A majestic meditation on humankind’s place in the cosmos, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life derives much of its power from the sheer range of its kaleidoscopic imagery. The film interweaves the story of one boy’s coming of age in 1950s Waco, Texas, with a poetic depiction of the creation of the universe and the advent of life on earth. Along the way, it encompasses events from the immeasurably vast to the microscopically small, visualizing the big bang birthing stellar matter into the void, primordial mutations occurring within the walls of a single cell, and dinosaurs roaming the earthly jungles of the Mesozoic era.
Among the wealth of supplemental material on our new edition of The Tree of Life is an interview with visual-effects supervisor Dan Glass, who offers a glimpse into the complex process that went into creating the film’s singularly spectacular images. In the above clip, Glass gives an overview of the scale of the work: four different companies were brought on to realize the bulk of the special effects, using a combination of practical and digital methods, with the astrophysical material in particular requiring a great deal of hands-on experimentation.