XF-11 - EFFECTS MINIATURE:
The sleek, revolutionary XF-11 was the super spy plane of its day, distinguished by its twin boom design and contra-rotating propellers. The revolutionary design would also be its downfall, causing the devastating crash that was to forever change Howard Hughes' life. To resurrect this specimen of aviation history, we designed and constructed a 1/4 scale miniature with a 16 foot long fuselage and a colossal 25 foot wingspan. Due to the film's lean visual effects budget, our effects aircraft had to serve as a multi-purpose miniature. On the tarmac, the pristine model had to appear photo-real from nose to tail; then it had to allow dismantling and re-rigging for forced perspective shots, without the fuselage; finally the model had to be used in a spectacular crash sequence. We definitely had our hands full.
Scott Schneider, our model crew chief, began R&D by generating a computer model. Because very little photo reference existed of the aircraft, and no Hughes Aircraft blueprints survive, we had to rough out the profiles from vague plans found on-line and careful tracing of the few surviving photographs. Robert Spurlock, our mechanical effects supervisor, engineered an internal steel armature that could support the one thousand pound behemoth, cantilevered from underneath either boom, and suspended twelve feet in the air. Spurlock also engineered and designed the intermeshing gear mechanism that would become the transmission for the contra-rotating propellers. Each eight-bladed set measured four feet in diameter and cut through the air at a deadly 350 rpm.
For the propeller ignition sequence and taxiing shots from inside the cockpit with Leonardo DiCaprio, we removed the XF-11's booms and rigged them on either side of a full-sized cockpit mock-up. This method provided in-camera shots with no post augmentation. For reverse angle shots featuring the twin-boomed tail, a 1/16 scale tail element was composited in. For the low angle shot of the XF-11 rolling toward the runway, at and over the camera, Legato placed 1940's cars with actors far enough away to obtain the correct perspective. This in-camera shot was achieved with the camera low on the tarmac and the plane rolling above as two model makers pushed it.