Making a WWII film with real vintage aircraft
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- November 1, 2022
When director Michael B. Chait set out to make a WWII feature film about a fighter pilot who must rescue a downed B-17 bomber crew and foil a dastardly Nazi plot, he looked to craft action sequences using actual vintage aircraft. The result was Wolf Hound, released this year by Lionsgate and their Grindstone Entertainment Group.
Of course, additional elements such as tracer fire, destruction and other visual effects–even miniatures–also became part of the mix, supervised by Turncoat Pictures’ visual effects supervisor (and co-producer of the film), Ryan Urban.
Here, Urban tells befores & afters about the overall challenges of the project, with the starting point being those real planes. And stay tuned for more coverage of Wolf Hound with more in-depth looks at the tracer fire VFX and miniatures work.
b&a: What’s unique about about this project?
Ryan Urban: Wolf Hound featured real, in-camera WWII aircraft. The planes themselves are historic artifacts, which meant we had to rely on visual effects to help bring aspects of the story to life, including tracer fire and any plane damage and destruction. It was also director Michael B Chait’s first feature film.
Mike had used visual effects in some of his other past projects, but nothing to this magnitude. As Wolf Hound’s overall visual effects supervisor, I wanted to give him as close to a traditional, studio film setup as possible; a VFX department and network of companies and artists around the world that could bring their own specialty to the table.
As a result, Turncoat Pictures partnered with the production as both the main VFX vendor and as the VFX department. Essentially everything VFX filtered through us. We took on a majority of the shot work with our Turncoat Pictures team, but also brought on other VFX vendors (OPSIS, Crafty Apes, Anibrain and Incessant Rain). We oversaw their work as part of the bigger picture.
b&a: What kind of visual effects work was done on Wolf Hound?
Ryan Urban: The project kind of had it all. We used visual effects for tracer fire, damage and destruction, enhancing miniatures, adding CG FX such as fire and explosions, shootout enhancements, and a variety of miscellaneous cleanups. This included wires and pads during stunts, pyro and squib rigs, time period inaccuracies, shutter fixes, intricate pilot removals, and miscellaneous camera crew.
b&a: Before discussing all of those, you mentioned pilot removal. Can you elaborate?
Ryan Urban: Most of the real pilots were left in, but there are a few hero moments when the film’s star, James Maslow, is piloting the B-25. In one scenario, we removed the pilots and composited James in from another take.
Then there are other shots where the real pilot was sitting next to James operating the B-25. We enlisted Anibrain and Incessant Rain to help with a majority of those. They are incredible shots. They are so good, production was briefly worried if the FAA might ask if James had his license to fly.
b&a: How many visual effects shots?
Ryan Urban: There were a total of 416 VFX shots in the film. 238 made up the aerial sequences.
b&a: Were all the muzzle flashes added?
Ryan Urban: On the planes and waste gunners, yes. Most of the ground combat used blanks and were captured in-camera. We fixed a handful of muzzle flashes that were captured mid-shutter. Usually resulting in only half or part of the intended frame.
We manipulated and added some muzzle flashes to a few moments that didn’t capture or couldn’t be shot like proposed safety issues being too close to another actor. Some were added when changes within the edit were needed to hit specific timing or help enhance actions.
There were a few outside on the tank gunner that were loaded with bigger blanks, but with the angle of sun and exposure they just didn’t capture. We revisited those in comp and amp’ed them up while keeping them feeling natural. Kissing in some additional sparks to elevate the power of the weapon.
b&a: It seems like it could be a lot of fun and benefits in the work of enhancing action sequences. Can you share what you like about that?
Ryan Urban: I find using visual effects in action sequences is very rewarding. You usually already have great stunt performances and engaging plate photography to work with. With VFX you can go back and enhance things for that extra little love–which can increase the performance, the production value and help tell the story. There is still something amazing with wire removals. You know how they should look. Then when the team is done with them, they are fun shots to review and present to directors.
There were a lot of epic pyro explosions filmed in-camera thanks to Matt Stratton and his special effects team. Some of those needed nothing or very little; usually a wire removal to stunt performers’ reaction to a blast.