The Spacewalker: Gripping Tale of World’s First Spacewalk, Powered by NVIDIA Quadro

by Sandeep Gupte

The space race between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War was a crucible of high technology, human perseverance and national pride.

Few felt the pressure more acutely than cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov. Fifty-two years ago last month, he became the first human to walk in space. Leonov spent more than 12 minutes outside his capsule, only to realize his suit had inflated and he couldn’t move his arms to pull himself back toward his craft.

The Spacewalker Alexey Leonov

The Russian movie “The Spacewalker,” which premiered internationally earlier this month, recreates this and other harrowing tales of Leonov’s fortitude during one of the riskiest expeditions in the history of space travel.

“The Spacewalker” immerses audiences in the experience of Leonov and his fellow cosmonaut Pavel Belyaev during their flight on the Voshod-2 on March 18-19, 1965. The five meters back to the spacecraft’s gate became the most torturous walk of Leonov’s life. And the manual re-entry and emergency landing Leonov and Belyaev later performed is a testament to the men’s incredible will to live.

The tale is all more engrossing thanks to the out-of-this-world visual effects that CGF, Russia’s largest visual effects studio, created using NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics.

“We tried to deliver, in detail, what we would see if we shot the real flight,” says Alexander Gorokhov, VFX producer and head of CGF. “The rocket design, the launchpad, even the weather conditions fully correspond to the historical facts.”

CGF worked on more than 1,200 computer graphics shots of varying complexity for “The Spacewalker.” Scenes of the spaceship’s launch, open space and the re-entry and landing were spectacular. They were also technically difficult for the studio’s artists.

From vapor flows of liquid oxygen around the launch rocket to long smoke trails coming from debris off the Voshod-2 capsule while it plummets back to Earth, Quadro GPUs accelerated the work at all stages.

“It’s a huge computational load,” says Evgeny Stefanov, lead FX artist at CGF. “We couldn’t have done it without Quadro.”

The Spacewalker Voshod-2

CGF also uses Quadro graphics to power its ViewGA system, Russia’s first professional AR and VR system. ViewGA combines AR and VR with the footage of actors in real time. The CG is overlaid onto the action so the filmmakers could see the actor playing Leonov walking in the open space environment.

Working at this speed, operators can compose scenes and actors can immediately understand how the scene, or even an invisible partner, looks. For “The Spacewalker,” the director or VFX supervisor could correct the shooting in real time. That helps avoid costly problems in post-production.

“The Spacewalker” was produced by Timur Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs film company.

For a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to create the visual effects in the film, check out the video below.