Most Realistic Fake Dogfights
Director Christopher Nolan doesn’t like visual effects, says Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson. “It’s about filming as much as possible. So the starting point is: what can we shoot, what can we build, and how real can we make it?”
In Nolan’s World War II drama Dunkirk, Jackson and his crew were able to make things very real. Especially in the case of the dogfights. In those aerial sequences, Jackson incorporated actual Spitfire aircraft with large-scale remote-control miniatures with wingspans ranging from two to six metres. The smoke and spark effects in the fight were co-ordinated from the ground – which is where the remote pilots were supposed to be as well. But the range was too far and they couldn’t operate the miniatures from land, which meant Jackson had to take them up in the air. “In order to capture one shot with two radio-controlled planes, we had to get the two pilots into a helicopter, and the helicopter had to have the camera mounted on the nose.” The camera presented its own problems: “We were working with IMAX cameras that were very old and not very reliable. We were pushing them quite hard, with all the vibrations from being mounted on helicopters. We had to take multiple breaks. The whole caravan of planes and helicopters would have to land to fix the cameras.”
For shots inside the cockpit, the creative team used twoseat planes. They dressed the front to look like a Spitfire and then positioned the actual pilot in the backseat. Background shots came from a separate piece of equipment; a cockpit mounted on a gimbal and set on the edge of a cliff just south of LA. “That’s the real ocean and sky and horizon behind them,” Jackson says.
Pilots for the remotecontrolled planes had to be taken up in helicopters when the range was too far from the ground.
Actual Spitfire planes were combined with RC miniatures.