Somewhere kilometers above your head, the astronauts living and working in the International Space Station are training themselves to bend the concepts of “up” and “down.” Without the constant tug of Earth’s gravity directions lose meaning. So when humans finally start moving beyond Earth, as fictionalized in the Syfy drama The Expanse, keeping track of gravity won’t just be a scientific exercise — knowing how (simulated) gravity works on a spaceship will help make life feel normal. The show spends more time, money, and effort than you think to get it right.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Science and Entertainment Exchange in LA last week, The Expanse‘s producers told Nerdist that because they believe space can be a character in and of itself if you get the details right, an “annoying” amount of work goes into scenes where gravity isn’t like it is on Earth. For example, if the Rocinate’s pilot, Alex, takes off his headphones while the ship isn’t under thrust, his headphones have to float consistently across scenes, and fall the instant the ship initiates a burn. That means wires, editors to digitally erase those wires, and stunt people to coordinate how those headphones gently tumble.
Managing how everything should move in space would understandably get complicated very quickly on a show like The Expanse, and as a consequence, the producers and writers have come up with a clever system: color-coding. Nerdist learned that the scripts—the actual pages—for the show are color coded based on what gravity the characters are under. This in turn informs character movements, special effects, and narrative moments. When Miller shoots someone on Eros, for example, it looks like a typical gunshot wound. But when a character gets their head blown off when a ship isn’t accelerating, blood pools into a disgusting yet fascinatingly accurate orb. That page of the script may have been red.
The showrunner, Dr. Naren Shankar, admits that micro-managing micro-gravity is a hassle. “Almost no one wants to deal with the reality of micro-gravity environments or thrust/spin gravity effects in space flight,” he said. But The Expanse has found clever ways to deal with making a show about that reality, and it’s a better show for it.