Mission Impossible — Fallout
How to send Tom Cruise into a corkscrew dive, by Marc Wolff, aerial coordinator
The Plot: Ethan Hunt has to save the world. This time it’s from the threat of nuclear terrorism.
The Scene: The bad guy (Henry Cavill) chases the good guy (Tom Cruise) in helicopters through a narrow canyon. To escape, Cruise dives his chopper over the edge of a cliff in a tight, nearly vertical, spiral.
Tom started training to fly helicopters years ago. In several of the films I’ve worked with him on, he’d always be going to location and flying as much as he could. For this movie, though, we needed to give him specific flight training. I taught him close-formation flying, and then we had Airbus’s chief helicopter instructor work with him. To practice flying through the narrow canyon, where his blades would be 15 to 20 feet from the canyon walls, he flew around a racetrack. He could weave and play around, and if he got it wrong, he’d just stray off track. We gave him distractions—emergencies and mechanical problems—so he could build up the responses he’d need in a live situation. When we flew in formation, we would purposefully put him in turbulence so that he could feel what it was like to lose control of the aircraft.
When you do a big dive like this in a helicopter, the risk is that the rotor speed goes too high. A governor automatically keeps the blade speed within 30 to 40 rpm of the 390-rpm average. In a dive, it gets confused. It feels the airspeed increase, and instructs the blades to move more quickly, even though they don’t need to. That could damage the blades and the devices that control them, or throw a blade. The other danger is an engine stall, when the blades spin on their own until they lose momentum. It’s called freewheeling. We had Tom practice landing with freewheeling blades. Then we had him practice the dive in free airspace with an instructor pilot. Once we all agreed that the margins were safe, the instructor got out and Tom went for it. During filming, there were three helicopters in the canyon, including Tom’s. The command and control helicopters—with the director and other crew—were above that, and another was even higher. Protocol requires each helicopter to be one rotor disc apart, or about 40 feet. The rotor disc is the saucer shape the blades make when they spin. One disc’s distance gives you leeway if you get too close or the lead aircraft changes its speed unexpectedly or you get into some turbulence.
That was what we were dealing with. Tom, however, also had to act. And direct: Most of the cameras for the scene are fixed to his helicopter in different positions. He has to imagine the background those cameras are seeing. So he’s flying, communicating with the crew, acting, and operating the camera.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
How to make a dinosaur, by David Vickery, VFX supervisor
Neal Scanlan and I started creating the Indoraptor (above) in August 2016, with the creature concept artist, Jama Jurabaev, and the director, J.A. Bayona. J.A. knew what size he wanted the Indo to be. He wanted it to be black, with oily snakeskin, so that it felt like a deadly shadow. Early on in production, he showed us a picture of a shell-shocked soldier during World War I, this haunting image of a man with the craziest eyes you’d ever seen. J.A. wanted those eyes on the Indo.
We got concepts from Jama that J.A. would tweak. We used those to create a detailed study of the head. That’s when we had Steven Spielberg come in and approve it. From there, Neal and his team added details and created a full-scale arm, leg, and head/shoulders. We used those for up-close shots with the performers. We also created a large foam-sculpted version. Pieces of paper were laid over a 3D-printed scaled version, then peeled off and used like a dressmaker’s pattern. The pattern pieces were transposed to a piece of flexible high-density foam, and were then cut out and assembled.
At Industrial Light & Magic, we also started animation testing. We used a 3D model to render the dinosaur’s skeleton and musculature and see how it would actually move. We wanted it to walk like a raptor, on its hind legs, but also to get down on all fours like a big cat. But when we made him walk like that in the renderings, we noticed that his legs would collide with his elbows. We had to elongate the proportion of his body from hip to shoulders and shorten the arms slightly.
When it came time to shoot, we wanted to use as much practical animatronics as we could. The Indo gets so close to people. We really wanted that reaction from the actors. Once we got into post, however, we ended up replacing the Indo scenes with CGI. It let us get those special details, like the texture and color of his irises. The cheeks blowing in and out or the throat creasing as he swallows. He has a lot of damage and scarring on his body, as if he’s been mistreated. Very rangy. Very muscly. J.A. thought of him as a malnourished street dog. We even gave the Indo crazy synaptic twitches, so his muscles and skin would twitch like a horse’s.
How to fake a volcanic eruption, by Anthony Simonaitis, Pyrotechnics Supervisor
The Plot: After a volcano destroys their island, the dinosaurs are brought to a sanctuary in the United States, where, instead of being protected, they’re sold off to the highest bidders. The bad guys genetically modify an even-more-ferocious dinosaur. It escapes.
The Scene: As the characters run from a volcanic eruption, blobs of lava slam into the ground around them, throwing up dirt and lighting fires.
All the lava and debris flying through the air was CGI, but the visual-effects people needed a practical effect when it came to the blobs splattering when they hit the ground. Wherever the lava interacted with the terrain, they also needed us to create ribbon fires that would be shown burning the vegetation, with smoke rising off of them.
For the lava bombs, our charges were made of something called detonating cord, a small-diameter cord filled with explosive powder. We spool out the length we need and wrap it into a flat disc we call a Frisbee. That goes into a heavy steel tray that we can set on the ground and conceal. We put material in the tray that will blow into the air and look like whatever the indigenous dirt is. The goal is to create a simulation of these hard chunks of lava hitting the ground and kicking up dirt. We wanted it to look like the dirt was being thrown out to the sides as if someone were stomping in a mud puddle. So we put sand on top in the middle, then covered that with a layer of mulch, thicker around the edges. When the charge blows, since the sand particles are small and light in color, you don’t really see them, and they hold down the explosive energy in the middle, forcing the mulch out the sides.
To create the fire lines that the burning blobs of lava left behind, we used propane. The gas runs through a hose that goes to a pipe that has slots cut into it, just like a burner on a stove. Probably 3,000 feet of slotted pipe for the burners, 3,000 feet of pipe to get the gas to the burners, and then 1,000 feet of two-inch hose connecting the propane to the burner system. We cut it, threaded it, and slotted it. It took us weeks and weeks and weeks. And the logistics of getting some of it up into those jungle roads is quite a challenge. We usually used cans of Sterno as pilot lights, but we also had a mixture of biofuel and sawdust that doesn’t contaminate the soil and burns away clean.
Then there’s the matter of safety. We put additional pilot lights on the downhill side of the whole system. Propane is heavier than air, and the crew is all at the bottom of the hill. So if we had a leak, and the leak didn’t get ignited and just started rushing down the hill, you could have a giant cloud of gas enveloping the crew and then finding a source of ignition. And that would be a disaster.
How to chase The Rock through a skyscraper, by Colin Anderson, camera operator
The Plot: An FBI agent turned security consultant (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) has to protect the world’s tallest building—and save his family and clear his name when a terrorist group frames him for setting the building on fire.
The Scene: Johnson flees down a stairwell before retreating back up the stairs and out the window. All while a camera trails him and tries not to get in the way.
The steadicam rig that I wear is connected by a mechanical arm to a harness on your body. It weighs about 60 pounds. The arm has a whole bunch of springs in it that act like shock absorbers, so you get smooth shots even if you’re running or going up and down stairs. Steadicam shots are often what we call a “oner,” where the entire shot is Steadicam—there’s no cutting to other cameras. For this scene I was four or five feet away from Dwayne the entire time. The shot lasts 90 seconds, and it took half the day to get it.
1. The camera (and cameraman) follow Johnson out the door and into the hallway, filming over Johnson’s shoulder.
2. When the bad guys shoot at Johnson, he turns and runs back to his apartment—toward the camera.
3. In order to clear the hall without stopping the shot, Anderson needs to get out of the way. When he gets near the apartment door, two men pull back a section of wall that’s been built on casters and five-foot rails. Anderson steps into the cavity just as Johnson runs by. To mask the cutout, the set painter painted strips of tape the same color as the walls and put them over the seams where the wall pulls back. When the wall is pulled away, the tape stays attached to the nonmoving part of the wall, and then when it’s slid back into place, the tape remains to cover the seam.
4. Anderson pans around with Johnson as he runs by, then follows him into the apartment. The wall rolls back into place just in time for Anderson to film Johnson closing the door from inside his apartment.
How to Light a Fire, by Robert Elswit, director of photography
Everything in the film takes place in a building that exists only on a computer. For a fight scene near the end of the movie, the flames would be added in post-production, but we had to light the scene so that it looks like it takes place with a huge fire burning around it.
Fire has a very specific color temperature. If it’s a big, big fire, it’s lower than your lightbulbs. It’s much redder. So we measured the color temperature of fire with a meter. Then with gel packs in front of a tungsten light, you can very accurately re-create the color of fire. We hooked our lights up to boxes that vary the voltage at high intervals, so they appear to flicker. As many as 15 to 20 of these units created the effect that the building above the actors—which doesn’t exist—was on fire.
How to build a fake ocean, by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, producer
The Plot: A prehistoric monster shark called a megalodon, thought to be extinct, attacks a research vessel. Then everyone else. Jason Statham has to kill it and save the world.
The Scene: Nearly all of them.
We planned to shoot a fair amount of underwater live-action sequences in the ocean near New Zealand. We did our research and picked a time of year when the water was always clear. Of course the water wasn’t clear, and the two weeks we planned for shooting in the ocean were compressed into one day. So we built our own ocean.
We built two water tanks. One was for surface scenes. It was shallow, with depths from two and a half feet to ten feet, and built like a trapezoid. One end was built like an infinity pool, so CG could be used to extend the water. A trench in the middle can be rigged up with equipment for stunts—like for, say, a scene in which a boat gets overturned by an enormous shark. The other tank was 187 feet around and 16 feet deep. We used it for the underwater scenes. Unlike in the ocean, where you have to figure out how to light and shoot at depth, in a tank you can control the conditions. The real limitation is that you can’t pull back to a wide shot in a tank. But since you’re already using CG to mask the tank itself, you can set the scene exactly as you want it. The tanks took 12 weeks to build.
A Pyrotechnical Guide to Explosive Fuels
Methane: Best for indoor fire effects, since it burns clean and doesn’t make fumes or much smoke.
Propane: Makes lots of black smoke and soot—good for outdoor fires.
Propylene: Makes even more black smoke than propane, and red flames.
Dynamite: Creates high-velocity explosions, and it’s not too smoky. The problem is shipping: In the U.S., you basically have to hire a special truck to move one case at a time.
Detonating Cord: Similar uses as for dynamite, and easy to ship in the U.S.
Black Powder: Makes lots of smoke, and lower velocity than dynamite. According to Anthony Simonaitis, pyrotechnics supervisor for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, “You could still be hurt by it, but it won’t shoot a pebble through your head.”
This appears in the July/August 2018 issue.