XF-11 FLIGHT AND CRASH SEQUENCE:
This sequence was reconstructed from every available piece of historical document and transcript we could get our hands on. The event is absolutely real and we recreated the exact flight path right down to zooming into the actual house Hughes crashed into (still standing and in its original-looking rebuilt condition.) The technique for the actual impact was first derived from piecing together each event and tying them into a unified CG flight path. Careful attention was paid to the forces of inertia and stress placed on the plane as it made its way from house to house, telephone pole, and finally the ground. The pre-viz was designed specifically to take advantage of, and also be limited to, what could be achieved live.
A shot by shot pre-viz was created to not only show what the sequence would ultimately look like but as a template to figure out precisely how each cut was going to be engineered and achieved. I decided early on that this portion of the scene would be totally or mostly in camera. I believed the only way to do proper justice to the truth of what occurred was not to overly influence the telling of the story with unrealistic camera moves, unusual angles, or obvious CG manipulations. The hope was if you believed what you were seeing was unembellished and raw photography, than you would emotionally react to only the gravity of what was happening as opposed to being influenced mechanically by the flourish and showmanship of the telling.
This sequence employs just about every variation of visual effects techniques, including in-camera hanging miniatures, cockpit set extensions, full CG planes and environments, live RC planes photographed from ground and helicopter mounts, motion control traditional model shots, miniature explosions with rig mounted planes crashing through roofs and walls, green screen, motion base and full scale explosions and fire.
XF-11 ENGINE IGNITION HANGING MINIATURE:
The first shot of this sequence features a pan from one side of the XF-11 cockpit to the other as the engines startup. In keeping with, and reinforcing the style of the film (as much in camera or live work as possible) this shot was created using an old fashioned technique known as a hanging miniature. The 1/4 scale engines were suspended on the exterior of the cockpit shell constructed for this purpose and measured to be the correct distance and height for the camera position. The camera was mounted on the pan and tilt nodal point to allow for movement without a perspective change. The shot was done live and photographed by Bob Richardson and directed by Martin Scorsese. Although technically an effect shot, it was treated more as a first unit shot since we photographed all of the ground cockpit shots with this same technique looking both forward and back.
The close-up of the wheel as the plane pulls away was also an in-camera miniature shot live on the day.
XF-11 180º Takeoff:
This shot was totally constructed in CG by mapping photographs of the runway, environment, and cloudscape. The plane was also mapped from the original 1/4 model detailed photographs and animated based on the original pre-viz.
XF-11 RC MODEL:
For many of the XF-11 flying shots we photographed a 1/4 scale RC plane from a helicopter outfitted with vistavision at 30 fps and a 4-perf ground camera in Catalina. Catalina offered a runway which was 2,000 feet above sea level so once the plane was less than 100 feet off the runway it now appeared to be 2,000 feet in the air from the perspective of the space-cam and ground camera. In the course of 4 hours of sunlight we created 30 or more variations of realistic looking aerial photography to choose from.
All angles that featured the sky were shot live in a parking lot outside our motion base stage. The parking lot had an unobstructed view of the sky. The same motion base cockpit was used mounted on casters so that the cockpit could be rotated and vibrated to simulate plane movement and lighting changes.
All shots at eye level were photographed against green screen, many with motion controlled and motion base matched moves to the pre-viz. The same technique was used as in the "Hell's Angels" and "H1" sequences. Most angles required set extension where parts of the plane were visible. The set extensions were a combination of the 1/4 scale model engine and a full CG replica of the plane.
XF-11 APPROACH TO BEVERLY HILLS:
Plates above 500 feet were photographed from a helicopter flying the exact path as Hughes did on July 7th, 1946. For a vantage lower than 500 feet and terminating at the actual location on 803 North Linden a spyder-cam winch system was used. The travel was approximately 2,000 feet ranging from a crane height of 250 feet to a tower mounted in the backyard of the actual house. The camera speeds ranged from 24 fps to 6 fps, over the course of the repeated run, with the camera rig hitting speeds upwards of 60 miles per hour.