements of our world that people clearly recognize.”

The Icarus II consists of a massive shield, a mile in diameter, made u

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