Because FINAL RUN was a science fiction script, Foley knew that visual effects would play a heavy part in the story. Although he would try to keep the number of effects to a minimum, getting them on film would be a daunting task.
FINAL RUN also required the creation of spaceships, props, and the like. Before the script was even started, Foley contacted his friend Bill Hawk to be the film’s visual FX supervisor. Hawk not only had previous experience as a prop maker, and conceptual artist, but also as a model builder. It was quickly decided to use miniatures for spaceships instead of rendering them via CG. Hawk swiftly set about producing sketches of Sloane’s ship Aurora and the other spacecraft based on Foley’s input.
Several months into pre production the film’s production designer bowed out due to scheduling conflicts. For Foley, giving Hawk the job was a no-brainer. “On most films you have to worry about the communication between the art department, effects department, and props,” said Foley. “Having Bill be all three just meant that the designs would look like they did on the drawing board, as well as being practically built.” Being all three, Hawk would spend the next nine months frantically working on those aspects of the film (in addition to his full time job at a prop shop).
Hawk first concentrated on Aurora. After an initial suggested design for the ship was rejected for being too advanced-looking, he finalized the design. When time constraints prevented the accepted Privateer design from being built, a model of that rejected craft, made by Hawk as a personal project, wound up being used as the Privateer ship in the film.
Fabrication of the 1:32 scale Aurora miniature stretched out over a couple of months of Hawk’s variable spare time, but he made sure that it was mostly completed before he turned his attention to the other items that had to be built.
Being the production designer, Hawk was able to make sure the sets and miniatures accurately matched up. The Aurora miniature was rigged with working engine lights as well as spring-loaded landing gear, running and landing lights, air lines running to the vertical thrusters, and a detailed cockpit with illuminated control panels.
“Well, I’ll be damned…she does fly!”
– Howard Hughes (Kerry O’Quinn) in The Rocketeer.
For cost and convenience, Hawk chose to do as many effects in camera as possible. For the crash and take off sequences, this meant traveling on location to Vasquez Rocks with the main unit. There Hawk assembled a compact wire rig that he had custom designed. The rig consisted of wires strung between two 6 foot tall towers that “flew” the Aurora miniature over a span of up to 40 feet. This enabled Hawk and his crew to get dynamic shots.
For space bound FX sequences, DP Jim Matlosz and Hawk shot the two spaceship models against green screen on Loyola Marymount’s TV stage. Using Len Morganti’s storyboards as reference, the two utilized what Matlosz refers to as a “poor man’s motion control rig”. But due to time and technical limitations, they were able to capture only a handful of shots of each miniature.
POST PRODUCTION – AGAIN
During FINAL RUN’s lengthy post production process, the initial number of visual effects shots skyrocketed from just over 50 to almost 100, an overwhelming number for a 28 minute film (student or otherwise). While most of the elements shot for the previous version were usable, there were many that simply weren’t. (See “Making the Film“)
For the exterior spaceship FX shots that simply couldn’t be done for the initial shoot, the original plan was to “cheat” by using photographic cut-outs of the ships as stand-ins for the miniatures. They would only be able to be shot in basic two dimensional movement, but it was better than nothing. Then they caught a lucky break.
DP Jim Matlosz had talked with people at Image G, a special effects facility that had worked on television shows such as STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE. “Jim sold the guys at Image G on the idea of an experiment using a high-end digital still camera (Jim’s own camera, in fact) to capture mo-co (motion control) shots,” Hawk explains. “By using long exposures to get a motion blur, the individual still images looked natural, and they became film frames in effect, creating a moving image when they were strung together.” The Image G shoot netted six individual spaceship elements, for certain key shots, which were far superior to what could have been accomplished with the “cheating” method. As a result, the filmmakers were able to realize the elaborate sequences they’d originally envisioned.
Putting It All Together
The newer filmed elements, combined with the original footage and a selected use of stills, would enhance the scope of the production. However, with the number of FX shots rapidly growing, even lists and numbers weren’t proving to be enough to keep track of everything. Supervisor Hawk’s solution was elegantly simple.
He painstakingly put together a FINAL RUN effects “bible” – a large binder where every single shot that had an effect was catalogued and the elements broken down and described in detail. This way the various effects artists knew what was required for each shot they were working on.
Above: Bill Hawk works on the FINAL RUN Effects Bible
Above: Breakdown of an effects shot from Bill Hawk’s Effects Bible
In order to illustrate to compositors how he wanted the ships to move through the frame, Foley used a tried but true method. “Len had done wonderful storyboards but it’s hard to convey a sense of movement through still images. I remembered seeing an old STAR WARS documentary where George Lucas spliced together various clips of WWI and WW2 planes dog fighting to show the guys at ILM how he wanted to do certain shots. It obviously paid off. So I did the same thing for my crew, using clips of science fiction films and television shows.”
Meanwhile, editor/compositor Joe Kornbrodt and Hawk went about building “animatics” – temporary representations of effects that would allow the filmmakers to preview an effects sequence as to how it might look. Using this and Hawk’s notebook, an “element reel” was created – an assemblage of the individual effects that had been selected for use in any given shot. This was necessary to ensure that the desired takes or still images were utilized and to make things easier for the compositors.
Above: effects editor Chris Bennett works on a shot
The result was nearly 100 visual effects shots* integrating a variety of both old and new effects processes to tell the story of FINAL RUN.
*Which is about 90 effects shots too many, if you ask producer Darin Kuhlmann.