Fly us to the Moon: a perilous space journey with the Apollo 13 crew.

Blasting off on a mission to capture striking images for streaming show Apollo 13: Dark Side of the Moon, with fellow creative, ace retoucher Vahakn Vorperian.

The last 6 months have been incredibly challenging for the live performance sector, with many venues and producers on the brink.

But one of my regular clients The Original Theatre Company, has been superbly adaptive, filming several of their shows just before lockdown for streaming, then staging an innovative online version of Sebastian Faulkes’ ‘Birdsong.’

It’s an admirable way to keep the company afloat, but also a measure of the contribution the arts can make in the teeth of a pandemic.

“We hope people can….enjoy superb pieces of theatre in the comfort of their homes. Some small respite in these trying times.”

Alastair Whatley, Artistic Director, Original Theatre Company

Mission: Moon

Trailer for Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon

When I heard Original’s next piece was Torben Betts’ piece on the Apollo 13 mission, featuring footage from the original missions and a journey to the dark side of the moon and back, I had get involved.

The piece is an all-online hybrid form: equal parts cinema, theatre and tv, so I wanted to create a glossy, atmospheric set of promo images to match, with a Netflix-series vibe.

Having read the script, I designed a lighting state to capture its cinematic aesthetic and energy, and because we couldn’t go to space ourselves, turned to one of the best creative retouchers I know, Vahakn Vorperian of The Retouchers, to send us there.

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Working (individually, for Covid reasons, obviously) with actor-astronauts Tom Chambers (Father Brown), Christopher Harper (Coronation Street) and Michael Salami (Hollyoaks), I imagined each man looking through the capsule window at the moon, half in and half out of shadow as they prepared to drop out of radio contact and slingshot round the dark side in their stricken craft.

My lighting balanced soft ‘ambient’ light as a nod to the module interior, with hard directional light casting deep shadows to reference to harsh moon glare.

V took those images and ideas, and brought his own imagination and skill to bear, trawling the NASA archive for original mission stills to create a sense of the window – even down the original navigation markings.

“I’m so lucky to be in a position to be able to collaborate with artists I respect on projects that get me excited. From the start, Michael and I were in sync about the vibe of the imagery that we wanted to create, referencing similar images as a starting point and it soon became clear that Michael trusted me to push the creative further – which I did.”

Vahakn Vorperian

Over the Moon

As you can see above, the finished shots are slick, sharp and atmospheric, and could just as well be advertising a new TV show as a theatre piece.

We created single shots and a group composite, which gained coverage in print and online, as well as lots of attention on socials.

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Parallax Created by V

And V went the extra mile to create a beautiful parallax, which really showcases his exceptional skills, and helped the project be seen by even more eyeballs on Insta, Facebook and Twitter.

It was a brilliant collaboration, we had a lot of fun and the company are, if you’ll pardon the pun, over the moon…

How watch Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon.

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End thought: the value of a creative retoucher

Often graphic design plays a big part in theatre ad campaigns, but clients don’t necessarily understand the value in creative retouching and composition alongside those elements.

I think this process really showcases how, when a photographer and retoucher work together in tandem on a brief, the images the company and marketing designer – in this case Rebecca Pitt who created the title treatment – receive, can scale even greater heights.